Thursday, November 24, 2016

Word Machine

Have had four features our this week so thought I should get them out in the big wide world (and this is the tip of the iceberg - i've been a word machine for the past six weeks)

1) Me on Robert Rauschenberg and Captiva Island for Newsweek to coincide with the massive Tate Retrospective opening Dec 1

2) A profile of Gunther Uecker for Bonhams magazine (pictured above)

3) An interview with Goshka Macuga for AnOther online

4) An interview with Michelangelo Pistoletto in the new issue of Sleek magazine

Friday, November 11, 2016

Trolls, Social Media and Extreme Politics

Trolls, social media and extreme politics

Every one thought trolls were harmless. Maybe it’s in the nickname. Half way between a garden gnome and a creature in Lord of the Rings. Comment threads and social media feeds were their lairs. Spaces to vent anger, racism, sexism, terrorism. Where any extreme view and violent fantasy could run rampant. No one was policing trolls comments. Like plucking grey hairs, if someone did slam one account down, three more would grow in its place. The anonymity of the Internet revealed humanity’s hidden frustration and foulness.

Rather than view the troll as a real valid thinking individual, we dehumanised them. We could imagine the troll as a spotty teenager who couldn't get laid or an angry office worker taking their anger and boredom and lack of autonomy out on the screen. Yet in the wake of Brexit and the election of Trump, trolls don't look harmless anymore. Social media may not be the cause of extremist thinking but it has fed it. Negativity has flourished first on blogs and then disseminated via news feeds on Facebook and Twitter.

Trump is President of the Trolls. His political speeches became an extension of his Twitter feed. Unedited. Unrepressed. Short, fast, retweetable, immediate thoughts shared with the public in seconds. Out of his mind and onto the screen. Would Trump have become president if his fans didn't feel he represented the every man? He was just like us, wasn't he? He even tweeted at 4 in the morning when he couldn't sleep, like the rest of us.

I first noticed the relationship between social media and extreme political views it in August 2014. My Facebook news feed was filled with a wave of hatred and anti-Semitism in the wake of the Israeli invasion into Palestine. It started with some comparisons to the Holocaust. The next thing liberal open minded people - artists, fashion stylists, photographers, musicians who were my acquaintances and friends - were posting strange blog posts with increasingly violent content. I saw images of Jews being lynched. I saw people quoting 1930s fascist speeches. I was so upset by the content hitting me like an algorithmic wave, I couldn't sleep. I decided to get off Facebook and deleted 1500 ‘friends’.

Yet I stayed on Twitter. I grew to love Instagram. I slowly began to dabble with Facebook again. I was choosy with who I followed. Whose feed I wanted to glimpse. I increasingly created a bubble of my own interests - an echo of my view of the world. After Brexit I realised I was not the only person to create a buffer of like-minded virtual souls around me. What became clear is people with opposing views - the slight majority - were also doing the same thing. We were all living in an echo chamber of our own politics. There was none of the even-handed political detachment that journalism and the law was said to uphold. Newspapers increasingly began to echo the extreme anger of the troll. Headlines (largely from Rupert Murdoch’s empire) were written in troll speak. The world became binary - us versus them, good versus bad, right versus wrong. The whole concept of a referendum was made for this atmosphere. There was no nuance. We lived in world where there was only a yes or no without any discussion of the in between. ‘You’re wrong and here’s a death threat to go with it.’

In contrast, a wave of petitions became to emerge online - a social media version of good fairies. I signed numerous online petitions - against war, protect the NHS, stop Monsanto, save the bees. I would receive passionate emails from 38 degrees and They felt like positive ways to have a little say and reminded me of the Amnesty International letters I would copy and sign and send off as a teenager to save someone lingering in a foreign jail. I imagined children who wanted to change the world presenting these heart felt petitions on the steps of Downing Street. Yet nothing seemed to quite come from these notes sent into the ether. No serious political change. When over 4 million people signed a petition for a second Brexit referendum, people were calmly sent a transcription of the discussion between 20 people in a closed doors meeting in a back room ignoring the request. If 4 million digital signatures have no effect, that online click form of resistance isn’t working.

