Can women artists beat men with their own tools? That’s what we going to discover with Gretchen Andrew and Penny Slinger in this first Agora Talk.
Isabella Helms | Ed Francesca Gransden | 22 June 2020
California based artist Gretchen Andrew, uses the internet to expose the weaknesses of modernity and raise questions of authenticity by, in effect, beating the internet at its own game. By tricking the algorithms of search engines, Andrew propels her work to the top of search lists such as Google and Bing. Her dream-like vision boards and paintings splashed with colour, flowers and hopes of a bright future, transcend the monochromatic world of artificial intelligence and internet algorithms. Referred to as an ‘internet imperialist’ and ‘search engine artist’, Andrew subverts the internet into a platform that embraces her work and goals. From hacking Frieze Los Angeles to feature her work at the top of their search lists, to convincing the internet that her work was featured in the 2019 Whitney Biennale, Andrew’s visions are uniquely expressed through her tech efficiency and artistic message.
Dismantling our perception of search engines and AI, Andrew demonstrates the malleability and weaknesses of the flawed web. But taking control of her reputation through implementing her vision boards alongside top art fairs and biennales is only the start of her disruption of the art world. . With our ‘reality’ increasingly shifting online, her ‘search engine’ work sits on a platform that gives the world easy access to it. Embedding this further, Andrew’s physical work coincides with the keywords that she had matched them to in search engines. Typing the words ‘Powerful person’ and ‘Perfect female body’ into the search bar plunges the web surfer into the realm of feminist activism, and there, sitting at the top of the search engine, is Andrew’s work, embodying the power of female manifestation.
Within her work, Andrew seeks to combine collage and artificial intelligence. In recent years collage has increasingly become a feminist body of work, one which seeks to shift the way in which we view the ‘putting together’ of images. In her journal article Beyond Fragmentation, Gwen Raaberg emphasises how feminist collage can ‘re-collect artworks and activities already fragmented and abandoned by the dominant culture’ and instead ‘construct a sense of continuity by relating them to contemporary artistic activities’. Andrew’s work does this not only through the relevant images that she places together in her vibrant collages, but also through the disruption of arguably the most dominant of all cultures in the 21st century, – the internet. By implementing her ideas and dreams into the web, she is able to subvert her narrative to empower herself and the feminist message of her work.
Andrew’s collaboration of collage and artificial intelligence also demonstrates her ability to utilise a system that does not always champion the underdog. Placing her work in tandem with major art events such as the Turner Prize and Whitney Biennale, she can surpass the infamous exclusivity of these events. By creating her reality through manipulation of the internet, Andrew’s work has an relentless millenial force and an innate feminist ambition/voice.
Andrew’s latest projects for Gazell.io will utilise her optimisation skills and bring her work to new – albeit virtual – heights. ‘The Next American President’ and ‘The Cover of Artforum’ are two projects which target the disruption of major online campaigns. Alongside this, ‘In her Image’ conversations with other inspiring female artists highlights Andrew’s commitment to amplifying feminist voices within her practice. Her work continues to break glass ceilings, and by using the internet as an ally, she inspires other artists who are also unable to permeate the physical exclusivity of the traditional art world, to do the same.
Gretchen Andrew, Inspiration Boards 2020 © Courtesy of the artist.
Penny Slinger, Ophelia (2020) © Courtesy of the artist.
Penny Slinger is a British-born artist who now lives and works in California. Best known for her work in video, photography and collage, Slinger’s interests lie in the intersection between art and technology, which she manipulates to convey her feminist message. With a successful career working in the UK, the US and the Caribbean, her body of work is a colourful journey of self-discovery and female desire. As a surrealist artist, she delves into the female psyche and creates art which challenges the way that women are perceived in the art history canon.
Slinger’s simultaneous use of technology and art draws upon decades of experience. With her collages, Slinger shows a full-frontal representation of herself – not for the nude itself – but her entire psyche. The juxtaposition between real and surreal images confronts what we expect from a photograph. The unnerving nature of the dismantled images creates an uncomfortable viewing experience, and forces the person interacting with it to challenge their preconceptions of the female body.
Slinger’s collage work of the sixties was ahead of its time in the way it discusses issues around women and female sexuality. Using herself as a muse and refusing to be defined by the ‘male gaze,’ Slinger’s work has always captured her own femininity in a light that is characterised by the way she wants to be perceived by the world. Laura Mulvey, the creator of the feminist theory of the ‘Male Gaze,’ a term which underpins how women in art are often shown through the ideals of men, has praised Penny Slinger and her work ‘Female Phantasy’, in the seventies. Celebrating her use of art to take control of the narrative of her work, she argues this empowerment encourages other women to do the same. By using herself and her often naked body as a muse, Slinger’s use of subversion confronts the norms created by the male gaze, and dismantles the over-sexualization of the female form.
The female gaze is a crucial component to Slinger’s work, with her collages embracing all aspects of herself and her consciousness. Her work has always encompassed the most pressing contemporary issues facing women, and her current work intends to do the same. ‘My Body in a Box’ (2020) tackles the subject of ageism and the impact it has on individuals. Centring herself at the heart of this project, Slinger aims to take the viewer on a journey of experience, bringing the relevancy of ageism to the forefront of the feminist debate. Her courage to tackle very current issues in her own life through her work sets a precedent for others to do the same, and ultimately demands a change in the status quo.
Slinger’s work continues to push the boundaries of collage and its ability to make us reflect on the way we look at female bodies and more importantly, the human psyche. Consequently, we are seeing work from Slinger that is enriched by the female experience, and with the same daring social commentary expressed in the sixties, but this time around, in a world that is now ready to embrace it.