Andrew Norman Wilson

An interview with Lucy Chinen

13 July 2013

“In general I just don’t consider myself an artist or a curator,” writes Lucy Chinen in a long and thoughtful email exchange, based on her practice at large and the forthcoming group exhibition, Over the Valley at Steve Turner Contemporary, that she curates. Interesting, that with the modern focus on interdisciplinarity, Chinen would opt-out of an art world that has discomfitingly expanded into serious critical discourse around the likes of James Franco‘s General Hospital installation and Jay-Z’s meta-performance. But perhaps the definition of “art” is really no longer a relevant one. As prevalence generally correlates with value, the more you have of something, the less you want it and the lower its worth. It’s a sentiment Finnish video artist Jaakko Pallasvuo shared in a recent interview with aqnb where he blames the ubiquity and subsequent devaluation of the image (perhaps, echoing the ubiquity and subsequent devaluation of the artist) for his migration into writing: “I don’t feel like a visual artist anymore”.

Similarly, Chinen is less interested in media production and more interested in mediation. A turning point came with a lucid and incisive analysis of Web 2.0 in an essay, Social and Connected: The Integration of Networked Language in ‘Connecting as she began to recognise patterns in her own interactions with social media networks, leading to a growing fascination with the machinations behind tech companies and her compulsion to identify and catalogue them.

As an LA resident without a driver’s license, Chinen found herself wandering the stateless realm of the web early on, engaging with an artistic set across borders. That’s how Over the Valley features six artists from around the US and Europe, none of them based in Silicon Valley, from which the exhibition takes its title. That’s how, during a written and online interaction, Chinen can discuss criticality and subversion, artistic processes and perspectives, the angry red lines of my “English (UK)” setting on Microsoft Proofing being the only indication of our physical separation. That’s because all of us, as Chinen writes, “contribute to the core functionality of companies that use data, it’s almost a house we all live in, a company we all work for”.

Katja Novitskova, 'Curiosity and Opportunity- Next Best Thing To Being There' (2012).
Katja Novitskova, ‘Curiosity and Opportunity- Next Best Thing To Being There’ (2012).

aqnb: You seem fairly concerned with the subliminal effects of corporate advertising and its use as a form of control, when do you think you first became aware of this?

Lucy Chinen: I became interested in how it has so quickly adapted to technology and how advertising can be so ingrained within media. I’m naturally attracted to how these platforms make people feel. I became aware that that’s what I was concerned with when I saw that everything I was tweeting about or posting on Facebook was about that.

aqnb: In ‘Social and Connected’, you talk about advertising looking less and less like advertising as it infiltrates our social media feeds. Do you think the contemporary art aesthetic, particularly in post-internet art, reflects that, by itself looking more and more like advertising?

LC: There is definitely a blurry line between minimal corporate advertising and corporate aesthetic in art. Yet, I think lots of artists who make objects that are influenced by networked society are interested in advertising also because advertising advertises an idea, not just a product. It seems that artists are being inspired and almost looking at what art can learn from it as a psychological force.

I also see how technology has lots to learn from art, not just aesthetically. There are things that artists do that are free from being monetarily functional so its a very accelerated version of what’s happening now in technology. The artist doesn’t necessarily have to create that technology, just highlight the possibility; point toward a potential future that hasn’t been defined yet.

aqnb: Is it a subversive act?

LC: One thing I wonder sometimes is, how an artist can retain criticality if the art ends up looking or functioning similarly to the thing the artist is criticizing. Being subversive now doesn’t necessarily mean controversial, so it can be hard to distinguish if what is created is actually different from the system it is seeking to critique. I am unsure if being self-aware is enough to make it different. Additionally, I think whether it is actually subversive depends on a viewer’s understanding of what the artist is trying to subvert.

In an interview I did with Katja Novistkova for the catalog I asked a question relating to similar processes within art and technology one thing she said was, “I’m sure that some of the works being made by artists today will end up as ‘immaterial’ influences in the upcoming technological transformations; doesn’t matter if it happens via Hollywood, Art Basel or Internet.” I agree with this and following this idea I personally would rather see something interesting regardless of its ‘field’ or context. Cross-pollination of methods and techniques is natural, as artists comment on culture.

aqnb: In the Over the Valley press release, you make a point of mentioning that these artists are all unrelated, yet, share similar concerns.

LC: I mentioned that they are unrelated because they are all very different in the way the works look, and also the approach. One thing I intentionally wanted to explore was how a piece can become relevant again.

Electronic Disturbance Theater made the Transborder Immigrant Tool in 2007 and that doesn’t seem like too long ago but I feel that piece is very specific to what was happening within the early intersection of activism and technology as art. They have contributed to the dialogue of civil disobedience and its almost like the actual functionality of the application on the phones doesn’t matter, it was a gesture to evoke response and to call attention to the legality of crossing a boundary that isn’t defined yet.

