CH: SEO is a common practice to increase the visibility of a website today so that it will appear at the top of the list of results for Google and other search engines. What exactly interests you in SEO marketing?
IfNf: We are interested in exploring the backend mechanisms of this complex algorithmic system to get a sense of just how much manipulation goes into manufacturing popularity and how effective capital is in driving these invisible processes, in buying influence on the Internet.
SEO aesthetics also have their own convoluted appeal, as does the jargon. We’re interested in mining this language of stuffing, stemming, scraping, squatting, and bombing…
And our research interests are not only human-centered. Studies have estimated that only 44% of web traffic is generated by humans. The Internet is a wilderness created by humans, but operating more and more in regions outside of our control and understanding. An infinite ecosystem of activity either too sophisticated or too tedious for us to bother with. This vastness is both frightening and exciting, forming a landscape in which to stage the second phase of our project.
CH: Whole companies consist of the practice of »fooling Google into listing« nowadays. Even newsrooms have writers and editors whose only job is to create articles with the right content and keywords to boost their sites on the web. Many criticize this »dark art« of SEO as being aggressive and often flawed. What is your approach here?
»Can bots be considered an audience? Can they be enlisted as artists, performers, or participants in a work? As a kind of virtual update to Andy Warhol’s Factory, does this distribution of labor differ from the common practice of an established artist running a large studio?«
IfNf: Of course there is a criticality to what we are doing, but we prefer to mirror and shadow existing systems, rather than simply create satire.
We are also interested in cross-pollinating corporate strategies with those of the art world. IfNf’s fabricated corporate structure is a way of collectivizing art activity under an elusive »we.« In a country where corporations are granted personhood, this »we« is both protected and powerful.
How do we situate the »algorithm« in this economy of artistic output? Can bots be considered an audience? Can they be enlisted as artists, performers, or participants in a work?
As a kind of virtual update to Andy Warhol’s Factory, does this distribution of labor differ from the common practice of an established artist running a large studio? The Redirectoryis an open-ended research project; the goal is not to reach any particular conclusion, but simply immerse ourselves in the process and see where it leads us.
CH: You founded IfNf together as a »research clinic committed to the development of new ways of feeling, and ways of feeling new.« What is your artistic practice? What are the main topics and contexts you work with?
IfNf: IfNf is a research clinic that exhibits projects in the form of treatments, therapies, retreats, research studies, and wellness products. Our practice is constantly evolving to address new concerns, but is always rooted in a playful criticality around the wellness industry as a shifting, slippery intersection of capitalism, technological innovation, and the body. In recent work, the self-proclaimed »corporate« structure of IfNf has provided a starting place for investigating visible and invisible mechanisms of capitalism on the digital frontier. But really, we are just three artists usually working long hours over Google Hangout.