This issue contains:
>> Press release: The NYT to be published in Europe for the first time
>> Karin Sander´s project wordsearch
>> A conversation between Karin Sander and Hans Ulrich Obrist
>> The artist and her work
>> The Project as Magazine
>> What is "Moment"?
>> Globalization: A Dossier of Links

HANS ULRICH OBRIST in conversation with KARIN SANDER

Hans Ulrich Obrist (HUO)
Karin Sander (KS)


HUO: Your most recent work will be appearing in The New York Times. This places it in the tradition of artistic projects that are intrinsic to the medium newspaper. For example, projects by conceptual artists of the sixties come to mind, or works of Dan Graham’s that were published in newspapers (more on Graham’s project ”Homes for America” here), or Dieter Roth. What’s essential here is the idea of using the newspaper as a primary, and not a secondary medium. Could you talk about how you developed the idea for your New York Times piece?


KS: The Deutsche Bank came up with the idea of having artists develop works for a short period of time in important cities around the world and presenting them on location for a ”moment.” The works were supposed to address a temporary aspect of the city. The intention was not to erect monuments, but to let the works be present in a place for a limited time. When you hear the key word ”temporary,” the medium of the newspaper comes to mind, its brief appearance and its equally swift disappearance. The nature of the newspaper is to appear for a day and to disappear again that very same day, to be thrown away. In the New York Times, a considerable part of the newspaper is taken up by the stock prices. At first glance, these pages with their columns of numbers are visually very beautiful. And if you don’t understand the codes, they don’t convey any content, but remain mere patterns of grey. It’s only after studying the material in depth that the information can be decoded.


HUO: So on the one hand you can read the pages in an abstract sense, and on the other you can extract information from them.


KS: Yes. It’s exactly the same with works of art. There are different ways to read art works. When I was recently invited to contribute something to Deutsche Bank’s art project, I thought of the New York Times and had the idea of a translinguistic interview as a language-based counterpart to the stock prices on the business pages. I wanted to take one word from each language spoken in New York and to make a kind of thesaurus out of this. Through the many facets and diversity of the different languages, the individual words were supposed to arrive at a meaning, a meaning in the sense that Gertrude Stein meant when she once said: ”A word has a meaning, but does not tell a story. When you put two or more words next to each other, they begin to tell a story.” In analogy to this, these words from different languages briefly write a story, create a collage – a visual image. In addition, the pages comprise a dictionary of approximately 220 words, translated into 220 languages, a translinguistic matrix of significant terms.


HUO: What role does New York play as a working environment for your art?


KS: In New York, you can sometimes get the impression that everyone you meet is a foreigner. That’s not the case, of course, although ethnic background is an important thing to the people living there. New York is marked by an enormous fluctuation. Everyone is either coming or going, and the constant motion lends the city its diversity. Countless cultures exist side by side there, cultures whose members take particular care to preserve. A lot happens simultaneously in this city without becoming immediately evaluated. There’s a high degree of tolerance, ignorance, even indifference, and thus a more or less respectful coexistence.


HUO: Your works are normally based on what’s already there, whether it be everyday objects or art objects, public spaces, or, as in your current piece, the polyphony of the languages spoken in New York.


KS: For wordsearch, I initially thought of setting up a committee to select the words for the collection. I finally decided upon the method of letting the languages speak for themselves, which leads to results that remain unpredictable. The reason this is so interesting, of course, is that a certain dynamics arises through the fact that people are constantly asking each other questions. The group that carried out the questioning began with one person, let’s say a Mexican, and this person knew someone who spoke Japanese, and the Japanese had a Korean friend. Each of the participants received the previously selected words in the respective translation, and was finally asked to add the next word. As in a game, a chain of words arose that traveled like a line throughout the city, breaking off again any time the person being questioned didn’t know someone else who spoke a new language.

While I was developing the New York piece, by the way, I initially thought of conducting the word search worldwide. It became clear, however, that limiting it to New York City already implied a worldwide search. Because the people no longer live in the countries in which the languages are spoken, they have a different relationship to them, I’d almost say a stronger one. In one case, there was even a person who still spoke a language that had been banned in his home country for political reasons. Through this translinguistic interview, many stories arose around the single words that the people were asked to donate. On the one hand, these stories shed light on political situations, and on the other they describe an image of a city. Thus, a diagram of the metropolis is created.


