Women Artists Teaching Machines How To Dream …

Alexandra Busila  |  Ed Clare Deal  |  14 June 2020

Penny Slinger, Don’t look at me, 1969/2014. C-print from original collage.  © Courtesy of the artist and Richard Saltoun Gallery

While preparing for the first Agora Talk event with guests artists Gretchen Andrew and Penny Slinger, I kept returning to this question: how might a revision of the art history canon to include the importance of technology look? 

It would be a story of true subversion, free of woolly descriptors like critiquing, testing, provocation or resistance. Maybe it would subvert the idea of individual ownership of the works of imagination. It would perhaps replace the brick and mortar of institutions of culture with floating museums. And most importantly, it would be told as seen through personal encounters, pioneering dialogues, collaborative projects, and cultural exchanges. 

© Courtesy of the artist.

One such fascinating personal encounter is between artists Penny Slinger and Gretchen Andrew. When you get lost into their work you realise that they are both deeply preoccupied with how the human mind is hijacked or influenced by things that it doesn’t see or that are not immediately apparent. What we experience both through Penny’s collages and through Gretchen’s engineered live search results is a silent rebellion against pattern recognition. If their work unsettles us I suspect it’s because it reminds us of how it feels to dream wider, to think and choose freely.

First image. Gretchen Andrew, Cover of Artforum, 2020. Sidewalk chalk, miniature disco balls, very small gold shoes on canvas.  © Courtesy of the artist and Gazelli Art House

Gretchen’s work will open your mind to a whole world of algorithmic oppression and especially to the gender data gap in which datasets are not only constantly under-representing women, but also misrepresenting them. Penny’s complex body of work will also be an eye-opener in that she similarly acknowledges and participates in the structures of power and prohibition she seeks to transgress and then operates from within to disrupt those very structures.  Positively insidious indeed.

© Courtesy of the artist.

I can’t wait to hear how they cope with the constantly evolving set of expectations regarding reputation, recognition and what is considered “creative”, but also how they cope with the art world’s gatekeepers, whose social approval governs these expectations. We can all learn from how their unpatronising audience-exchanges have nurtured their artistic communities.