Internet Imperialism is the intentional structuring of information to dominate the online definition or reputation of a place or idea. It is part of Gretchen Andrew’s art practice through which she programs her paintings to manipulate & dominate search results, swapping existing image results for my paintings.
For What Is Ubuntu Gretchen made new portraits which she injecting into the image search results for What is Ubuntu, Wikimania’s 2018 theme. She did this through the creation, production, and sharing of content around the internet through a large and international community of fellow internet imperialists. The resulting exhibition is a combination of drawings, web pages printed into a newspaper, search engine art displayed on a monitor, and a short animation describing the project.
We give the internet a lot of authority to invent and change definitions. Amazon is a company before a river. Cherokee is a car before a tribe of people. It isn’t that the internet is incorrect in returning these results, but that in doing so it tells us something essential about the way the internet creates definitions, and who is more likely to benefit: companies over communities, products over people.
Considering these same issues for it’s 2018 conference Wikimania has adopted the theme, “the Ubuntu way forward” for this human-centric focus on an internet that is feeling less and less hospitable. Conducting her process of Internet Imperialism, search engine artist Gretchen Andrew has changed image results for Ubuntu from the operating system to her darkly hopeful portraits, literally adding a human face to the internet.
Her work looks at and makes interventions from how technology, in particular, search engines, fail to understand and represent human complexity. Her works are playful while also pointing us to important failures of technology and how we are using it. The manipulated search results provoke questions about the authority we give the internet and who has the tools and understanding to participate.
Her work is an opportunity to discuss art’s role in an increasingly product-centric internet as well as share her creative ways defining and addressing the problems inherent within non-textual forms of knowledge.