Meanwhile, social media companies have said nothing. In fact, it was in their favour to keep quiet. They want our shock, our outrage. They want us to post lists from Buzzfeed and blog responses to media stories. These all increase advertising revenue. Youths in Macedonia began to create fake pro-Trump websites in order to entice Facebook thread clicks which earned them pocket money. As Adam Curtis recently in an interview with the Evening Standard. “The fact is that angry people click more and clicks are gold dust, clicks are the measure of success for all corporations and media platforms. So the more angry you get, the more you actually keep everything stable. Your anger fuels those systems.”

So where does that leave us and what can we do? Leap off of social media like lemmings of a cliff? In ‘Fuck Off, Google’, a chapter in the The Invisible Committee’s last book ‘To Our Friends’ they present an alternative.  “Understanding how the devices around us work, brings an immediate increase in power, giving us a purchase on what will then no longer appear as an environment, but as a world arranged in a certain way and one that we can shape. This is the hacker’s perspective on the world.” We have to shape and change and take control of the virtual structures of the internet. We need to pull ourselves away from private companies with strong financial stakes. We need to create a brave new virtual world.

(c) Francesca Gavin 2016

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Click Here

The sound of a computer mouse has become so familiar we are barely aware of it. The tap of this hand size, ergonomic button-box or track pad as it is pressed and released echoes our mental engagement. We think therefore we touch. The invitation this presents to enter or activate something is a beautiful thing for an artist. There is almost something of a fairy tale about this interaction. Like cake to Hansel and Gretel.

Artists have been disseminating and creating work for computers and the internet for decades now but I want to focus on how artists are using the internet at this particular moment and the growing issues around these spaces. There are obvious pros presented by the Internet – a space to exhibit, to experiment and to distribute art, that is cheaper, faster and looked at by a huge portion of the population everyday.

The most immediate example of how to do this is the website as artwork. Margot Bowman’s piece Heaven is for Quitters (, which also functions as a very abstract music video for Faltydl, is a great example. As the viewer clicks around the screen, various animations of people and furry characters are depicted having sex. A scrolling text links these different couplings stating, “You are sad, You are so alone, You are very lonely”. The viewer can download their unique version from the page to save. Here the artwork lives online, where is has a sense of completeness and access, and lives in another form offline.

Another well established form of online dissemination is the website as gallery or institution. There are numerous online sites dedicated to showing online work. Such as Opening Times (, a British non-profit that commissions work and creates online residencies. Opening Times also integrate their work into third party websites with temporary digital takeovers of the Goethe Institute or Philips auction house’s home pages. They have commissioned work like Ruth Proctor’s Always (, a standalone website that displays a clock, continuously counting from the launch of the Opening Times website. Every time the viewer visits you can press a button and download the time of your interaction.

Cosmos Carl ( is another online space but one that uses existing platforms. Their upcoming shows are advertised via their Facebook page and each project is simply a new weblink presented on their home page. This consists of the name of each different artist and a fresh URL. These temporary shows – which are not archived – lead through to projects on sites such as Ebay, Pinterest, YouTube, Vimeo, Google Maps, Soundcloud, Google Earth, Facebook, Kickstarter and even the dark web. A recent piece was Hannah Anbert’s 'Sacred Work (Karaoke version)', a karaoke video of a euphoric pop song on Youtube, with lyrics about capitalism and economic structures. These works live outside of Cosmos Carl as things people can accidentally discover outside of a web art context. This sliding into the internet’s infrastructures is both critical and accessible, detached and integrated.

This approach of using well-known sites or apps in art projects is thriving. Artist Maya Livio is currently doing a residency in a very interesting “digital guest room” created by Rachel Stuckey, which is laid out like a line drawing of a domestic space that people can click on. ( Livio’s project includes links to Google docs, Youtube and Twitter. Of particular note are the care packages space on the room’s coffee table that links to videos of dogs, naïve drawings of severed arms and apt texts on immaterial labour and data harvesting.

Faith Holland ( has made interventions into the porn hub Redtube, with a series of videos that are tagged with pornographic clickbait like “amateur” and “solo girl” and touch on ideas of sex or fetishes but are much more weird. One video for example depicts the artist shaving her legs. The results are detached and almost uncomfortable – which perhaps is a very appropriate comment on the videos uploaded to the porn site in a wider sense.