This concept comes up again with the use of peoples data, patent trolls and offshore companies; working around legality due to undefined territory occupied by digital transactions. This is something Goldin+Senneby and Metahaven in their larger practice are focused on as well.

Goldin+Senneby, 'After Microsoft' (2007). CC 2.5 SA
Goldin+Senneby, ‘After Microsoft’ (2007). CC 2.5 SA

Andrew Norman Wilson looks into the human hand in the digitization of printed material and a part of his larger practice looks into the whole structure of a company, the network of different hands involved in producing something of tangible and intangible value. Then, on the other end, Michael Manning really embraces and celebrates the use of these corporate platforms, joyfully working with the structure defined by the company. Katja Novitskova looks into periods of rapid growth in space, nature and the internet. Her present practice looks into ancient cultures to predict future trends. So you see the variety of approaches these artists have and, through this selection, I have appreciated looking into these diverse perspectives on the matter.

aqnb: In ‘Social and Connected’ you talk about this idea of “auto propaganda” and its effect on shaping perspectives.

LC: The way a network is structured has a tremendous effect on the way you think when you use online tools or services. Boris Groys has written about the way one thinks of a question adapting to the way the Google search engine works and Metahaven talks about current design as a “Fischer Price interface culture with one or two buttons that do everything… representing a deliberate oversimplification of the world.”

It might sound sort of silly to think about your iPhone or Google search indoctrinating you but, if you use something everyday, the way that thing is structured, what you see and what you don’t see, starts to condition your expectations. One day, you can be using Gmail, YouTube, GoogleDocs, GoogleDrive, etcetera, and the next you find yourself in a theater watching a GoogleComedy staring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson called The Internship and you think to yourself “is this normal?”

The Internship (2013).
The Internship (2013).

aqnb: This selection of artists could also potentially be reflective of that capitalist model of new market generation, is that something you’d considered when putting the show together?

LC: When I gathered these works it became apparent that it wasn’t about Google, Microsoft, Amazon or Apple. It was an ideology that makes use of the way people view technology, with awe, wonder and confusion, which is also a place that is ripe for new markets. One example would be app culture. The idea that you could create the next big app or internet business, in general, where someone says, ‘it’s like this [a basic business model]…but online!’  For example, the online art fair or online art collecting within s[edition].

aqnb: In an interview around ‘’ (2011), you’re really speaking the language of an expanding art world, one that is continuously absorbing new industries.

LC: Art Object Culture was a project I worked with Emilie Gervais on. We discontinued this platform of an online gallery when the time for that was over. Bank of America now has their online gallery and it seemed like an appropriate end to that project, if you visit the site now we just ‘iframed’ the Bank of America online gallery with a link to the archive of projects that were featured on the website.

When we responded to that interview, Emilie and I spoke in a very art e-commerce embracing way. It was also the same time that people were flirting with the idea that you were a curator of everything, clothes, food etc. We were seeing all these images of artworks online and they would be constructed entirely of commercial products. It also seemed like people were trying to come up with so many constructs as to how work online would be sold and it started to become so complicated, with all these arrangements of what you actually receive in return and it’s just meant to be a signifier of a physical object. In the end, the concept of an online gallery was also realized by Bank of America and so was the direct linking of products within an image. 'Get The Look' feature. ‘Get The Look’ feature.

aqnb: More generally, do you think the developed world is experiencing a period of entropy? Perhaps, it’s following a natural cycle, where things need to decay before they can regenerate.

LC: To me it starts to get really interesting when old structures and definitions, such as patents, intellectual property and privacy, are drastically changed by media. The old rules don’t make sense anymore and now these things have to be ethically reconsidered.

I think there is a period of time when people stop saying “THIS IS AWFUL” or “AMAZING” because it’s neither. There are aspects to the commercialization of society that are very interesting because they utilize new technologies or ideas and then there are times where it is just empty content. Likewise, the boom in the digitization of society is not all amazing and great and not every interaction should be digitized. Yet, it is also not the cause of all our problems. **

The Over the Valley group exhibition runs at Steve Turner Contemporary from Saturday, July 13, to Saturday, August 10.

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‘To Look is to Labor’ @ Basilica Hudson

1 July 2013
When we interviewed Andrew Norman Wilson at transmediale earlier this year, he referenced Harun Farocki‘s video essays as a major inspiration on his own work. That’s why it’s no surprise that the California-based artist will be presenting his works, alongside the German film maker at To Look is to Labor, running on the weekened of July 12 to 14 at Basilica Hudson in New York.


