How-To Make Art From Spam Emails
Like everyone, I get a ton of spam emails. And I often respond. I’m interested in how these emails, particularly those that attempt to elicit a visceral response, utilize language that appeals to our basic human impulses – they’re like technological fish food attempting to hook us into an emotional response based on our most basic needs (phishing). There are types of words that when put together in particular ways, cause us to respond, like keys into locks. In this way, they demonstrate that we’re simply animals, acting and reacting in often impulsive and uncontrollable ways. These spam messages, particularly the ‘love’ letters, attempt to exploit this. A computer algorithm formulates language intended to trigger these impulses, and if they are right, we will bite. And we often do.
These computer-generated letters are not all that different from traditional hand-scrawled love letters we wrote to each other. We, as humans, have long written letters professing our love, in attempts to cause the other to respond, to act, and to hopefully couple up. We use particular words, in specific orders, in hopes of eliciting the responses we want – finding love through poetry.
For the art work below, I made a diptych (two works hung next to each other, as a pair, in conversation with one another) in which I utilized a spam email similar to the ones I described above and paired that with a love letter written in 1893 by Oscar Wilde to Lord Alfred Douglas. I appropriated this letter and tweaked them both to fit the format of the paintings – each 8” X 10” to approximate a regular sheet of writing or printing paper. I then alternated the colors and painted them each as reliefs – each word’s colors are actually the ground color of the panel. The letters are pushed into the painting’s surface, like embossed, type-written words.
In this way, the old is in conversation with the new. The relationships between these language forms and what they tell us about our humanness is what I’m interested in. But then again, they’re just spam emails. Make your own art from this junk!
Baby good morning! i miss you, even though we just met, and am sorry i slept early yesterday. i was very tired after a wild chat with the Commander, trying to get him to let me out of here this week. baby…i love you so much beyond imagination. you have been there for me even with the little wealth you have to support me.
BUT baby you forgot something!! I need your SSN so the Commander can withdraw your money. Please please do it swiftly! hope to talk to you soon, baby. I love you
XOXOXO hope to talk to you today
Please call me Swiftly!
I love you,
My Sweet Taylor,
Your sonnet is quite lovely, and it is a marvel that those red-roseleaf lips of yours should be made no less for the madness of music and song than for the madness of kissing. Your slim gilt soul walks between passion and poetry. I know Hyacinthus, whom Apollo loved so madly, was you in Greek days my sweet swift. Why are you alone trapped, without money, by this Commander? Do get free to cool your hands in the grey twilight of Gothic things, and come here whenever you like. It is a lovely place and lacks only you.4
Always, with undying love.