JULY FIFTH | Life in AdWords

An Interview with artist Erica Scourti, whose month long video diaries generated Life in Adwords
(click to read artist bio)

Julia Greenway (Curator, Interstitial Theatre) Can you begin by describing the video piece you will be exhibiting at Interstitial Theatre on July 5th?

Erica Scourti The piece consists of 4 videos, one for each month from March til now, in which I collect the adwords that are generated by emailing my diary to my Gmail account. I then speak the text to webcam wherever I happen to be, creating daily portraits of my life as understood by Google’s algorithms.

JG Why is video an integral part of this project?

ES Although it could exist just as a text piece, using video creates a sense of intimacy, immediacy and ‘realness’- as in, that really is my room, my cat and so on, I really am ill, tired or abroad- which lends a documentary feel to the project. Video also captures the mundane reality of time passing: hair growth, temperature fluctuation and adjustments to domestic space.

But also, the type of video and the style of delivery- low res, apparently unstaged and spoken directly to the laptop’s internal webcam - suggests a directness and lack of mediation, which also echoes the form of video that prevails on online, on YouTube etc. It’s internet language, both visually and textually.

JG Is video art your primary medium?

ES Video is probably my default rather than primary medium. Though language is my primary material.

JG In terms of creating a diary video project, did it begin as a personal exploration or were you working towards creating a dialogue on a larger issue?

ES I’m much more interested in the wider issue of the commodification of subjectivity and ‘inner experience’- stuff like emotions, relationships, personality and dreams- than exploring my own personal issues, which are as boring to me as they are to anyone else. Mine are, however, the easiest to access in a daily, long-term project like this.

But also I’m fascinated by statistics and the way that our personal information is only of use to advertisers when its aggregated and seen within a pattern. So its not so much about my or anyone else’s individual issues or data, but more about the way that these fit into a wider type.

JG Can you talk about your decision to recite only advertisements?

ES I wanted to make visible the way that on the internet, the services and platforms we use for ‘free’ are actually operating by commercially mining our personal data, including the text we write in emails, our search and browsing history and so on. In this case, my diaries are ‘translated’ via Gmail’s algorithms to produce advert keywords according to my perceived potential commercial interests. It relates also to my interest in whether there is some thing, place or experience that can’t be assimilated and commodified, especially now that we are so accustomed to offering up our lives and feelings for public consumption on social media sites, in effect advertising ourselves as though we were products.

JG Can you describe the experience of journaling information found on the Internet?

ES Funny. One of the reasons I started this project was that some of the phrases and chance juxtapositions - like “fear of… boring artists’- made me laugh. There’s something so literal about it- sometimes just one word- like fun, or God, or man- can generate a whole list of suggestions, revealing the limitations of the software. Also I find this type of information interesting because it’s both found and self-generated.

JG Do you feel apprehensive exposing yourself in terms of how the Internet portrays you?

ES In general, or in this piece? Yes to the former- I’m very aware that every time I search, update, like, share, Tweet something and so on, I’m adding depth and detail to a picture of what ‘people like me’ are into. This of course is the info that gets sold back to advertisers, allowing better tailored and individually directed adverts in a kind of commercial feedback loop. Like when you go on Amazon and the suggested books are actually ones you really want or already own: it’s scarily accurate and also illustrates that no matter how ‘niche’ you imagine your interests to be, you are still classifiable within a particular, albeit minor, consumer group.

As to the latter, I’m sometimes apprehensive- seeing as the Internet in this piece seems to portray me as either obsessed with funny pranks or anxious and stressed out- but it’s nothing to worry about. Also as the algorithm’s assessment of my diary produces free-floating lists with no specifics relating to identifiable people, it unintentionally limits my ‘exposure’ and spares my blushes in a way that the original diary wouldn’t.

JG What do you want your viewer to take away from this body of work?

ES People have said its got them looking at their own Gmails and thinking about how their information is being used, that’s part of it. But also to see the humour in the ridiculous aspect of it- personal experience translated into commercial keywords.

JG How has this project affected your daily life and the ways in which you use the Internet?

ES Not sure it has- I’m too addicted to the internet to stop feeding it my data. But especially on these days when they seem to correlate very closely to my actual experience, I’ve found myself almost heeding the daily adwords as cautionary indicators of what’s really bothering me, and therefore what I should be aware of in the day ahead- a bit like a horoscope.

JG Is this a continual project, or has this lead you to explore other ideas/methods/mediums?

ES It’s a year-long project, so it will go til February 2013; but obviously it’s given me other ideas, especially to do with repetition, completism and daily tasks. I’ve also experimented with emailing myself whole philosophical texts but that was mainly to distract myself from essay-writing.

JG What is inspiring you right now?

ES The thought that in a month’s time I’ll be in Greece on holiday- it’s been way too long. But also in no particular order- the female idiot, live streaming, the affective archive and failure.

JG If I were to sneak onto your computer or scroll through your recent browser history, what would I find?

ES I wouldn’t want to say. In fact I might just clear my history now.


Erica Scourti lives and works in London, where she is studying MRes: Moving Image Art at Central St Martins and LUX. She is an artist/film-maker working mainly with digital media. Her videos have been screened internationally in galleries, museums and festivals, such as Museo Reine Sofia, at Kunstmuseum Bonn, Recontres Internationales, Jeu de Paume, Video Salon Art Prize, and Bureau Gallery.
 Scourti has been an artist in residence at the Vermont Studio Center and the Folkstone Artist Collective, and she will be in residence at The Guesthouse in Cork, Ireland this coming fall. Scourti blogs for LABKULTUR, a German-English art and the creative industries online publication and is represented by murmurArt.