Artist Profile: JK Keller

Realigning My Thoughts on Jasper Johns (screenshot)  2011

You seem to be preoccupied with the viral spreading of your work (in your website, under the social media “like” count, you wrote “Seeing these numbers rise is my drug.”) Why is this such an important consideration to you?

For me, the number of likes/+'s/mentions/views are the closest thing I have to renumeration for work that is currently difficult to commodify. The means in which we are able to sell digital work is still very much loose and up in the air. I can take solace in these numbers. Know that the work is reaching people, even if the specific metrics are a fools game, an addictive comparison mechanism where the only impossible successful outcome is a continual rate of increase.

Is the possibility of the rapid spreading of your work one of the reasons you choose new media or video as a medium for most of your works?

It's less about rapidly spreading my work than about the possibility of widely spreading it. And cheaply. My technologically formative years were in the 90's when the internet was revolutionizing the idea of ubiquitous publishing and communication. We were using modems measured in baud, emailing around a tiny video of a cg dancing baby, not streaming the latest feature-length film wondering if a single service was going to have 1 billion active users. The 90's were a transitional period, and I think we're in another one (yes, yes, we're always in a transitional period). But unlike the technological idealism of the 90's led by thinkers, tinkerers, and artists, we seem to be in a confusing "what the fuck just happened" period where we're scared/uneasy/apprehensive about where technology may be leading us because of who's at the helm of innovation. The nerds have gone from a cadre of dreamers to a fraternity of schemers. And we have to make work that is both congruous to this state as well as a counterpoint.

There seems to be some creative tension between the deliberate, almost “control freak” method you impose on your process and your embracing response to any disruptive interventions to these methods. What is the role of unintended accidents vs. planned processes in producing your work? Do you feel like you create methodical parameters just to break them and sweep up the creative mess?

Absolutely. And that's a direct result of attempting to turn obsessive-compulsive social weaknesses into productive process-oriented strengths. Unfortunately this translates into work processes that are not fun; they're tedious compulsions. So, in an effort to combat this trudgery, I work towards methods that are simplistically flawed and imprecise in nature, trying to foster the creation of "disruptive interventions" & "unintended accidents". I want to be surprised by my work, because it means I've done something beyond what I could previously imagine. It's growth.

In your ongoing project “The Adaptation to My Generation”  you take a picture of yourself everyday. The way you present this mass of images affects how the intention of the project is perceived. So far you have presented these photographs by compiling them in a video that highlights the gradual evolution of your appearance in a way that would be indistinguishable from day to day. Have you considered other ways of presenting these images, perhaps in some form of collage or within an exhibition? Do you think you will ever use these images (and their future iterations as you take more through the years) as material for a different project?

Yes, I've thought of other ways of presenting the work. Despite it being the most easily digestible means of display, I've never really thought of the project as existing solely as a timelapse video. I've previously imagined a number of possibilities: An exhibition of each of the years as a separate grid of photos. Yearly books whose size is determined by the resolution of the printing technology relative to the resolution of the cameras that I've used to take the photos. So, as my camera gets better, the books get larger. I've created and printed yearly "averages" of my photos a la Jason Salavon. And have even created photomosaics of a single photo from the collection of all the other photos; something I find humorously interesting as they're all so self-similar. Outside of this project I don't currently have any plans to use the images for anything else, but wouldn't rule it out.

The background of your website presents an amalgamation of images of all your works. You note this by saying you are “trying to find the connective tissue of [your] work.” What have you found so far?

My apologies for updating my site between the time you asked this question and my answer. You can find an archived image here: Though, while the site has changed, the question remains relevant and important as it cuts to the overall trajectory of my work. It's something I continue to struggle with and have a difficult time expressing through words. So I start with naive or default visual experiments like using the content aware fill to connect images from my body of work. Of course this an incorrect means of finding a connective thread within my work. And that's just it, the thread is the incorrectness; almost all my projects involve some sort of misinterpretation, miscommunication, or misuse of intended tools or ideas. 

Why did you decide to change the composition of your site? How do you think this change in web design will influence the reception of your work? Why did you choose to remove the elements mentioned in the previous questions?