HUO: The project is currently being documented in the internet, but it isn’t an internet project in a strict sense. It’s based on a real expedition through the city.


KS: Exactly. This wandering through the city was also documented acoustically, in that the spoken words were recorded. The internet served as a medium for documentation and public presentation. Through the website, one was able to follow the interviewers and see where they’d already been and what words they’d collected.

HUO: I’d like to come back to the question of how the computer and the internet changed your way of working.


KS: The computer and the internet didn’t really change my way of working. I don’t primarily search for a medium for a work; the concept dictates which medium is most appropriate. In terms of realizing my ideas, of course, the capacities of the computer and the internet expanded the possibilities enormously. With the Bodyscans, for example, I was interested in representing people three-dimensionally using computers, in making a three-dimensional photograph. I learned of a 3-D scanner the size of a room that could probe the surfaces of human bodies. The computer processes the data, which is then entered into a second system, an extruder that builds up the likeness of the scanned person as a figure true to scale. This method of scanning is used in the fashion industry in order to determine clothing sizes; the extruder is used in the area of design and machine construction to build virtually constructed prototypes. In order to produce the figure from the collected scanning data, a program and a working method had to be developed which were used for the first time in this project. A further development of the 3-D Bodyscan portraits of living persons will be presented this year at Art Miami.


HUO: The New York Times piece reflects the linguistic effects of globalization.


KS: In New York, it was a matter of establishing a rule that opened up a variety of different conceptual possibilities. The image that arises out of this is going to be this large page printed with thousands of small words that contain a wide range of information. Some of the words, for example ”computer”, are translingual and don’t need to be translated. Others that carry important social meaning will be different in each language because they stem from differing historical and cultural contexts. In this respect, the New York Times piece embodies the exact opposite of globalization.


HUO: Does wordsearch imply a political dimension? New York is a center of capitalism and the work appears in the business pages of The New York Times, in the center of the center.


KS: A work of this kind necessarily has a political dimension. Day by day, the business section of a large newspaper reflects one of the most dynamic aspects of the globalization process: the movements of capital markets and capital flow. In a format identical to the business pages, wordsearch emphasizes an entirely different, much less noticeable aspect of the same globalization process: the subjective aspect. After all, a significant part of this process is made up of real persons moving through the world, and at some point they wind up somewhere, for example New York. These people are the real carriers of what we call globalization.


HUO: How do you fundamentally view the political dimension of art?


KS: A good work has a wide variety of dimensions, including a political one. It’s hard to plan these dimensions, however. With the New York Times project, it’s interesting that words can suddenly be found in a place where normally only numbers appear. In light of the events of the past year, an important aspect of the piece is that languages can meet and that a translation of different ideas takes place. Capitalism expresses itself primarily in numbers, which are globaly consistent.


HUO: When are these pages going to appear?


KS: On Friday, October 4, 2002, the word columns will appear on the front and back pages of four double-page spreads in the business section of The New York Times, between the pages containing the lists of stock prices. One week earlier, in other words here and today in this Sunday edition of The New York Times, a documentation with explanations of the project will be appearing, and so the catalogue to the work appears, as the work itself does, in the form of a mass medium.


HUO: In this way, you’re pursuing an entirely different strategy than Alan Kaprow did with his work, which appeared in 1981 in the weekly newspaper ”Die Zeit” (see an article on ”Museum in Progress”). Here, it was a matter of a game of perplexity in which photos from a previous edition were reprinted without bearing any connection to the texts whatsoever. The reactions varied considerably: some people thought it was an April Fool’s joke, others assumed it was due to a reduction in costs, a mishap, or even sabotage.


KS: The pages will be simply inserted, and people will perhaps wonder about them. Maybe they’ll think it’s nonsense and throw them away, or they’ll save them. I don’t want to request anything of the reader in this respect. I’m not making up any rules about how people should approach these pages. Some people will look at them and want to find out what it’s all about. The work might succeed in reflecting aspects of New York’s many linguistic and cultural qualities, in letting linguistic images arise, and in underscoring the cultural diversity of the city.


HUO: You can never predict the reactions.


KS: No, but they help you judge whether a piece works or not.


Translation: Andrea Scrima