How an artist hacked her way to the top of Google’s results

After seeing informal sexism at work in Silicon Valley, Gretchen Andrew turned away from her tech profession to pursue a profession in artwork, apprenticing with the prolific British artist Billy Childish. Her artwork has come to meld her high-tech background with conventional portray. She’s created a collection of aspirational, pink glittery “imaginative and prescient boards” with titles equivalent to Cover of Artforum and The Next American President. Her work playfully explores her aspirations for herself and the world. And it’s accompanied by websites that she hacks into the top of Google results for his or her titles, utilizing the sorts of search engine marketing tips extra usually harnessed by companies.

Andrew’s most recent gallery exhibition, at London’s Annka Kultys Gallery, invites guests to discover her bodily art work—and use their very own units to try the search results that prioritize them.

[Photo: courtesy of Annka Kultys Gallery]

I spoke to Andrew about her work and what it says about energy dynamics in the tech trade, the artwork world, and the bigger implications of search engine manipulation. This interview was edited for size and readability.

Quick Firm: You labored in the tech trade earlier than you started making artwork. How was that have and what made you resolve to go away?

Gretchen Andrew: I studied data methods. I labored at Intuit via college. After which I bought what ought to have been the most good dream job at Google. And I fairly shortly discovered that the expertise of being there wasn’t one through which folks have been being celebrated for being themselves for being modern, except you seemed a sure way or match right into a sure mildew.

p 1 Gretchen Andrew courtesy Nick Berardi
Gretchen Andrew [Photo: courtesy of Nick Berardi]

One instance that at all times comes again to me is, I used to be doing this factor at Google the place each morning, I’m going to a unique cafeteria and have lunch with a stranger and speak about what they’re doing. You realize, for nearly anybody else at the firm, this may have been perceived as an ideal networking, “that is how I made it in my profession” type of transfer. And I simply continually had these interactions misinterpreted as romantic advances. So I began in the cycle of, okay, I would like to costume otherwise. I’m in my early twenties. I believe that is my fault.

So I begin not washing my hair. I begin carrying a hoodie. I do all this stuff I believe are going to assist remedy this downside. After which, in a single of my official opinions, my supervisor instructed me I wanted to look extra presentable. So I fairly shortly realized that I used to be taking part in a dropping sport, or I used to be taking part in any person else’s sport. I wished to go away and do one thing through which I might be taken severely. And despite the fact that I knew completely nothing about making artwork or the artwork world, artwork was, in my thoughts, this place the place individuality and perspective was championed.

And from the starting, it looks as if your artwork engaged with web expertise.

I take the methods as they exist and I infiltrate them via enter.”

Once I left, I made a decision that the web would make me into one thing else that I wasn’t: this factor known as an artist. I used to be upset with what was occurring to me personally in Silicon Valley, however I additionally believed nonetheless in the potential of these instruments and of these methods. And so my work can actually be seen from that point ahead as an exploration of utilizing the system that I didn’t really feel like was designed for me or for a range of folks, however making it work for me and buying the abilities and methods through which it may very well be appropriated by me and utilized by me to be taken severely and to be thought of a expertise innovator. All of this stuff that from inside the constructing didn’t appear attainable—the instruments might nonetheless be utilized by me in ways in which Google didn’t intend.

Some of your artwork addresses points in the artwork world itself. Do you see some of the identical biases in the artwork world that you just noticed in the tech world?

It’s completely different. Energy could be very completely different. There’s no supervisor, there’s no boss, and that has implications for the way energy is skilled. However principally, I discovered the artwork world is far more open than the tech world to be self-critical. And it doesn’t do issues completely by any stretch of the creativeness. However I really assume that consciousness is actual, that it is aware of that it’s deeply imperfect. And I don’t know the way it’s right now, however I believe even 10 years in the past there was nonetheless this sense in Silicon Valley like geeky white males have been the underdogs. There was this sense of like, “Oh, I do know what it’s like to be bullied.” They didn’t see themselves as the folks wielding the energy.

My work is an artwork observe largely as a result of I didn’t discover a house the place it could have been a extra conventional profession path. I don’t look forward to the authorities to regulate this. I don’t wait for giant tech to apologize. I take the methods as they exist and I infiltrate them via enter.