Angela Washko makes computer game and video projects that examine and rework console-based role playing games such as World of Warcraft. Her latest exhibition The Game: The Game at Transfer Gallery is a dating simulator game where the player in the body of a female protagonist tries to avoid pick up artists in a crowded New York bar. Washko’s work is very much about looking at how games, which are now often online, reinforce and exaggerate cultural and gender stereotypes and violence.

Kari Altaman often uses Tumblr in works that explore ideas around evolving tags, images and videos. For example in sites such as and, she explores ideas around feminism, posthumanism, survivalism and alternative currency. Her chosen images and ideas are linked by social media tags such as #jailbreakgesture, #softmobility or  #vitalcontent.

Yet Altmann has had serious issues with Tumblr. In Kari’s words, “At some point Tumblr got bought out and went super corporate. At that point a lot of my accounts got shut down without warning, either for having a name like pier1, which Pier One Imports decided they had a right to, or they were shut down for url camping, if they had only one post or no posts. It was considered “hoarding” – part of the problematic way that these platforms eventually try to whittle your identity options down into a very small consumer unit, so they can monitise and wrap information around you via a single algorithm.”

For Altmann, the increasing corporatisation of social media is leaving no space for conceptual approaches, privacy filters and different kinds of content. (She has been starting to write about these issues using a new tag #metaimage.) The writer Dennis Cooper had a more high profile recent case of shutdown by Google. His blog the DCs, which contained over a decade’s worth of work and research as well as gif novels in the style of this collage-like Zacs Haunted House ( were deleted entirely without notice - as was his gmail account. Cooper is a writer whose work is notably controversial – often inhabiting the intersection between horror and homoeroticism. His blog inhabited the same space, for example showing profiles of Russian rent boys. He hadn’t backed up his blog and for three months was given no explanation to why his work has been removed entirely. He was exceptionally lucky that due to very high profile interviews and online campaigns, he was given his archive back and is working on reposting it to a dedicated site slowly over time. However, this is something that is not available to many less well-connected artists.

These examples highlight the innate problems around the dissemination of art online. Corporate ownership, corporate censorship, and the commodification of social media and the individual. Instagram has been lauded as a space for artists to show work and reach an exceptionally wide audience outside of the limits of the art world. Yet in its heart, it is a form of marketing where someone’s body and creativity are positioned into a structure predetermined by branded desires. Instagram, now owned by Facebook, own our pictures. We don’t.

Advertising is being increasingly inserted into apps and sites. There are ads in between posts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram – even between prospective dates on apps like Tinder and Happn. There are ads popping up inside Google searches, even within our own email feeds. In the same way that street art once occupied ignored spaces within urban architecture before they were aggressively taken over and commodified by ad sales companies, so the wild west utopian possibilities that accompanied the early days of the Internet are clearly over.

The design of a smart phone or tablet – and increasingly of computers, especially Macs – do not enable people to amend, change and develop their modes of creation. We are essentially locked out of the white box and not even a screwdriver will get us in. The open source movement is an attempt to combat this yet perhaps reaching a limited code-literate audience. The artwork that will hopefully rise out of the Block Chain is still in its infancy.

Peter Lunenfeld in his book The Secret War Between Uploading and Downloading, writes, “The computer is a rational device par excellence, driven by the exigencies of the Enlightenment, but it is also a desiring machine of the new economic order… Revolution has been co-opted by the marketers… Technologies certainly open up spaces, but they also close them down.” Perhaps this is also part of the legacy of modernism and the entire concept of cultural progress. Lunenfeld quotes Susan Sontag, “Stripped of its heroic stature, of its claims as an adversary sensibility, modernism has proved acutely compatible with the ethos of an advanced consumer society.” It is impossible to make work using social media or the Internet without being strongly aware and critical of its relationship to global capitalism. To put it simply, shopping isn’t going to change the world.

(c) Francesca Gavin

Tout Pres Art Interview

I did quite a personal little interview for Tout Pres Art - thought i'd post it up here too

September 13, 2016
Francesca Gavin is prolific when it comes to her work as a curator, writer and editor. As the Visual Arts Editor at Dazed & Confused, she also writes for other publications including Another and Kaleidoscope. This comes on top of a bevy of influential publications that she contributes for, plus a significant art collection she cultivated for Soho House Group when she worked as their curator. But what lies underneath the professional aura is someone who has experienced a vibrant and effervescent life. She talks with Daniel Kong about inheriting her mother’s postcard collection at age nine, what experiencing sexism has taught her and why she considers herself a nerd.

