Hacking the internet for beach parties, rosé and Turner Art prizes – interviewing Gretchen Andrew.

For those in lockdown, our jobs and relationships have become increasingly internet reliant. We are attending house parties and first dates through our phones, listening to live musical sets while sat on the couch at home, and maybe even pressing pause to look inwards and reconsider what is important to us. Now, more than ever, seemed an appropriate time to interview Gretchen Andrew, a search-engine artist who uses the internet as a creative medium and its “positive failures” to manifest her desires and ambitions. Spending all day manifesting the future she wants on canvas and all night programming this into actualisation.

In 2019, Andrew famously “hacked” Frieze LA. She tricked google into displaying her virtual gallery as the top image result for “Frieze Los Angeles”. Andrew is now an artist in residence at Gazelli Art House’s Gazell.io for the month of May where she will be continuing work on her Cover of Artforum Vision Boards as well as launching her manipulation of 2020 presidential election, The Next American President. Andrew’s vision boards playfully hypnotise Google search results, while exposing inherent and structural limitations of technology whilst simultaneously using these failures to reclaim the internet for her own place of possibility. (search google “Cover of Artforum” to see what I mean)

On our third week of self-isolation, her in L.A. and me in London, we virtually meet one another through Zoom and talk more about her practise and how Covid-19 is affecting us, art, and the internet.

 

You describe yourself as an “Internet Imperialist”, are you able to tell us more about this?

The internet imperialist term… I don’t want to say I invented it because if you search for it, it exists in other places, but I invented it within my art practise or coined it within my art practise. My work is very positive on its conceptual and physical surface. For me, internet imperialism is a way to allude – its playful – but also alluding to how dark the implications of my work are. I don’t want people to think I don’t acknowledge the fact that there is something very sinister to what I do. But I really don’t want it to be the primary focus of my work so I have these t shirts, stationary, and call myself an internet imperialist to acknowledge in a darkly playful way, that I do know this is kind of a scary situation.

Do you think the internet is a masculine place?

Yeah, it just statistically is.  If you look at the demographics on who edits Wikipedia and the people who are behind structuring it, who control it. The way that manifests itself is sometimes very subtle. The example I always point to is where if you google “boy crawling” you get a toddler, but if you google “girl crawling” you get this sexualised women in lingerie and heels. It’s really been a place that existing power structures, whether that be patriarchy, have been amplified. Then the corners of it that are feminine get trivialised. Selfies, influencer culture are seen as annoying. A lot of influencers are women. I think if influencers were predominantly male it would be seen very differently.

Imperialism reminds me of an invasion, like hacking, but also quite a masculine term, right?

Absolutely. Something that has always been a part of my practise is thinking more and more about the reputation of the feminine and masculine within art and within my work. Imperialism and artificial intelligence and technology are these traditionally male dominated worlds whereas the materials I’m using, the vision boards and language I adopt from manifestation culture – it’s very trivialised because I think its associated with the feminine. And I’m feeling confident enough in the technical and conceptual sides of my practise to let it look the way it looks right now, it really speaks to a moment for me in my practise where I don’t care if you look at this and dismiss it – like I dare you to dismiss this work – it is me shaping the global internet, you can’t call it trivial?

That’s very cool. Is that why you have chosen to use the vision boards as your medium?

Perhaps you’ve heard me speak about it before – that the internet cannot parse desire and that by saying I really really want something it will just skip over the process of me trying to earn it and just gives it to me now. Conceptually I really liked that but also wanted to find a very physical object-based way to speak about some of my desires. I go to the fashion district in Los Angeles. I go to these ware-house craft stores and I buy BAGS of tiny ballerinas [laughs]

Wow, I want to go there.

You would love it! I’m so sad that it’s closed right now because I’m running out of flowers and various other materials that are harder to come by these days. I also really like how it physically grounds my work in Los Angeles. I’m now living and making work that I feel is very enabled by the place I’m in and that west coast American culture.

Are you originally from LA?

I was born here, but I grew up in New Hampshire, which is very different from Los Angeles. It’s funny, my mum framed this thing I wrote that says “Today is my first day of first grade. When I grow up, I want to live in an apartment in Los Angeles.” That was my aspiration. So, I’m here, where do I go now? [laughs] Speaking of manifestations, here we are! What is the next thing?


Cover of Artforum Vision Board

Using the internet’s inability to parse desire, Andrew virtually manifests her desire to be on the cover of Artforum.  She wanted to be on the cover so simply tricked the internet into thinking she had been. Just search the “Cover of Artforum” and you will see what I mean. While speaking on zoom, she shows me around her home studio that has been in the background while we speak. There are a few pieces she has been working on while in isolation that she tells me about.

