Shitty Alt Text

Alex Haagaard

2019. Printed digital images.

This work, which Haagard initially introduced on the social media platform Instagram, highlights the pitfalls of Artificial Intelligence (AI)-generated alternative text (also known as “image descriptions”). While AI accessibility represents a potentially-generative approach to accessibility, it also takes the burden off of content creators to produce meaningful image descriptions, thus negating an analysis of the “access labor” (Hickman) involved in producing access. Shitty Alt Text thus invites conversations about the crip rituals of calling out inaccessibility and negotiating better relations between content creators and observers. Haagaard’s work here, initiated on social media platforms, foregrounds the ways in which hashtag activism is a #CripRitual.

The series includes automated alt text renditions of several highly recognizable works from European Art History.


#ShittyAltText: The Great Wave Off Kanagawa

An Instagram post, viewed on a smartphone. An image of the alt text autogenerated by Instagram for a stylized print of an ocean wave that arcs authoritatively into the sky, dwarfing the peak of Mount Fuji that peers above the horizon in the distance. The alt text reads, “May Be Art of Water.”

Written Image Description:

An Instagram post, viewed on a smartphone. White text in a system font centred on a square the colour of an ocean surface churning under a sunny sky. The text reads, “May Be Art of Water.” This is the alt text autogenerated by Instagram in November 2021 for Katsushika Hokusai’s woodblock print, “The Great Wave off Kanagawa.”


#ShittyAltText: The Great Wave Off Kanagawa

An Instagram post, viewed on a smartphone. An image of the alt text autogenerated by Instagram for a portrait of a woman seated with her hands folded in her lap, gazing unreservedly at the viewer, her lips curled into a small but knowing smile. The alt text reads, “Image May Contain One or More Persons.”

Written Image Description:

An Instagram post, viewed on a smartphone. White text in a system font centred on a square the colour of heavy green fabric obscured by shadow. The text reads, “Image May Contain 1 or More Persons.” This is the alt text autogenerated by Instagram in October 2019 for Leonardo da Vinci’s painting, the “Mona Lisa.”


#ShittyAltText: Judith Beheading Holofernes

An Instagram post, viewed on a smartphone. An image of the alt text autogenerated by Instagram for a painting in which a plump woman, assisted by her young maidservant, methodically severs a man’s neck with a sword, leaning away from his spurting arterial blood to avoid ruining her opulent yellow dress. The alt text reads, “May Be Art of 2 People, People Sitting and Strawberry.”

Written Image Description:

An Instagram post, viewed on a smartphone. White text in a system font centred on a square the colour of fresh blood. The text reads, “May Be Art of 2 People, People Sitting and Strawberry.” This is the alt text autogenerated by Instagram in November 2021 for Artemisia Gentileschi’s 1620-1621 version of the painting, “Judith Beheading Holofernes.”


#ShittyAltText: The Treachery of Images

An Instagram post, viewed on a smartphone. An image of the alt text autogenerated by Instagram for a painting of a dark wooden pipe with a deep bowl and a jauntily curved black stem, hovering against an empty background over cursive lettering that reads, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.” The alt text reads, “Ceci η N’est Pas Une Pipe.”

Written Image Description:

An Instagram post, viewed on a smartphone. White text in a system font centred a square the colour of light reflecting dully off an ebonite pipe stem. The text reads, “Ceci η N’est Pas Une Pipe.” This is the alt text autogenerated by Instagram in November 2021 for René Magritte’s painting, “The Treachery of Images.”


#ShittyAltText: The Snail

An Instagram post, viewed on a smartphone. An image of the alt text autogenerated by Instagram for a collage in which slabs of bold, flat colour evoke the exuberant spiral of a snail’s shell and the stocky anchor of its body. The alt text reads, “May Be Art.”

Written Image Description:

An Instagram post, viewed on a smartphone. White text in a system font centred on a An Instagram post, viewed on a smartphone. White text in a system font centred on a square the colour of cartoon sunshine. The text reads, “May Be Art.” This is the alt text autogenerated by Instagram in November 2021 for Henri Matisse’s collage, “The Snail.”


View of #CripRitual logo in purple text and small installation description text on the left, and one piece from the Shitty Alt Text series by Alex Haagaard on the right.
A continuation of the other image creates a wide view of the vitrine display. this image, the right side of the display includes four of the Shitty Alt text artwork by Alex Haagaard.

Written Image Description:

Gallery view of the work Shitty Alt Text by Alex Haagaard installed in vitrines (hallway display enclosed in glass) along side the #CripRitual exhibition description at the Doris McCarthy Galleyr at UTSC. The five pieces are displayed as large posters, each centered in a vitrine window. // Photographs by Michelle Peek Photography*.

Alex Haagaard’s Instagram and Twitter: @alexhaagaard