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Xu Tan
Keywords Dictionary

The project ‘Searching for Keywords’ began in 2005 with a series of interviews in China. I wanted to create an artwork that investigated important social concepts. In 2007, Hu Fang, Director of ‘Vitamin Creative Space’, and I edited the ‘Dictionary of Keywords’, which we created from all of the keywords I had collected.

The most important keywords are about social experience. They represent the values of daily life and important social issues at the moment of the interviews. Between 2005 and 2007, I talked to about seventy people. From each sentence transcribed from the interviews, I chose one or two words. I always made the choice very carefully and by myself. This is an art project, but also a social project. I think that the difference begins when I choose these “central and important” words. After the first selection, I looked at all the sentences to find the common keywords. Then I used four different ways to do a further selection within the common keywords:

1 Frequency.
2 Sensitivity a sensitive issue.
3 Trend some words appear more often in so­cial interaction, in the media and on the Internet. I selected this kind of word—even if it was not repeated often in the interviews. I checked “Baidu” (Chinese Google) to show how hot these words are.
4 Absence important social words, which, for unclear reasons, people didn’t use.

We combined these four categories of keywords, making a summation. We had 129 keywords. From these we edited the ‘Keywords Dictionary’ and initiated the ‘Keywords’ website. As an artwork, I don’t think the project can provide much social knowledge to the public.

I hope to show important words that cover important concepts from social life. The words are related to peoples’ consciousness, both individual and collective, and to the way that people think about personal and social life. When we notice these words, maybe we can find something that happened in the spaces between professional social research and art.

Dictionary