The Search Engineers

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Christina Cauterucci and Debra Greenspan have got some nerve. The artists spent a month, off and on, persuading strangers on the street to reveal the search histories on their smartphones. “There were plenty who rejected us flat-out,” Greenspan says, “like you would ignore anybody coming at you on the street with a clipboard.”

The search terms they gathered, along with silent video portraits they shot of the pedestrians while collecting the data, form their exhibit “Search Warrant,” on view at Artisphere. It’s a playful yet powerful look at people’s willingness to share their private Internet adventures with someone they don’t know.

“A lot of people wanted to check [their search history] first,” Cauterucci says. “Almost everybody assumed that they would have something embarrassing on there.”
Searches featured in the exhibit include the adorable (one young man Googled “what should I text her?”) and the absurd. “We almost wanted to call the exhibit ‘How much does a chicken wing weigh?’  ” Cauterucci says. “Someone actually searched for that.”

Each of the 55 vignettes, though only about 45 seconds long, paints an intimate portrait. (Out of fairness, Cauterucci and Greenspan included their own search histories.) You’ll want to trash-talk over a beer with the bro who searched “20 reasons to hate the Redskins.” You’ll want to hug the bearded older man whose “dog won’t play.”

The show forges a bond between the viewer and people you’d otherwise just pass on the street. “When we can be vulnerable around each other, that’s a very gratifying moment,” Greenspan says. “And in D.C. especially, people act like they have it all put together. But when you look into someone’s phone and see that they have the same questions you do, it endears you.”

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