You’ve established yourself as one of London’s most influential art editors. Were you the sort of person who always excelled in school?

I was obviously a nerd – completely and utterly a nerd! But a very unusual one. I always did very well in school, I was always very academic, and I got scholarships to really good schools when I was younger. However at the same time, I wouldn’t say that I’m the most diligent person on earth. What drives me is my enthusiasm for culture. I’ve always been obsessed with books, magazines, music… I even learned to read music before I even learned to read! So I’ve always been really culturally interested. This is probably because of my parents – my mother was a writer who went to art school and my father was an actor and a singer.

What was it like to live in a very cultural and creative household?

Growing up, I didn’t have anything to rebel against! Music was always very present in my relationship with my dad. And I’ve always lived with a piano, whenever I can. I would sing with my father, and I’ve been playing piano since I was three.
But with both my parents, the things that connected us were politics and their love of books. So we always had an overwhelming number of books about everything in the house. From the occult, to cookbooks, to art books, I definitely think growing up and wandering around my parents’ bookshelves was a huge influence.
What would a typical dinner at the family table look like?

I’m a child of the 80s, so we didn’t really sit down for dinner that much. Me and three sisters, we’re all Scorpios. We were probably a handful and it was always a little chaotic. But also, I always felt like I was treated as an engaged adult. I was always treated as someone with an intelligent point of view since I was a child.

To be honest, my family are the most interesting people. I still adore my mother and my sisters, and am constantly interested in their heads. They have very unusual reference points. One of my sisters is an artist and the other one is in the film industry. I’m a bit obsessed with my family’s brains, so we all connect really nicely. It’s a very unusual and bohemian family.

How did you learned to read music before you learned to read?

We were living in Los Angeles at the time between the ages of three and five, and my mum suggested I go to a Suzuki school on the weekends. So I learned chord structure and how to read music before I was even at kindergarten at five years old. So I’m really good at sight reading. Even as a teenager at school, I would always be at the music rooms to practise in. I would often sneak off on our lunch hour break and play Mozart!

Music continued on from there, as I also sang for a long period of time when I was older. I would sing jazz and blues. I would do this just to earn a living when I was a teenager, playing at Harrods, hotels, restaurants or underneath the Everyman Cinema.

How would you describe your experience growing up – in high school and primary school? I can’t speak about your experience. But when I went to high school, we had to act a certain way.

In Woodstock Elementary School, it didn’t really apply. Everyone was a bit weird, to be honest. Most of the parents were either drug dealers or worked for computer companies. So it was kind of a strange set-up. When I came to London with an American accent, I was enrolled at a girls school because I got a scholarship. At that time I was getting straight As and wearing awful hand-me-down clothes from my cousins. So for the first three years, it was really tough. I found it difficult and was very isolated.

But because of that experience, I became very fashion-conscious and saw how our fashion choices communicate with people – particularly in a girls’ school. Fashion was often connected to popularity – more than sex, more than being attractive. It was much more about how you connect with other people. I learned a lot from that process. That’s probably why I still like writing for fashion magazines. I’m very particular about nice things.

Growing up, did you have someone that you look up to or respected in the art field that also influenced your life’s path?

Not really. I’m a bit of a hustler in a sense that I’ve always felt that opportunities come to me. I’ve always been very lucky. I’ve always kept my fingers in different things, partly because I always think that you can’t be reliant on one. So no, I never had any one person. I also never got offered the right editorial job, nor any contacts when I began at all. I was just enthusiastic, friendly and smart. I had to create my own roles and it worked from there.
Even still, I look at people’s careers in the world that I’m in. There are some women I really respect like Emily King, Alice Rawthorne and Jennifer Higgie. But I can’t really see anyone’s career path and immediately identify that with mine.

At age nine, your mother gave you a collection of postcards. Did that influence you or spark an interest in art as well?

