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Arts + Lifestyle

From The Desk Of "Search Engine Artist" Gretchen Andrew

Unhappy with her job in Silicon Valley, Gretchen Andrew decided to pursue a crazy idea: channelling her knowledge of tech to become an artist.

Ten years later, she has made a name for herself not only for her unique perspective and creative eye, but for her constant search to question the rules of the establishment. From her Affirmation Ads to Vision Boards, she’s on a quest to turn the art world on its head, glitter in hand. She hacked the Los Angeles Frieze Art Fair in 2019, and is back this year to present her work and discuss female empowerment in digital spaces at the Santa Monica Art Museum.

We talk to Gretchen about all things related to digital art, her inspiration, and her London workspace – the Barbican Beach Club.

The Art

How would you describe “search engine art” for someone who isn’t familiar with the concept?

In 2018 I published a book with Irini Papadimitriou and the V&A where we defined “search engine art” as works that are in some way co-authored by search engines. What this means in my practice of hacking systems of power with art, code, and glitter is that I manipulate Google (meaning its algorithm) into returning my desires as top search results.

For example, google “cover of artforum” To the internet, the search “GRETCHEN IS HOPING TO BE ON THE COVER OF ARTFORUM SOMEDAY” will be interpreted as “GRETCHEN is relevant to the COVER OF ARTFORUM” (so my name and work will appear). This alternative form of knowledge (algorithms) cleverly optimises the mysticism of manifestation, making an artwork about wanting to be in the art world actually introduce the artist into the art world.

What gave you the idea to hack Frieze LA in 2019?

I thought I was doing something pretty cool with manipulating the global internet but no one seemed to care. By hacking Frieze LA I found a way to align my aspirations with the art world’s playful ability to reveal its own institutional critique. 

What do you hope people get or feel from looking at your work?

When people look at my work and practice I want them to think, “If she can do this, so can I.” The “this” doesn’t have to be related to Google or even technology. It can be public speaking, admitting your dreams or making a luxurious living doing what you love.

What are your biggest sources of inspiration?

I consider my job description to be celebrated and get paid lavishly for being myself. Often seen as a privilege for an artist, I believe everyone in the art world and in tech should have this same opportunity. I am inspired when I see this happening inside and outside of the art world.  

In what ways do you feel tech has revolutionised art spaces?

The biggest trend I have seen is that technology platforms like Artsy, Arcual, Artfacts, SuperRare, fxHash and Expanded.Art have emerged as major power players in the art world in a space that didn’t exist a decade ago. NFT platforms like that focus on historical NFTs, or decentralised crypto exchanges such as that enable NFT markets are also impacting how art spaces function.

What would you say to women who are interested in getting started in digital art?

I think of an art practice as the entire system of effort and meaning – including how we get people to understand and potentially care about what we do as digital artists. As such, we all make digital art to some extent. Figure out what you love to do hour by hour and build a practice out of who you are, or who you are making yourself become. Don’t limit what that means. I know that I personally don’t want to sit in front of a computer all day so I have folded physicality and physical objects into my work and therefore my life.

What do you see for the future of the art world?

If my professed goal of “ruling the art world with a bejewelled open palm” comes to pass I foresee a lot of joy, glitter, champagne and fun. I want to be inspiring and to create a future based on the world my team and I want to live in.  

The Artist

Where are you from originally?

I’ve recently had the terrifying realisation that my origins are more Anna Delvey than Anna Wintour, both of who’s biographies I’ve recently finished. I don’t mean that I’m dishonest about my origins, but that they don’t seem as important to me as where I am going. I think we all create ourselves to some extent and fake it ‘til you make it has been a big part of my story in the last five years. 

What was your first job?

A dangerously under qualified lifeguard. 

What first sparked your interest in art?

Warhol. Imagine me in his museum in Pittsburgh at seven years old, reading his quote about art and business on a gift shop postcard as I puzzled over what sort of adult got to fill silver pillows with helium for a living. This is the adult I wanted to be.

Do you have a mentor or inspirational figure that has guided or influenced you?

I’ve been thinking a lot about Walt Disney and how he created a cultural empire that brings joy to so many.

The best advice you’ve ever received?

Spend your time and energy before 40 figuring out what you love and how to get paid for doing it. Both involve courage and creativity. I think too many of us only focus on one of these two things.

What are you working on right now?

My studio has created the Crypto Mermaids (having more fun than whales since 2022). Along with being a group of fabulous people, the Crypto Mermaids are 250 unique PFP NFTs, (which you can purchase) that Support Crypto Education for those who feel isolated from Web3 (a new iteration of the Web based on decentralisation and blockchain technology). An Accenture study found that 50% of women abandon tech careers by the age of 35. I am part of this statistic. Crypto Mermaids is a female-led NFT collectible project that supports empowerment by funding tech and finance education. We are launching our pre-sale at the Santa Monica Art Museum on Feb 18 with a Mermaids and Mimosas event to kick off a day of panels powered by Tezos.

I’ve also spent the last month in LA working with Christoph Rahofer, who’s one of my collectors, and Aubrie Wienholt to invent a new art museum in Santa Monica. We’ve been questioning, “What is an art museum?” and pushing boundaries through that conversation.

How do you start your days?

At 5am with affirmations, a daily journal prompt of “My New Story”, a review of my personal vision board, and seven cups of coffee. Only after that do I turn my phone on. My best days don’t involve checking messages before noon.  

What’s your go-to uniform?

I’m either wearing something ridiculous and designer, maybe with oversized bows, useless zippers, cut outs that leave odd tanlines, or I’m covered in paint. Occasionally these two categories overlap.

Describe your workspace

I call my studio Barbican Beach Club. It is located in London’s historic Barbican Estate. Warhol’s “Factory” brought a glorification of work and industrial processes into the studio whereas my “Barbican Beach Club” celebrates luxury and leisure as part of the artistic process and community.

Define your aesthetic…

For the first 3 months the only things I had in my kitchen were vintage champagne glasses and an oyster shucking knife.  This defines my relational and visual aesthetics.

Identify something in your workspace that’s special to you..

I have Kipling’s If poem framed next to an original Penny Slinger ‘Xerox’ work. This is surrounded by my great grandmother’s paperweight collection. 

What are your workplace essentials?

A piano, my teddy bear and vintage champagne glasses.

What is the most rewarding part of the job?

I’m new to it, but hiring a team has been exceptionally rewarding.

And the most challenging?

I am a true introvert in that I am most clear, happy, and energised when I spend a lot of time alone. Keeping that time is difficult when I also want to literally and figuratively show up for and with the many people who are making my dreams come true.

What did you study in school or university?

Information systems. This has a lot to do with why my art is so uncommon.

If you were to write a two-line job spec for yourself, it would read as follows…

Get paid lavishly for being myself. Rule the art world with a bejewelled open palm. Both of these came up earlier but I think they are worth reiterating. They are listed on my website for a reason.

What time of day are you at your most creative?

Before I turn my phone on or check my email.

Work takes you most frequently to..

Vienna and Dubai.

What’s next for you?

I am taking 6 Affirmation Ads and 100 sets of fake nails to Milan with Anna Maurrasse-Tomaiuolo of ArtPowHer.

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