This is my sister [laughing] and this is us at the beach when corona is all over and we’re having rosé and Doritos. [points to another piece] And similarly this is like a rooftop pool scene that has this unrealistic – like that’s the Barbican and that’s the hotel Marmont in Hollywood. It’s all just in the background and its completely made-up, but they’re an acknowledgement that what I want in my future aren’t just these visions of career success but also, I want to spend time with my friends, I want belonging, I want love. I want a lot of these things that really unite us. My vision boards are maybe more holistic now I guess. That, to me, is in the process of making them and therefore inevitably imagining having these career successes, I think about what makes any of that meaningful. Also, how much of what makes life meaningful, I already have. It’s almost like I want to be on the cover of art forum, so that I can relax more when I’m with the people I love and that makes me realise I should just relax more when I’m with the people I love. There’s a sincerity behind it, which I think makes it difficult for the art world to navigate. Like can we dismiss these as aspirations of some blonde chick from Los Angeles or do we have to confront these as actual art objects?

And by hacking into the algorithmic spaces of the Turner Prize and Frieze, you’re using the weakness of the search engine to your own advantage?

Yeah, it’s showing how weak and manipulable the internet is and how strong language, art and human desire are in the face of these things and I think that – like we were saying before – the physically of the vision boards, the burns on my hands from the hot glue, because I’m always gluing gems [laughs] – desires are a very human thing, very physical. It’s something that we understand and I love the poetics of the fact that technology can’t get it. It makes sense to me that the internet can’t get it.

Why is the internet a good tool to actualise our desires?

I think it acts much more like our subconscious than our conscious – it reacts and that makes it another good way to make your desires into a reality. There’s like this feedback loop that I’m in – and we were talking about this sincerity behind it, and even the fact that we’re having this conversation – it’s like it’s working. Its propelling me into this world that I was not in before these vision boards. Because of these projects, I am getting on the real artworld map, you and I are having this conversation, I have a residency with Gazelli Art House, a solo exhibition at the Monterey Museum of Art etc. It’s going to be really fun someday when I am on the actual cover of Artforum.

There are spiritual teachings into manifestations and putting into the world what you would like to receive. It’s almost as if the internet can spiritually and subconsciously actualise this as well?

I’ve been thinking with manifestation culture, law of attraction and vision board culture – a lot of it is about letting go of control. Focusing on what you want – there’s a part of my practise which is that – and then I’ve put on a different hat, gone onto my computer and made it happen. So, the internet shows everybody that its happened. I’m like praying to the internet, but then I’m also going into the internet and re-wiring it to make it happen. It’s this relationship between control and power. It’s not like I’m making these vision boards and crossing my fingers – I’m going into the meta-data and making it happen.

I ask Gretchen if she has ever received any backlash from these platforms, and she tells me she generally hasn’t received any. One she can recall is where she wrote a review of an art shop on Yelp. This was a sincere review of the canvases she bought there to produce her vision boards. This is also her way of simultaneously getting her images on there. It was a sincere review of the art shop, but Yelp removed it and said she was spamming their site. If you were to ask her; she was cleverly navigating the site within the rules set.

One of the things that makes my practise interesting to me, is that I look at the rules and then I say okay how do I work with it within these rules. Coming up against a brand like Frieze, it is a brand, I really was cautious that if there was any copyright infringement – google was making it, not me.

Would you describe yourself as an activist?

I think that’s quite an interesting question. Because my work deals with power and control, it can be quite political. But my work is also very self-centred. It’s about the internet that I want. It’s about the future that I want. I’m not evaluating and looking at under-represented demographics and putting them on the cover of artforum. It’s about me. I think that element of selfishness leads it to be more art than activism. But I do think there is something very feminist about not asking for permission and not getting consensus and just taking what I want for myself and using it.

Do you think the dissemination of information with covid-19 also plays within this reality and fantasy binary? There were reports of aquatic life returning to Venice canals for example and it was deemed the “silver-lining” of the epidemic that animals were returning to habitats. However, this was then reported to be fake. It reminded me of elements of your work in which the internet was able to actualise human desire? 

Yeah, I did hear about this and didn’t realise it was fake at the time as well. I have definitely seen in Los Angeles a different environmental situation like people aren’t driving. There are 8 hummingbirds on our porch right now, the air is so clear… when I record videos in my studio with the windows open, I hear birds chirping… So, I do think there is an environmental positivity. The example that you mentioned made me think of how important it is to me and my work, and with my vision boards that they’re not confused with fake or fake and real. Hopefully when someone sees these, they don’t confuse it with the actual cover of artforum. That all humans and computer users know and understand that this is aspirational. It’s not real, it’s not fake, its aspirational. And I don’t want to be involved in confusing people. I think that a lot of contemporary art that confuses people keeps people out and that’s really not what I’m trying to do.

Has self-isolation taught you anything about yourself or your practise?

I think freedom is really important in art. It’s something I’ve known abstractly, but I think freedom is also really hard to value. It’s easy as people and as a society to value security over freedom. And comfort over freedom. That is something that I very much chose as an artist, that freedom was going to become before [security and comfort]. Right now, I think that society in general is grappling with some of those feelings. Now that we have lost a sense of freedom. It’s making me think more about the prisons of my own making that I still have.

About Kate Mcilwee

Kate Mcilwee interviews and writes for up-and-coming and established artists. Her experience lies in working as a freelance editorial assistant as well as project managing the youth-led creative group REcreative at the South London Gallery. She is also an artist in her own right, producing poetry, photography and re-working clothing.