Google by Johannes P Osterhoff

After playing around with Windows and Mac OS interface elements for quite a while, the infamous interface artist Johannes P Osterhoff is now messing with Google. This time his experiment goes beyond repurposing GUI elements in order to create new images and narratives.

In his work “Google by Johannes P Osterhoff” he documents all his Google search queries between January 1 and December 31, 2011 on a website. He is probably not the first person to do that and maybe not even the first person to do that as an artistic project. But there is more to it.

1. He does not simply list the query string and links them to the result page, but he actually displays each query string in an input field that is designed after Google’s search field. To see the result one can click the search button. After all Osterhoff is an interface artist.

2. Each search field is accompanied by a Paypal donate button and by a Flattr button along with the Flattr Counter.

3. At the top of the page one sees the latest query in Google design (including Google’s logo) followed by a word cloud of the most recent search terms and a brief mission statement

On a formal level the page is a collage of design elements that we all see many times a day. It is actually quite beautiful in its own purist and repetitive way. Of course it also looks like an official Google Site, but confusing people about that is certainly not the point here. It’s not a hoax.

Unlike in earlier works in which Osterhoff usually stripped off function of the GUI elements he used, this time all GUI elements are fully functional. One can actually pay him via Paypal or Flattr for each of his queries. By combining Google queries with with Paypal and Flattr donations and a word cloud that make the project even more exhibitionist he implicitly asks questions about ownership on the web. One thing to keep in mind here that Google has even better means than word clouds to drill into it’s users interests and habits. Google lets us graze in order to milk us. By adding donate buttons Osterhoff proposes to milk Google in return by letting others graze. This of course means that he voluntarily compromises his own privacy quite bit and Google’s privacy a tiny bit.

The work is also a performance and in the best tradition of the genre based on exhibitionism and self inflicted pain. Additionally there is the element of collecting or even exemplary consumption.  After all using Google is not free, there is always a transaction of which currencies are privacy and attention. As Boris Groys pointed out somewhere, the contemporary artist is exemplary consumer rather than an individual creator (I forgot where exactly he said that, but since most of Groys’ books seem to consist of only a few resampled lectures, one should come across it very quickly when scanning one of them). Staging his exemplary consumption on Google and making his own stream of thought public to a large degree and proposing an actual business model is a truly elegant operation which creates a multilevel feedback loop. IT ROCKS!

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