The exhibition and performative lectures are curated by Olga Dekalo and Aily Nash, who will be screening Dream Factory, while Lucy Raven will be presenting her ‘Motion Capture’ illustrated lecture on the Saturday, July 13. That’s following Wilson’s ‘Movement Materials and What We Can Do’ PowerPoint performance on Friday, July 12.See the Basilica Hudson website for more information. **
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An Interview with Andrew Norman Wilson

26 February 2013

Andrew Norman Wilson is sitting on a couch in Berlin’s Haus Der Kulturen Der Welt going through some images from his ScanOps exhibition. That is, a selection of anomalous found-photos from the public Google Books archives featuring the hands and bizarrely condomed index fingers of its so-called ‘cultural labourers’, tasked with the responsibility of digitising the world’s entire literary history.

Google Books is a nice premise, in theory. It’s a project aimed at making that ‘great democratiser’, the internet, more democratic by redistributing the power of knowledge to a global network, led by a company that prides itself on some lofty ideals founded on an informal motto that reads ‘Don’t be Evil’. But for any post-war skeptic, it’s easier said than done. Any ideology is usually just that, an ideology, and difficult to carry out in practice. The world is a complicated place and that’s something that Wilson –a visual artist, working in and around film and installation with his roots in journalism –knows all too well. He’s the man responsible for Worker’s Leaving the Googleplex, a 2011 video work outlining his experiences with Google’s Californian headquarters and its colour-coded labour hierarchy. Here, the white-badged superiors enjoy the privileges of office ski trips and PepsiCo owned Naked Juice drinks on campus, while the bottom-rung yellow-badge workers carry out their menial tasks –turning pages to be photographed for Google Books –in a separate building altogether.

It’s here that Wilson draws parallels, not only between his film and the first ever motion picture, Louis Lumière’s Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory, released in 1895, but a history of literature dealing with the problem of social and political hierarchies ever since. From Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, a structural solution to injustice has been inconceivable and it’s an issue that remains unresolved, from the time of Lumière’s industrial age to Wilson’s information one. That’s why, in Germany to present Workers Leaving the Googleplex, in dialogue with his Movement Materials and What We Can Do presentation at this year’s transmediale festival, Andrew Norman Wilson seeks progress and potentiality not in the answers but the questions that his works raise.

aqnb: You mentioned your original interest in the video essay work by Harun Farocki, Chris Marker and Trinh T. Minh-ha. There’s a clear connection between that and the factual nature of Workers Leaving the Googleplex.

Andrew Norman Wilson: Yeah, I like when my work can function in networks outside of the art world. It was important for it to have journalistic elements. I think it still works as a work of art for me, I’m still satisfied, but I’ve done other projects where I’m trying to get works to be talked about within video game networks online; it’s when it can function within the art world but also outside because I think I have a lot of reservations about the art world.

aqnb: That’s been a running thread of discussion at both CTM and transmediale; where people making art eschew direct involvement in the art world, like exhibiting in galleries, because by doing so they’re engaging with the economics of it.

ANW: I think it’s unavoidable. When I show Workers Leaving the Googleplex, I like to implicate the viewer, in certain ways. I try to make the viewer feel like they’re employees at Google because we all are working for Google. The research we do, every email we send becomes information that Google can use. They’re using our productive capacities to create their own value.

So when you walk into an exhibition of the work, you sit on a yoga ball that’s of the colours that you see in the video. Those are the yoga balls that they have all over the Google campus that people can sit on. Then at the openings I make Naked Juice cocktails because Naked Juice is something that was all around too. I don’t want people to feel like they have some critical distance from Google, or that I’m trying to pretend that I have some sort of critical distance or autonomy from Google either.

Andrew Norman Wilson, Workers Leaving the Googleplex (2012). Installation view. Image courtesy of the artist.
Andrew Norman Wilson, Workers Leaving the Googleplex (2012). Installation view. Image courtesy of the artist.

aqnb: I saw a discussion with Marcel Mars, the digital activist. His goal is to promote some sort of awareness of the structures within Google and the potential economic and political power they hold. Yet, with something like facebook, for example, its value is tied to its users; we’re already integral and complicit in its functioning.

ANW: Yeah and it totally disrupts a lot of concepts within Marxist theory. I came at the project from a very Marxist perspective. That’s just because I was being egged-on by my labour union friends; I was in reading groups and going to workers meetings. But since then, I don’t think that traditional Marxist theory can really deal with these new economic conditions. There’s a lot of other stuff that’s been much more useful than to just to think of Google as a factory.

