Gretchen Andrew, born 1988 in the USA, manipulates systems of power with art, glitter and code. She is best known for her playful hacks on major art world and political institutions, including Frieze, The Whitney Biennial, Artforum, The Turner Prize, and The Next American President. In these digital performances, she reimagines reality with art and desire. She does this by making assemblage “vision boards” that she programs to become top internet search results. The feminine and trivialized materials of her vision boards purposefully clash with the male-dominated worlds of AI, programming, and political control they also operate within. She trained in London with the artist Billy Childish from 2012-2017. In 2018 the V&A Museum released her book Search Engine Art. Gretchen’s work has recently been featured in Fast Company, Parnass, Flash Art, The Washington Post, Fortune Magazine, Monopol, Wirtschaftswoche, The Los Angeles Times, The Financial Times, and on the cover of Art Gorgeous. She is currently the artist in residence at The National Gallery X London.
In this instalment of my ongoing series “My Favourite NFT Artists,” I sat down with Gretchen in Miami to discuss her unique multidisciplinary practice in more detail. Gretchen is absolutely one of my favourite artists and it’s always a pleasure to catch up with her, especially in person for the first time. So without further ado, feel free to watch or read through my interview with the incredible Gretchen Andrew:
David Cash: Hello everybody, welcome back to NTFS.WTF, my name is David Cash, we are here in Miami, Florida, for Art Basel 2021, and I am joined with the incredible Gretchen Andrew. Thank you so much for being here today. How are you doing?
Gretchen Andrew: Thank you for having me David, it’s so wonderful to meet you in person finally.
DC: Amazing. I’ve been very much looking forward to this. As some people watching may know, we’ve been doing this series where I get a chance to sit down and talk with some of my favourite artists in the space of which you are one.
GA: Thank you.
DC: And just wanted to share your practice and your perspective on NFTs with our audience and with the people listening, so it’s an absolute pleasure. Maybe to start things off, we met through an NFT show with unit London, and I know that was an exciting experience for you with Jen Schachter and many other folks in the space. How has it been for you – obviously, you’re very much a technologist, but how has it been for you moving into the NFT space specifically, and was that your first encounter or were you already doing some pieces before that?
GA: Yeah, so it’s fascinating. I’m one of these artists who make physical objects. I make vision boards that manipulate algorithms on the internet. Traditionally, my market is very traditional because I sell works on canvas that get photographed and hack into algorithms on Facebook and Google. They made all of my dreams come true through Google, have hacked important art institutions, the presidential election results in 2020, the map of the EU. I put the UK back into it through these, like, glittery physical painting-based vision boards. So I’ve always had a very traditional market perspective, and the digital component in my work has been seen not as something that people could acquire. Not as something that museums could collect. So they bought just the physical thing. And so I’ve had a very digital practice for a long time, but with NFTs, what has started to happen is now that aspect of my course that is performative and the search results changing online. The archive of that is something that people can collect and support and, we’ll probably talk more about this later, but I see it as a way that people can invest in me and my practice even if they don’t want to own material things.
Even though they know I have a physical practice. There’s still a way to own and be involved in it.
DC: Absolutely. And I think it’s, changed the space for so many different creatives. I’ve talked to many performance artists, I’ve spoken to a lot of musicians who haven’t been able to find ways to monetize specific aspects of their practice, so I think that’s super relevant to you. Just for people watching, I do want to talk about this growth hacking aspect of what you do because I feel like a lot of the people who care about this, a lot of people in the NFT space, do have some element of a technology background, so I feel like they’d appreciate your work. So tell us a bit of the art auction record thing that you’ve been doing, how you’ve tricked Google regularly.
GA: I love that you. When we were talking the other day, you used the term growth hacking, which I’m familiar with, but I hadn’t thought about it about my practice, and I’ve renamed my show in March in Dubai Growth Hacking, by the way, so thank you.
DC: Amazing, I’m happy.
GA: So a couple of years ago, I started doing work about wanting to be a part of the art world, and so I would take a canvas that I’d make a drawing of a cover of an art form, and I put myself on it, and it would be like a 60 by 60-inch canvas with like a drawn copy of art form, so not a fake, I called it aspirational news, not fake news, future news. And I’ve done the same thing with a contemporary art auction record, so if you, anywhere in the world, go onto your computer and Google “contemporary art auction record,” what comes up as the top search results are my physical artworks about me wanting to have a contemporary art auction record.
DC: I’ve tested it. It’s real. It does work.
GA: All of the NFTs that have been selling for a crazy amount, like three [inaudible], all of the Jackson Pollocks, all the Mark Rothkos, everything is below me on Google.
DC: It’s like number thirty.
GA: Yeah. And the physical works are like you know, two draws on people carrying a frame into an, you know, into an auction house.
DC: But it’s your work.
