Type a search into Google and the most popular terms start auto-populating below, suggesting the collective desires, queries, and curiosities of internet users. Zach Gage uses these autocompleted phrases as found poetry in a series called Glaciers, its name referencing the slow, algorithmic changes to the stanzas, which have three lines updated each day.
Gage has exhibited the digital poems before, but is now having his first solo show based on them, also called Glaciers, at Postmasters Gallery in Tribeca. The e-ink screens, mounted on wood blocks, relaying the poems are joined by two of his previous works, the 2009 “Best Day Ever” LED scroll sourced from Tweets referencing the “best day ever,” as well as the 2014–15 “#Fortune” machine (also available as a free iOS app) which churns out Twitter-based proclamations on the future. Mine delightfully portended: “In your future I see a lizard on your truck. you have truly been blessed today.”
Those two works suggest the breadth of the New York-based artist’s work in digital media, including designing games like last year’s Sage Solitaire that ramped up the card game with poker-like high stakes, and contributing to 2013’s Ridiculous Fishing, a game where you fish with chainsaws and toasters instead of a line and hook. The Glaciers are a more direct statement of how what we share online can transmit some essence of our present moment. (Although it’s important to remember that hundreds of thousands of people in just New York City remain without household internet access, so what’s shared online isn’t entirely representative of the whole population.) Searches also tend to be things asked in private, with believed anonymity, and often, as captured in Glaciers, reveal a vulnerability in those moments.
“is it scary to die / is it scary to fly / is it scary to fly on a plane,” read one on my visit. “i’m scared of losing you / i’m scared of toasters / i’m scared of death,” brooded another. And some had altered to reflect recent events, like the death of Prince. The “Glacier” that starts with the word “why” asked: “why did prince died / why catnip / why prince died” (cats in some way still keeping their internet supremacy). However, they aren’t all totally bleak, and some of the most enjoyable have unexpected wordplay like “nice kicks / nice france / nice houses,” and “does your crush like you / does your mother know / does your chain hang low.”
Gage is hardly the first to experiment with Google autocompletes; An Xiao for Hyperallergic in 2013 covered Google Poetics which, since 2012, has amassed unintentional Google search poetry. And other projects, like Ranjit Bhatnagar’s Pentametron Twitter bot that couples rhyming iambic Tweets, have explored online poetry. While the visual presence of the Glaciers might be repetitive with the small screens on the wood blocks, each one has something surprising plucked by chance from the collective consciousness, and made temporarily into a physical object. And they’re also a reminder that there’s this huge swell of data out there that we’re contributing to with our searches, that has experimental possibilities beyond finding out “does your crush like you” and “does your chain hang low,” or “how to be single” and “how to tie a tie.”
Zach Gage: Glaciers continues at Postmasters Gallery (54 Franklin Street, Tribeca, Manhattan) through May 7 .