There are all these differences that make Workers Leaving the Googleplex more than just an exposé to me. I don’t even want it to just be saying, ‘Google is bad’. I don’t think that’s really that interesting. I do want it to be suggesting that Google is not an exception to our current economic arrangements.

aqnb: As you say, Marxism doesn’t appear to work within the current system. It’s become fairly apparent that Capitalism isn’t working but there doesn’t appear to be a stable ideology to counteract that. There really is a sense of, ‘what can we do’?

ANW: Yeah, I’ve no idea. Since my video has come out in the past few years, things have become more and more fluid for me, less concrete. I’ve been working more intuitively and trying to be more open, just because we still have a lot to figure out. I don’t think that the conditions are right for some sort of global revolution. I’m not sure that’s exactly what our energy needs to be put in to. I think Bruno Latour writes about it well where he’s like, the moderns call for this revolution but what we actually need is to pace ourselves and figure things out because there are a lot of things to figure out.

aqnb: Also, the internet doesn’t appear to be the ‘great democratiser’ we all hoped it would be. Not everyone has access, not everyone has the same speed of access. It’s really just created this digital oligarchy centered around densely populated urban areas, while reinforcing already existing structural discrimination within the community. Is that something you’re exploring aswell?

ANW: Yeah. It’s interesting that the workers are almost cultural labourers because they’re digitising the history of literature. There’s a potential for cognitive labour there, but not really because you need to turn a page and press a button so quickly. There isn’t even any time to process a text and so it actually becomes not the informational or cognitive labour that everyone’s talking about, it’s still very forced, very mechanical and repetitive.

It’s strange that it’s this hybrid; that they’re digitising things and not actually producing new books or manufacturing computers. It has this informational quality to it but the access of the labourer to the information, the cultural content, is kind of inaccessible.

aqnb: It’s also interesting that these workers are preserving a literary history that they’ve potentially been largely excluded from.

ANW: I talk about that a lot in Workers Leaving the Googleplex. And in a lot of the ScanOps images the majority, I’d say at least half of the ones that I find, where you can determine skin colour, they’re not white hands, which, in relation to statistics in the United States, is an uneven distribution. A lot of the people who are doing this, you can tell are Latinos or black people and it’s just another function of a company having a need for cheap labour, with high turnover rates.

Things have changed a little, obviously, racially. Or they’ve changed a lot but there’s such an institutionalised and structural racism and inequality everywhere. It’s how the world still works.

Andrew Norman Wilson, Movement Materials and What We Can Do (2012). Installation view. Image courtesy of the artist.
Andrew Norman Wilson, Movement Materials and What We Can Do (2012). Installation view. Image courtesy of the artist.

aqnb: That reminds me of Thomas More’s Utopia. Where there’s this ideal political system but it still can’t function without a slave class. That idea of an entirely ‘just’ society doesn’t appear feasible in a post-Soviet world.

ANW: Yeah and in literature it’s been impossible to conceive of a totally utopian culture. It’s certainly been conceived of, but Thomas More is a good example of an image of an ideal world that still contains inequality. Something that I talk about in the literature section of the [Movement Materials and What We Can Do] power point is drawing connections to Nineteen Eighty-Four and, in particular, Brave New World; drawing a comparison between the colour-coded hierarchical society in that book and to Google’s colour-coded hierarchy of labour. Because, at Google, it’s not just a hierarchy of labour, it’s a hierarchy of sociality.

You know, these yellow-badge workers did not get to hang out with anybody else on campus. As a red badge employee, I wouldn’t go on Google ski trips, or couldn’t go to the TGIF meetings on Fridays. So there are ways in which, depending on what badge colour you have, you’re excluded from certain activities and that’s really interesting too.

You can’t really blame Google too much for what they’re doing, if you’re thinking about what everyone else does. They’re just a contemporary multinational corporation and they’re doing it how it’s done. I’m sure a lot of companies have a even shittier situations than this but thinking about the subjective experience of exclusion is something that I was initially drawn to, in terms of the content of the work on the side of labour. There’s obviously the film history side that I was really interested in and I don’t mention in the movie but I want it to open up a consideration of what exclusion feels like or what privilege feels like; or lack of privilege.

aqnb: As an artist and as an activist, then, what is your intent? Do you have one, or are you just objectively exploring these inequalities?

ANW: I want [Workers Leaving the Googleplex] to be a film and video-specific work and then I also want it to function and be informative within more popular journalistic networks.

I don’t think it really had much of an impact, in terms of what Google is doing with their labour structures, but I think that the perspective that it offers up is pretty rare in discussion of employment at Google. Usually you see fluff pieces about how it’s the best place in the world to work, so I think this is a minoritarian perspective and I think creating work that does that is really important.


Andrew Norman Wilson is a US-based artist. You can see more of his work on his website

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