GA: And it’s my work. It’s a drawing of when it happens. And that’s why I call them vision boards because I want this, and I visualize it on the canvas. Then I force the internet and Google to manifest it and visualize it for me, in almost treating the internet as a global subconscious, as my subconscious that also doesn’t understand the difference between aspiration and accomplished fact. And I’m using that —
DC: Perception as reality.
GA: Yeah, exactly! To do work about wanting to be in these places of power, appearing in these places of power, and then increasingly actually being here, sitting with you my museum show in Austria, growth hacking show in Dubai, like, the whole thing.
DC: That’s incredible. And I feel like in the NFT space now, we’ve been using these terms like “phygital” or like trying to blend reality is like digital and physical realities for the past year, but you’ve been doing this quite a while. So how did that part of your practice, like the intent to integrate technology into such physical works? How did that come about for you?
GA: Yeah, so my background is I studied information theory, and I worked as a software engineer, and I got into it through school. And then I got, like, what was supposed to be the dream job at Google 11/12 years ago out of school. And I was really unhappy there. And I was like, “oh well, this is the job. So, like, jobs are not for me, what am I going to do?” So I think I knew I wanted to go into art. I think I knew I was an artist at heart. But I posed it as a challenge to the internet. I said I believe so much on the internet. I do not see a lot of that here inside of Google. I’m seeing a lot of e-commerce and seeing a lot of loss of the utopianism that the ideals and the kind of ethos of that community. And I bet the internet can make me into something I’m not yet. So I posted as a challenge, and I started with YouTube videos and Stanford online, a MoMA online. Even then, that was almost a performance piece around the idea of becoming something I’m not by using the internet. And obviously, my practice is a bit different in its output now, that whole idea of ‘how do I use technology to transform me and the world into an aspirational space,’ to go from not just educating artificial intelligence based on historical data. Still, we can educate AI based on the world we want, not just the one we’ve historically had.
DC: And I think that’s a beautiful way of thinking about this because you say that it’s aspirational, but you’re making it happen, it’s not just manifestation, you’re programming these AI elements of the ecosystem – the internet that we all, you know, exist on. And you’re making them serve you, which we all have the option to do, but nobody’s doing that. So I think that that’s commendable, and yeah, I think the growth hacking aspect is an element of it because yeah, we have growth hackers who, that’s what they do. Still, I think it’s empowering for people to know that it’s an egalitarian practice. It’s something that we can do. As long as you know, go through the steps and have a, you know, even a base background in computer science.
GA: And that’s why I love, why I teach workshops [inaudible] gallery and cool museums in Switzerland, where I teach people through the technical side of my practice. Because it’s in-conceptually important to me that I show people that, like, I kind of want the stool thing, to be honest, I want people when they see me manipulate the 2020 presidential elections results. I want them to both go, ‘oh my God, how did you do that? That’s incredible‘ and then go ‘wait, you did that? We should all be apprehensive.’
DC: Shine a light on state-of-the-art.
GA: Yeah, educating people into internet literacy and, like, how that space works. I think of my work as being quite activist but in a very non-traditional way. Because it’s, like, so glamour and, like, all about me. But when you follow my practice over time, you accidentally learn how the internet works, how power works online, and how power works in the art world. That is just something that has been — I visualize it, and then I program it into being. There’s still this magical component where that has been sent out into the internet–
DC: I think that is you manifesting., by doing it, putting it into practice, and making it happen.
GA: Yeah, but then there’s this additional step too, where it’s like, it’s, by doing work about wanting to be powerful in the art world, I increasingly have a power base that I’ve never had before, and that’s like, honestly just pure magic.
DC: Absolutely. And I mean, for people trying to enter the space and people trying to figure out what you do, I feel like you’re very open about your practice. I know you do Instagram lives, talk like this, and be very honest with how you go about these processes. And that’s very in line with the open-source nature of the NFT space. So I feel like that’s one of the reasons you fit so well in this space because we like to give away information freely. So how has that been for you? Do you relate to the kin of open source ideology?
GA: Yeah, I mean, like, it’s always, like, more complex than just, like, the simple, like, free and not the free situation. But some of the NFTs that I’m making right now that are pure digitally native, I’m not just, like, selling the archive aspect. Not for people who aren’t just interested in getting the digital performance with a physical piece. I’ve just created these things I call NFT glitch GIFs. And these are GIFs that have an animation of some of my materials that are animating and growing — and this plant is growing, and it’s very cute, very in the aesthetic of NFTs. But the first frame in this GIF is one of my vision boards hacking contemporary art auction results, the New York Times, or the presidential election. And so when we see this NFT in the GIF loop, it looks like a glitch to us, but Google only reads the first frame in its search results, so what looks like a glitch to us, Google takes as the entire truth. Which is, I think, just like, a perfect way to sum up the problem with the internet.