I have a look at the way that search works, the search engine optimization works, the way the search engine optimization impacts synthetic intelligence, the way that pure language processing relates to the binary code. And I inject this bizarre glittery, girlie, female factor into it. Inventive disruption’s what the tech world makes use of, however I believe of it from the artwork time period of “productive uncertainty.” That after we as folks see artwork, one of the issues that I imagine occurs in our mind is that we grow to be much less certain that we see the world in the solely way it’s attainable of seeing it, and by basically loading AI with artwork, we are able to trigger that very same productive uncertainty, that very same kind of dissonance.

And as you set collectively these websites, how precisely are you getting them to rank excessive in the Google results?

I exploit some metadata. I exploit HTML. I exploit alt textual content. All of the instruments of search engine marketing are an enormous half of my observe. However the core of it truly is language primarily based, the place I’m going onto WordPress and Pinterest and Yelp and SoundCloud, any of these web sites that enable you to have a profile and publish textual content. And I say, “I actually, actually need the U.Ok. to be again in the EU. I would like to reverse Brexit. I would like the map of the EU to embrace the U.Ok. nonetheless. I would like the U.Ok. to be half of the EU.”

What I do has fairly darkish implications.”

I simply speak about what I would like, and by speaking about what I would like, I construct that relevance. I remix that, and I’ve some enjoyable with the use of poetic language. However the majority of it occurs simply by endlessly placing out into the universe of Google and all net content material what you need.

I like want as one of these areas to play in. As a result of once I say, I would like my work to be on the cowl of The New York Instances [in an upcoming work] or I would like my work to obtain the contemporary art auction record, it’s 100% clear to me that we’re speaking a few area of separation [between aspiration and reality]. Google algorithms normally, Fb, Amazon, all of these firms, all of the code solely offers in relevance. And you may construct relevance via hope, via worry, via want, but it surely all will get collapsed into, “Oh, Gretchen is now related to the New York Instances cowl.”

This collapsing of how’re we associated to issues is type of enjoyable and playful. I additionally actually love that to perceive want you have got to be human. And to me, that makes want one thing we are able to double down on and have a good time as one thing that could be very completely different for relevance and can separate us from any code that’s constructed on language and binary [math].

How do you assume your work will change if these goals and wishes begin to come true?

Properly, the goals have began to come true, which could be very thrilling. I believe the coronary heart of your query, as I perceive it’s about how as I really obtain and accumulate extra energy for myself professionally, how does that change the observe? I nonetheless assume there’s no artist in the world who’s as highly effective as Mark Zuckerberg. There’s no artist in the world who’s as highly effective as the American president.

You realize, it’s one factor to take over the artwork world, however I additionally did a search engine hack of “the subsequent American president” throughout the election. And both political social gathering would gladly pay me tons of cash for me to be engaged on their staff. As an alternative, I believed it was extra attention-grabbing to present the brushstrokes of energy—to present how energy constructs itself on-line and to be making statements which might be about one thing extra long-term and summary than simply any particular person presidential election, any particular person political exercise.

One of the unintended penalties of that hack was that me and my work kind of blew up in India for a couple of weeks. And one of the causes I believe I bought a lot traction in India is it’s a rustic the place so many individuals really feel below the thumb of huge expertise. So there’s loads of individuals who have been now experiencing this stuff search engine optimization as instruments for their very own potential energy and liberation. I will be in Artwork Basel all I would like, however inspiring folks to self-represent on-line and use a talent set that they thought was in the pocket of huge tech for their very own authority is one thing that I don’t assume will run out anytime quickly, for higher and worse.

You refer to your self and your work as “web imperialist.” What does that imply to you?

I like to preserve the literal floor of my work optimistic and glittery. I believe it’s a lot simpler to make art work or to have a important public observe about protesting what the web’s doing fallacious. I believe it’s a lot tougher to discover potential options to that. I assume my potential resolution is, we are able to all hack the inputs. We will acceptable these methods with out Congress deciding something, with out getting a job at Google, with none of this stuff.

What I do has fairly darkish implications. Like I stated, both political social gathering would have beloved to have me and my abilities working for them in the final marketing campaign. The way I obtain these results is used day by day in ways in which we don’t see. Once we see my artwork come up at the top of search results, we’re very conscious that the system is being tampered with. It appears to be like fallacious.

Nevertheless, after we don’t see these brushstrokes, we don’t see the path, after we don’t see somebody placing themselves ahead and being like, “I’m making this work for me,” then it’s half of a historical past of imperialism. It’s half of what’s occurring on the web day by day. And with out having to dwell in that area and making it far more solution-focused or forward-focused, I would like to acknowledge that that’s a particular half of what makes me in a position to do what I’m doing: that individuals use this for far more darkish and sinister functions.