Ten Intentions at Tate Modern’s Keystation Exchange October 2016

In response to the invitation to play with the ideas of culture and society with reference to Raymond Williams Keywords, artist Nina Edge has cast into the future. Using the term ‘theatricality’ as a starting point, she will present ten keywords for the future, that can be accessed in Tate Modern with the help of costumed assistants. The public will be offered a choice of ten keywords and invited to frame the future using as many or as few of the words as they like. Their replies will be collected and added to the 10 Intentions website, a digital interface for language experiments, devised by the artist. In honour of the current widespread use of the term keywords in digital platforms, the frequency with which words are used will be recorded as one of the results of the experiment.

In the world of website design, the words most frequently used to search for goods and services are called ‘keywords’. Googlebots or Google ‘spiders’ trawl the internet, night and day, collecting and sorting words into piles. The infinite traffic of online language is counted and sorted into lists surrounding the interests of the people browsing. These are the Keywords of the era of connectivity, and they have commercial value. Google sell on the Keywords; the words most often used in a search for anything and everything. They are like a common currency of meaning, monetized and returned to the online environment that created them.

So in addition to all previous meanings of the term, Keywords are also the recorded evidence of mass thought, traded between companies and sold to designers who build Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and User Experience (UX) into website architecture. Refined on test sites and subject to the vagaries of a rapidly changing language, the ability of Keywords to drive traffic to websites, to bring money to markets, or shift political power, is clear. This ability changes; it is measured and re-measured, sold and re-sold. A word could be at the top of the Keyword search list one week, and the next week fall out of use as a search term. UX designers say keywords are often the synonyms of the thing people think of when trying to locate an object or experience. So they reflect a collective linguistic consciousness amongst searchers.

Fans of Raymond Williams keywords, and Professor Shannon Jackson’s extension of his work have an interest in language culture. The Tate Modern iteration of Ten Intentions places costumed performers and a WordPress website on stage and points towards the next big thing. What does it take to unlock the future – is there a key? Is it a word?