Yes, it’s where my knowledge of history of art began. I have a really solid knowledge of history of art because of it. And I still collect art postcards and make little Muji photo albums out of them. I probably have around 3,000 to 4,000 now!

The reason why my mother gave them to us is because one day my sister and I were playing with stickers. My mum told us that stickers were ridiculous, and let us use her art postcards instead in the hopes that we’d learn something. And to be honest, I think it was enormously influential. It totally changed everything.

As someone who is passionate about working in the art world, you obviously love what you do. But what frustrates you the most about the work environment?

Well, you’re catching me in a really interesting moment, because I experienced sexism this summer. I co-curated a massive biennial called Manifesta and barely got credit for it. So that’s been a massive learning curve.

I’m actually in a bit of shock, because it’s something that I’ve never really experienced before. I’ve always felt women can do whatever they want, and you’re going to get credit for what you do. But then you realise it doesn’t really work that way, and that shocked me. I don’t want to dwell on it because I still really enjoyed the work and I’m proud of the work that I did.

But the experience of the event – resulting in people editing me out of the process, which has multiple reasons as to why it happened – it has made me very conscious as a writer and curator about crediting and making sure that everyone involved in a project gets attention in some way for what they do.

And before this happened, you never experienced sexism?

No, not really. I’m very straightforward. I’ve always gotten good work. I’ve always been credited for my work. I’m quite good at getting my own name out. But often, it’s been me publicising myself. Maybe it’s because I have a low voice and am strongly opinionated.

What advice would you give to someone else who might be going through a similar situation?

Definitely speak to your contemporaries. I have a lot of respect for the women in my industry for getting it out there. I did a great interview with AQNB about the incident, and I really felt there was support from other individuals in the art world.

As a self-proclaimed nerd, did you have a favourite teacher at all?

When I went to school for A-levels, I had an amazing history of art teacher called Kate Evans who was super feminist and really political. We studied 19th century French Art, and she was brilliant – definitely the best teacher I’ve had. I mean, to be honest, probably better than most of the teachers I’ve had at university. She was just a really great, engaged and smart woman. And so as a result of doing A-levels with her, there was no question about what interested me.

When you’re looking at artwork, I’ve learned through her that there are so many different ways to understand it. You can expand on it, whether it is through the artist’s biography, or the political context or the social context or technique. Art for me is part of the wider world.
Outside of art, I’ve noticed on Instagram that dance plays a big role in your life.

Yes, I love my hobby! I started dancing three years ago. And it probably took about two years before I even put a video online. It’s quite common when you’re studying commercial dance for music videos to film yourself. That’s how you learn to get better at what you do. I remember the first time when I decided that I was finally going to share my secret hobby to people. And now whenever anyone sees me at art openings, they are like: “I love your dance videos!”

It’s also really nice that I have things outside of the art world. I think that’s really important. And the great thing about moving your body is you use your brain less. I have a very cerebral work life, so it’s really wonderful to do something that uses my body.

Can you describe what happens when you’re listening to your favourite song?

It’s such a nice feeling. There’s such a sense of satisfaction. And also, the actual dancing is hilarious! Because you’re like… kind of doing the baby-Beyoncé-semi-Rihanna-slight-slut-drop. I mean, it’s ridiculous. It’s such a hyper-feminised way of being. It’s totally unlike my life in the art world. Plus the persona or role of what I do when I’m dancing – it’s just great!

And if you had to pick an element that best represents you and your personality, what would it be?

Can it be something effervescent? Probably. What fizzes? I would think of myself as something fizzy.

Like champagne?

Yes, but maybe something more mineral than that. In my mind, when I think of my personality, it makes me think of effervescent powder in a glass of water. Not as glamorous, clean or tidy as champagne. Something a little bit more grounded. A mineral that you put into water that fizzes, bubbles and gets excited.

And that represents you because of your energetic nature?

Yes, I see myself as someone friendly and excited about things. I don’t know if it’s true, but that’s how I see myself. It’s not necessarily about how I look, because that would be a Cockapoo, a Cavapoo or even a Beagle-Spaniel breed. But as a personality and who I actually am, it’s fizzy.

Photo Credit: Profile (Niall O’Brien), family portrait (Henry Diltz) and postcards (Francesca Gavin @roughversion)