How do you want to use this conversation?

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Well, I think the website is OK as it is but something is still not right. When I first showed it to you, you said that the work page is too harmless.

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Yes.

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It's difficult - I'd like the website to be accessible, but I also want it to be confusing.

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Mh.

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So when I started making the website I thought I'll just have some images because they create an instant positive impression, but they don't say much about the work.

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No, they don't.

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(pause) 

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I thought one solution might be to have this conversation about the website and later I type it up, translate it into English and then the conversation could be a big column on the work page.

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Sure. I think it would be good to speak more about how you present yourself with a website, what you show, what you don't show. I'd find that more interesting than if it's a conversation about single works.

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Absolutely.

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But we will also get close to the work, it's also about the work.

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I guess so.

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Ok, shall we start?

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Yes!

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Are you going to ask me something and then I reply or ... ?

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Uh, I don't know.

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How we start is somehow relevant for the way how you will show the conversation - is it consulting, is it a chat between colleagues or how do you want to frame it?

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I think I'd like it to be a chat between colleagues.

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Sure.

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Maybe I could start by asking you about your early documentation, because recently I found your old portfolios and they are good but not very good, there's always a little bit too much information, it's not precise enough. However, they improve over time and I always wonder if this happens naturally - do you just have to be stubborn and to keep going or what kind of decisions can impact on this process?

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Well I've always thought it's important to work with other people, so I've always sought the view from the outside, similarly to how you are asking me now to critique you. From the very start I professionalised this process because I had a graphic designer who did my posters and documentation and he provided another view point by saying “I don't understand this” or “Why do you mention this and not that?” And this has always been extremely important for me, that there's an exchange with others, because it's like the first step, you want to go outside, you want to communicate. And I think the question how you deal with images on your website might be the breaking point - how much information do you supply with these images? At the moment, you're not providing much information about each of your works.

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Yes. I thought maybe I could write short texts about them. 

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But would this really represent what you do, which is to respond to a situation on so many levels. You're always very good when you work with a given context, that's when it gets exciting.

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True, but nobody has got the time to read a long text. Long texts are also often pretentious, I like it short. But then the problem is that, as you said, most of the work responds to something, so you you first have to describe the setting, then the work, then the effects or what the work did.

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Yes, but then again you could work in layers, for example have a catchy title, exciting images and then people develop an appetite for more and might read through a long text. Because most of your work doesn't function in these short descriptions. Especially the projects that might be very important for you - they are too complicated to be shown on a website.

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Ah, this is getting too difficult

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I think a website is for quick and superficial impressions, but maybe there's also an opportunity to go deeper? You could only show the pieces that work on a website and find other formats for the ones that don't, like a talk where people listen to you for an hour. So the question might be: How do you work with different spaces of attention?

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I have to say that my attitude towards this question has changed quite a lot over the last years. In the past, I thought everything has to be on a website, quantity over quality. And now I have less of an ambition to present a perfect archive.

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I would never try to show everything, although it could also be a strategy to say: This is it - Now you've seen everything! A bit like what you are doing now by including the thought process of how to make this website as part of the website. But that's again where it gets complicated and you've mentioned before that you wanted to have this new website because the old one wasn't standardised enough and prospective employers didn't take your work serious.

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Yes, in fact this was my main motivation for doing this new website, because the old one was this wiki that anybody could edit, but I didn't get several teaching jobs because it apparently wasn't professional enough. So at some point you have to ask yourself, how much subversion can I actually afford and where do I have to give in. I've also observed how I view other artist's websites and I realised that I first click on their CV to check where they studied, who they work with and only then I go on to view the works. It's terrible.

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Well that's what makes your work interesting, that you constantly move the goalposts and don't simply polish your CV. Instead you make a joke about it: Look, isn't this ridiculous! In a way everybody knows it is ridiculous, but then the question is how far can you go in critiquing these formats, how can you bring new aspects to this and, most importantly, does the form control you or do you control the form? With the CV page for example you subvert the format of a website and you make it your own, but that's also where you don't fulfil the expectations of a future employer. There are people out there who enjoy this and get it, but there are also surely many who would be irritated and would like to have this process mediated instead of being directly confronted with it, for example that somebody writes about how you play with structures and make them your own.

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Yes, but I want to avoid these kind of explanations or interpretations which secure the work in a certain discourse. Maria and I talk a lot about this, how you communicate your work without telling people what it is about, without using empty phrases like “My work examining the function and meaning of art in society using a variety of media..." I also feel that over time, it has become easier for people to understand that I don't do these lo-fi, DIY, small-scale, collaborative works because I can't do any better, but because I deliberately choose to do things this way.

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But then you have to ask yourself, do you really only want to sit in your own box, do you really want to do it like Lawrence Weiner and have your own type font etc. I mean of course you don't have to reinvent yourself all the time and the methods in a way stay the same, but if you are always making your own structures, your own framing etc you will still be confronted with these wider questions in 10 years time, also because you will be speaking from another place.

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Now we've slipped into a serious conversation.

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Yes, there is a danger that we take it too serious, isn't it?

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Phew.

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Anyhow, I think that's also the quality in your work and in mine I'd say, that you take it very serious but also extremely easy. The problem is that we always reflect on how we want to be perceived, how we want to be seen by the world. In these moments of overthinking, it would make sense to introduce more intuitive, faster, unfiltered formats.

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Maybe I should just not have a website and see how that goes for a while. You don't have one, do you? 

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Well it's a luxury that I can afford and also an anachronism. But I have to honestly say, I've never had an urge to make a website and I never thought I have to have one to gain greater visibility. What I really like are those random traces you leave with different projects, which google lists and ranks and I have no control over it. When you make a website you are in control and I think that creates a huge pressure because you feel you have to give your version of the story and in the end, its only a schemata that you can't identify with.

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In a way I find it much easier to show my work in live situations, because you can look people in the eye and see their reaction. It's more difficult for me to communicate my work with impersonal tools, be it websites or press releases or publications.

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But the annual publications you've made so far, they are great! Especially the first one, because it was so personal. You have to be careful to leave space for the personal things, especially when you are so critical about the form and formats. Don't try to be intelligent!

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OK I'll try not to make Clever Men's Art.

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Maybe we should have a closer look at text as a format, like this conversation now. Maybe it should stay a recording and not become a text.

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Or I could try and write it down from memory.

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That would be a good strategy to filter out the things that really matter.

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Yes!

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Conversation with San Keller, January 2014

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