Simply a matter of design restlessness. The change certainly casts the work in a different light by making it more obvious that the site is a portfolio of individual projects. I got the feeling that many people were either instantly turned off by how chaotic the homepage background was or saw it as an end point, not as a portal into a larger body of work. Either way, it wasn't having the intended reaction for a site whose core function is to showcase my work. I still wanted to retain a sense of all the projects having a connection though, which is why they start out as a single mutable diagonal line within the window. A visual cue as to the trajectory of the work.





Very soon from "Charm" City back to I NY.

How long have you been working creatively with technology? How did you start?

I grew up as an Atari/Apple II/C-64 child. And while I didn't really do much creatively with technology back then, there was a certain sense of DIYness and creative adaptability that most people were accepting of in their relation to technology. It wasn't until I attended RISD that I began to work with technology as a creative tool. The most formative moment came when I was in a computer lab; I saw two guys (Karl Ackermann & Paul Kim) working on an interactive CD-ROM called Love Disk ( They were using something called Macromedia Director and it completely and instantly shifted any thoughts of becoming an architect into thoughts of making interactive design.

Describe your experience with the tools you use. How did you start using them?

Upon seeing Macromedia Director for the first time, I pirated a copy and got to work! After a few years trying to stuff Lingo into a single frame, there was a lot of "View Source" in my life. Since then, it's basically the same process; see something new and start blindly smashing the keyboard and mouse as though I know what I'm doing. Then when I get stuck, head to Google. As I mentioned above, I'm much more interested in improperly using a tool and being surprised.

Where did you go to school? What did you study?

I did my foundations year at RISD, finished my BFA in Interactive Multimedia at MCAD, and got my MFA in 2D Design at Cranbrook.

What traditional media do you use, if any? Do you think your work with traditional media relates to your work with technology?

Everything is fair game as long as it's in support of the project. Lately, in collaboration with Keetra Dean Dixon, we've been working with melted wax on a series of layered typographic works. I have found that there's a certain iterative aspect to much of the work I do in more traditional media that mimics processes and methodologies one would use via code. 

Are you involved in other creative or social activities (i.e. music, writing, activism, community organizing)?

If there isn't documentation of it somewhere online, I'm pretty much not doing it.

What do you do for a living or what occupations have you held previously? Do you think this work relates to your art practice in a significant way?

I currently work as a web designer/developer for a large private foundation. It's a means. I used to work in a metal shop grinding the welds inside stainless-steel "[cheese] Curd Recovery Units".

Who are your key artistic influences?

The dreamers, schemers and memers. The grumblers, bumblers, and tumblrs. 

The internet is a river of influences so wide that it's difficult to remember whether a particular fish has passed my way. #inOtherMetaphors

Have you collaborated with anyone in the art community on a project? With whom, and on what?

I'm fairly private offline, and the only person I've collaborated with is my wife, Keetra Dean Dixon. We're doing more and more work that is both directly and indirectly influenced and shaped by one another.

Do you actively study art history?

As I alluded to two answers up, my study is more broadly passive, keeping the river flowing by. Then I attempt to process this flow via a methodology of "thinking through doing". So, what chunks of time I have to devote to my artistic practice I feel are better spent making than actively studying art history.

Do you read art criticism, philosophy, or critical theory? If so, which authors inspire you?

I try to keep up with the blogs, articles and various outlets online, but I probably pay more attention to who tweeted an article than who the author is. Yes, that may be a sad indicator of the current state of cultural consumption, but I'm more interested in exploring lots of the new shiny objects than devoting myself completely to single set of opinions. For example, the debate/discussion that's been happening recently around "The New Aesthetic" is quite entertaining and I am greatly enjoying the broad spectrum of people's strong reactions. 

Are there any issues around the production of, or the display/exhibition of new media art that you are concerned about?

Work that involves a significant amount of technology often runs into the problem of reliability. This is both a short-term issue, e.g. computers crash, connections loosen, people fuck with the camera, as well as long term issue; systems become obsolete or new technologies render old ones useless. Rhizome has recently taken more a active role in the long-term efforts (which is GREAT), but I still find it anxiety inducing setting up an interactive work and then praying that it doesn't break while the exhibition is open.