Addie Wagenknecht knows what the void means. By this, I mean she’s an artist who plays with absence and the inheritance we leave behind; her works are clues into the world of technology and feelings that make up her brain, but they aren’t explanations of it. That would be too easy. She builds her art in unconventional ways — hacking sculpture and robotics together to create a traditionally beautiful thing from disturbing means and creating a visually disturbing thing with traditional ones. Wagenknecht’s prior series “Black Hawk Paint” and “Internet of Things” used drones and Roombas, respectively. Her work has been featured in the Vienna, Moscow, and Istanbul biennials and acquired by the Whitney Museum of American Art, and she’s collaborated with Chanel and i-D magazine on a series exploring the sixth sense. Besides creating art exhibited around the world, she was one of the founding members of the cyberfeminist collective Deep Lab, who do work in cybersurveillance, research, coding, hacking, art, and theory. Her latest work, Alone Together, on view at Bitforms gallery in New York City is a series of paintings utilizing Yves Klein’s namesake blue, painted using a Roomba as a brush, letting it navigate around her nude body as she reclined on a canvas.
The result is a void in the shape of a woman, painted by a robot learning the algorithm it intuited of her body. In a time where meme-based cryptocurrency is eating up the world’s entire output of energy and Trump has proposed slashing the National Endowment of the Art’s budget out of existence, urgent work discussing where our bodies belong in the future of art and tech has never felt more necessary. After seeing the show in person and missing the chance to talk with her — she was far too popular for me to wade through the bodies, pressed into the small space — we caught up (how else?) on Skype, across the world from each other, with three time zones in between.
Arabelle Sicardi: Can you explain some of the choices of your show at Bitforms gallery? You used a Roomba to create this art with this magnificent Yves Klein blue. This is my favorite shade of blue.
Addie Wagenknecht: The blue, or rather how the medium encapsulated the blue, was developed specifically for Yves Klein by a chemist in Paris. He had copyrighted the blue so no one else could use it, but I found the chemist store he used in Paris. They still had the resin they developed as well as the raw pigment for sale. I was fascinated that this blue was a signature of Klein’s practice where he used women as “living paintbrushes.” Women covered themselves in pigment, and their labor would be viewed in front of an audience as spectacle. A lot of these kinds of action painters have historically been white, straight, cis dudes. I was interested in negotiating or redefining something that represents the fact a body doesn’t necessarily have to serve any story but its own.
AS: You have a considerable history of addressing gender and the value of bodies, and your work often negotiates the conversation between technology and the art world. Both are pretty sexist fields. How do you deal with the microaggressions in both spaces? Do you consider art a translation for your rage?
AW: I definitely use art as an attempt to translate those conflicts, because art is seductive in the way it offers to meet our emotions and vulnerabilities. So much of the work I do is a response to being invisible but struggling to maintain evidence of presence. With AI, there’s this conundrum of it being a promise to optimize your life and make it easier with smartphones, but the downside is we’re always chained to our emails.