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Interview with Kelly Mark
OTINO CORSANO: I think it is important for this collection of interviews to start with yours, Kelly, since you are the founder and editor of samplesize.ca. What sparked your initiative to provide conceptual artists with a web-based forum to showcase their work and ideas?
KELLY MARK: Part of the reason I started samplesize.ca was I really felt that most artists – I’ll even go so far as to say most ‘Canadian’ artists – haven’t really taken advantage of the web’s potential for dissemination. I’ve had my own personal website for several years now and I can’t even imagine being a working artist without it.
I want to clarify: I personally see the web as a resource or venue rather than as a medium per se. Still, I acknowledge the other well established web-based art portals (for example: Rhizome, thing and, ‘locally’, Year Zero One and mobilegaze) serving the need for web-based art spaces.
The other motivation for creating samplesize.ca was to create a more freeform place for projects separate from my official webspace, ireallyshould.com. I envisioned it as sort of like a sketchbook - a place to experiment. This initial idea got fleshed out into a web-based project space/magazine format, naturally lending itself to include art writing, reviews and other components. Once I started seeing it in the form of an online art magazine of sorts, heavy on artist projects and images, it totally made sense to me: imagine an actual magazine without the costs of colour printing, advertisements, subscriptions: completely free to the public. The web just made total sense. The site costs almost nothing to produce since server space is donated. The only cost is my time.
The artist interviews you have regularly contributed to the site have been a fantastic addition. In fact, your participation has truly been one of the highlights of the samplesize project for me. I hoped more of this spontaneous communal participation would have been facilitated with the site.
KM: Yes, I keep a close eye on the site’s statistics. In the first few months we were averaging about 50 000 hits per month. Right now were at about 250 000 hits. And we’ve even had some really stellar months; the best so far being this past September where we hit almost a million hits in one month. A lot of this traffic is coming from outside of the country: US, UK, Europe, Asia, & South America.
OC: Were the criteria used selecting the website’s content similar to the decisions involving the selection of artists represented in this group exhibition? Do you believe the Free Sample show accurately documents the vital qualities of samplesize.ca within a traditional exhibition format?
KM: To start, I’d have to say the selection criteria for the website are more open since, as mentioned, I see the site as a place to experiment. I think it’s important to mention the site never claims to offer the best of what’s happening in the Canadian art scene. I have no such lofty goals or the inclination for such an endeavor.
I did not approach the Free Sample exhibition as a document or physical representation of the website. Again, since I view the web as a tool and not so much as a medium, the issue between virtual space and physical were never relevant to me. Yet, it was my goal to maintain a specific vital quality. Vital for me is defined in terms of a similar eclecticism; yet perhaps I am more focused in my choices. Primary to my selection process for the exhibition was my immediate visceral reaction to each of these featured pieces.
A big part of the selection process was quite organic. I started with work taken directly from the site before branching out to include work by artists who have participated in the site. In many cases, however, the work these artists are exhibiting is different from their work represented on samplesize.ca. Finally, I branched out even further to include artists currently having no connection to the site. I felt strongly about the work and wished to collaborate with these artists in some way; in some instances, for the very first time. Nevertheless, this precept does in fact gel with my ideas regarding the purpose for creating the website to begin with.
OC: Samplesize.ca impressively gives the appearance of being greater than the sum of its parts. An international group of artists, writers and curators make up the extensive list of samplesize contributors. Would it be accurate to suggest this web-based network is a sample of how contemporary artistic movements and alignments are currently formed in the digital, free world? Similarly, is it an overstatement to view samplesize.ca as the logical continuation of Okwui Enwezor’s vision of ‘platforms’: living forums of discourse where pressing local art issues are resolved in the context of interconnected global relevance and knowledge? While you humbly downplay the role of the site as a personal project of community interest, don’t you believe samplesize.ca has developed into something more than a addendum to your own site?
KM: Yes, the third motivation for creating samplesize was to create a forum to simply meet, collaborate and work with other artists. This aspect of the site has definitely been a success, as I’ve met a lot of amazing people through samplesize.
Once again, I do not think Canadian artists specifically have advanced the potential of the web for these purposes. Martin Creed, Barbara Kruger, Damien Hirst, and Mathew Barney all have websites. I really do think American, European, Asian artists and just about everybody else out there, are light years ahead of us in terms of a having a significant presence on the web. It seems obvious to me that Canadian artists should be the first ones using this technology, considering how physically isolated we are from the rest of the world. The web address samplesize.ca was specifically chosen, as opposed to .com, to immediately delineate a Canadian focus for the project.
OC: Your conceptual work offers younger artists a model for practices advancing past the limitations, even saturation, of drawing and painting. Samplesize.ca testifies to your noble commitment to foster a renewed interest in the Canadian art community through revitalized artistic vigor via digital formats. Is there a connection between your generous development of the rare art prospectus we call samplesize and the current scarcity of opportunities for showcasing new practices? Do you these omissions as responsible for creating pessimistic outlooks among younger artists? Can you attest to the decline in both curatorial interest and cultural investment into new Canadian conceptual art in recent years?
KM: Well I do feel there is a bit of a vacuum right now in terms of venues for more challenging work. And it seems to me that while there are a great number of really interesting young artists out there, young independent curators and writers seems to be almost non-existent or at least very rare. Now perhaps this is just a perception failure on my part, viewing my early years with my by-now slightly tinted, rose-coloured glasses – but I don’t think so.
I wouldn’t say there is a prevalent pessimism out there among younger artists. Yes, its there to some degree, but I’m also seeing a drive and commitment to the work which is very impressive. If I can add a final rant here along these lines, it would be to state that I believe Canadian artists (young and old) are doing their job superbly well. But I truly believe the curators, writers and most especially the collectors need to step up and start playing a bigger role. Yes, Canada needs a biennale! Yes, Canada has to do more to promote Canadian artists outside of the country, and yes, Canadian collectors should be buying Canadian. Can you even imagine German collector saying something so absurd as We don’t collect any German artists? It’s so sad.