DC: A hundred percent. Taking things a little bit too much at face value.
GA: Exactly. And it’s the face value of it — judging the book by its exact cover. I’ve always wanted my practice to be a big open door, with lots of pathways into it, and I’m excited about the way that those are connecting me with people who have been coming from some of them, you know, digitally more native sides of this world.
DC: A hundred percent. When I talk about NFTs, I like to talk about the concept of hypermodernity. So this concept of like we’ve reached the point in society where technology is progressing at a rate that we can’t comprehend as a society, and I think the best example of that is computers or the internet. The average consumer has no idea how it works. Still, I think what you’re doing with your practice, or one of the things you’re doing with your training, is you’re showing how accessible it is and how you can play with these tools that we’ve built around us just by having an understanding. Some people might call you a hacker. Some would call you an artist, some would call you a visionary, but how do you see that element of it? Do you want to push creative coding? Do you want to push the knowledge around how this works with your work?
GA: Yeah, I think that the relationship that we have to art traditionally goes through metaphor, and it goes through symbolism, and there’s such literacy and understanding that this is not the truth. It is a truth. This is, van Gogh did Starry Night. We’re not like, ‘that’s fake news, the sky so did not look like that. But there’s a nuance there. And we should have that understanding across all information on the internet. It came from a person. It came from a place, and that’s not always a bad thing when there’s bias, and that’s not always a bad thing to have perspective.
DC: But you have to factor that in.
GA: You have to factor that in.
DC: A hundred percent. You have such a beautiful perspective on this space. I know we don’t want to keep this too long, but I would like to let you talk maybe a little more about what you’re doing right now. What’s next? I know you’ve been exhibiting all over here. We have a couple of galleries shows happening over the week. But what’s coming next? What are you excited about as we move into 2022.
GA: Well, I specifically want to talk about a project – I mentioned it on my panel at design Miami on Wednesday, that was the first time I’ve told anybody about this, and so this is something excited to tell you about. I have something on my website right now called CV NFT, where I’ve taken my most significant career achievements this time and made NFTs like Girl Scout badges that, like, wiggle or spin.
DC: That’s so you, and that’s so cute.
GA: There are achievements that I’ve already done, like my show at the [inaudible], my first museum solo show in Europe. And I’ve released eight of those, and it’s already an accomplished thing, and they wiggle around on my CV online, and they’re on [inaudible] under Gretchen Andrew. But then I’ve also released future achievements. So, right, you can buy my retrospective at MoMA badge. And right now, that’s super cheap.
DC: I love that.
GA: But as we get closer to that happening, that’s — it’s going to go up and also what I love about it is part of the collection of ten of each of these, is reserved for people who have [inaudible] make it happen. And this is something we were talking a bit of too. I’m very excited about using smart contracts and NFT. I’ve been learning to program my future gallery contracts in solidity instead of just doing like, even for my traditional work, even just doing a very standard legal document. Finding ways to make the table of people involved in my career and its success broader and honestly fairer. Finding ways to make the table of people involved in my career and its success broader and more, honestly, fairer. Because curators, press, people who put me into these things, it’s all an economy of, I guess, like. Eventually, you get paid. So I want that to be different, and I’m excited for the potential for this technology to run my team and reward people differently. Because there are people who don’t want NFTs or physical work, but they believe in me, and they want to invest in me, and I think these technologies are But, still ways to, people pick winner even if they don’t want a glittery butterfly thing on their wall.
DC: I love that. And I think that integrating, you know, your collaborators, people who work with you, into your smart contract, and doing that in place of a contract, that’s the future. I mean, that’s what we’re moving towards. We don’t need trust in lawyers anymore. We need. Trust in code. And that’s very in line with your work, so it’s really exciting.
GA: Yeah, even with the traditional aspects of my career, my traditional market, I want my collectors, my galleries, my curators, to be contractually rewarded as things increase in value.
DC: That’s beautiful. And I feel like more artists should be doing that. That’s the ultimate utility for me. You know, because beautiful art is a utility. But you add so many layers to that and can bring them in on-chain [inaudible]. That’s super exciting. I’m very impressed. And I can’t wait to see that. And I’m sure we’re going to be talking gin.
GA: My name’s Gretchen Andrew, find me.
DC: Tell the people quickly, if they want to check out your work in more detail, maybe your website or —
GA: My name’s Gretchen Andrew, my name @gretchenandrew both on Twitter and Instagram and on open sea I’m /GretchenAndrew, so you’ll find me, I promise.
DC: Gretchen, thank you so much again for joining us today. It’s been such a pleasure to talk with you. I love your practice, I Love you, and everybody, please go check out Gretchen’s work. Once again, I’m David Cash. We are here at Art Basel. It’s been an absolute pleasure. Have a lovely rest of your day, wherever you are. Take care.