How One Hacker Artist Tricked Google Into Showcasing Her Art When You Search This Election-Related Term

No, the next American president probably will not be a vision board featuring foam flowers—but Google Image search seems to think it might be.

Gretchen Andrew.

As America faces down Election Day, many pundits see a real chance of a long and contested presidential election. Some battleground states could be very close, opening the possibility of Gore v. Bush–style court challenges à la the year 2000, meaning we may not know the results for days, or longer. Some see a real chance of a Supreme Court argument, in a court with three justices put in place by President Donald Trump.

But if you’ve been Google Image searching “the next American president” recently, hoping that the search-engine gods could tell you something even Nate Silver couldn’t, you might find that the winner will be… a vision board? Featuring owl stickers and foam roses and bits of wisdom printed on teabags?

Hmm, that can’t be right . . .

Gretchen Andrew, <i>The Next American President (red) </i>(2020).

Gretchen Andrew, The Next American President (red) (2020).

Welcome to Next American President, an online art piece by Los Angeles–based artist Gretchen Andrew.

The self-styled “search engine artist and internet imperialist,” who studied information systems and is a veteran of Google and the financial software company Intuit, has commandeered the Google Image search results so that some of the first results you see will be just those hokey vision boards.

How did she do it?

She created a network of websites, including pages on sites like Eventbrite, Yelp, Quora, Soundcloud, and Twitter, loaded with web addresses and images and text that trick search engines into returning these images.

And rather than have them all return some image that could fool the viewer, she said, she loaded up the results with her own artworks.

“It’s important to me that when people see these works, they look wrong,” she said in a phone conversation. “I don’t want to confuse people, I want to confuse machines. I want people to be laughing at Google. If we can get both sides of the political spectrum laughing at big tech, that’s a good thing.”

Gretchen Andrew, The Next American President (white), 2020, mixed media and charcoal on canvas.

Gretchen Andrew, The Next American President (white) (2020).

The last Gretchen Andrew project that effectively rickrolled Google was one that virtually placed her paintings in booths at the inaugural Frieze Los Angeles fair.

This time, she’s aiming for, well, a bigger tent.

With her new project, she brings together the philosophy of “the law of attraction,” which says that sending out positive energy into the universe returns positive results; and Internet search-engine optimization trickery, which says that if you load your websites with the right language, you’ll get clicks (and dollars).

In case you haven’t seen one at your aunt’s house, people use vision boards to collage their dreams and desires and to put the law of attraction into action, so it’s an obvious tool for Andrew to use for this piece.

“In this project, I’m the person who is praying, and God at the same time,” she said. “I pray for something and I bring it into being. It’s about the power of attraction and all that, but I make it so!”

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