To go beyond browsing, downloading must be considered.
Downloading is essential to almost any kind of engagement with the www, whether code is sent into a browser window or files are delivered to a desktop. To download is to take from the network and to navigate the choreography of circulation itself; when we download, we extend the file’s narrative—its time-stamped presence spanning any number of geo-located servers—into the intimate space of the hard drive. The download is a prerequisite to more local activities, like scanning, printing, dispersing, and archiving. Downloading can transform a public post into private property; to download may be political.
The browser typically acts as our portal to “the downloadable,” extending a view out onto distant servers and directories through the hyperlink. We can (almost) always download anything we see through the browser window, regardless of an artist’s intent, but while a browser-based work is meant to remain confined—“performed” into the user’s browser window for a temporal experience that is measured and dictated in certain ways by its publisher—the download allows the user’s experience to play out within the more private sphere of the desktop. The download involves agency.
To shift art out of the context of the browser and onto our desktop is to borrow from publishing—“making public” by dispersing copies of files and enjoying them locally (and privately). Artists who distribute downloadable work invite us to activate the computer desktop as an intimate, performative space for engaging with art.
Building on a past program curated by Zoë Salditch, The Download is a new series of six works commissioned by Rhizome that presents posted files, the act of downloading, and the user’s desktop as the space of exhibition. Beginning in November 2015 and continuing into the next year, each artist’s contribution will be zipped up and posted for download. The Download offers the JPG, the TXT, the PDF and other file extensions by artists who view the file format itself as substrate. These works are free to own, print, share, and perform under your own conditions.
sorry to dump on you like this.zip (2015)
do you play.jpg
Somewhere deep inside the directory of Christopher Clary’s sorry to dump on you like this.zip, the text “do you play” appears as a file name. This particular JPG is one of 1,860 images in the work: a pixelated 320 x 240 photograph of a bearded man, perhaps a profile pic, creation date February 26, 2001. Is it an invitation? Without punctuation, the phrase “do you play” reads like a provocation, a quick text message, short for “do (the two of) you play (outside of your relationship?)” Surrounding texts encourage a sexualized reading, but isolating it as a fragment suggests other takes. Are you a player? Who’s playing whom?
Consisting only of still images and their filenames, sorry to dump on you like this.zip can be read as a dramatic desktop play that takes on an almost operatic depth, with characters, dialogue, and changing scenery. Multiple voices speak the texts, including a chorus of porn actors, tumblr users, and the artist himself, but in this case I imagine the computer asking me—the user who downloads—if I play. In Clary’s work, the paratextual spaces of the operating system (file names, dates, metadata, keywords) can perform unlimited narratives, if the player is game to save, search, and sort.
you may be that man.jpg
Clary’s practice builds upon a long history of artists who appropriate, a trajectory that only recently took a sharp turn into the crowd. Artists like Penelope Umbrico, Joan Fontcuberta, and Joachim Schmid sift through the new vernaculars of picture-taking to create works that result in massive textures, rather than singular portraits. sorry to dump on you like this.zip extends this fascination by pointing the crowd’s camera toward constructions of masculinity, sexuality, and ultimately, maps the subjectivity of the artist himself.
i’ll stop, im just feeling very close to you, or romantic right now, in a way i guess these are modern versions of love letters.jpg
It’s tempting to call sorry to dump on you like this.zip a pornographic work, since an actual porn collection is embedded within it—the artist’s own archive of men accumulated in fifteen years of web browsing. But these JPGs serve only as a substrate: thin scaffolding for an epic textual work that hangs loosely from the files. The numerous written narratives describe intimate exchanges between boyfriends and lovers, alternating between dramatic betrayals, breakups, and banalities. Laced through the work are heart-breaking utterances, illustrated by found images of men that have already been downloaded, stored, and used. In making them available for us to “re-use,” Clary discards them—the title of the work an apology, even, for offloading his memory onto ours.
do you, in your heart, your soul, your head, truely love IMG_359551_4350759.jpg
The voices in sorry to dump on you like this.zip vary, merge, and separate, coalescing into a linear narrative when files are sorted by date. When actually called out, characters’ identities are revealed to be file names, like BM1710667 and GBEARFUCKED1. Entangled networks. Actors switch roles to stand in during the most painful scenes, managing to reveal very little. Has anyone been protected? Not all of the images are pornographic, and some have been pixelated beyond recognition, but maybe they’ve all been loved by Clary, the way one loves a fetish or a fantasy. Or an old file. Again and again, the work asks us—now that we’ve downloaded—is it ours? Who do we decide to keep or discard through time? These stories are an offering of sorts: characters once loved, now staged as daddies and bears, cigars and cocks. The object-files of sorry to dump on you like this.zip travel through networked relations, but settle into hard drives like angry ghosts.
It’s August and I’m already looking at the end of my time at NEW INC. I’ll move out of 231 Bowery by the end of this month. It’s been an intense year, a very good one, for lots of reasons. This studio space here and the incredible community in the New Museum’s incubator helped me focus on writing, teaching and special publishing projects — as Counterpractice. It’s the first time that I’ve opened up my studio to a wider range of non-client work, in a more formalized way (please, no more “side-projects”). The balance was never perfect but I’ve learned to stay alert for unexpected alignments and frictions. I’m learning from all of it. In May I was asked to be a contributing editor at Rhizome, so I now have another outlet for writing and developing special projects and extending my experimental publishing research.
After the launch of Printed Web 3 at Offprint London (and on Rhizome) at the end of May, I headed to Germany. I’d been invited by Olia Lialina to teach a one-week Library of the Printed Web workshop at Merz Akademie in Stuttgart, which was just coming to the end of asparagus season.
The students were excellent and we presented a mini collection of zines, postcards and printed matter to Olia for the school’s library.
This was my first LotPW workshop and creating a site-specific collection of materials in real-time is a beautiful format. I’ll use it again.
While I was there I gave my “Performing Publishing” talk at Stadtsbibliothek Stuttgart (the city’s new public library that feels like a set from the Matrix). This library knows how to make speakers feel welcome. No, this is not a rendering.
And then I was Paris-bound, where I had been invited by Fondation Galeries Lafayette to deliver a talk (“Making Public”) and conduct a two-day workshop for an awesome mix of artists, media critics, designers and curators (including Alessandro Ludovico, Raphael Bastide, Oliver Laric, Neil Cummings from Wolff Olins, Joachim Hamou and Nicolas Delaforge, a semantic web engineer). The scenario was to imagine how the new OMA-designed art institution opening in 2018 would treat the artifacts of artistic production, from archiving to publishing.
Making public became a kind of mantra for me while I spent the week in the Marais writing the talk and posing questions around posting, multiple publics, memory, temporality, poor media and physical space. I’d love to develop this talk into a broader text about the role of publishing for artists and art institutions.
In September I’m back at RISD. I’ll be full-time on a year-long term appointment, teaching the core design studio for graphic design juniors as well as Experimental Publishing Studio (this time as an undergrad elective). I’ll try to spend more time in Providence, which might be easier now without the need to rush back to my studio on the Bowery. I’ll be writing and designing and putting my fall projects together from Rhode Island, as much as I can.
— Paul Soulellis (@soulellis) July 26, 2015
In September I’ll participate in Yami-Ichi Internet Black Market at the Knockdown Center in Queens, and then you’ll find me in the zine tent at the NY Art Book Fair at MoMA PS1 (Sept 18–20).
All issues of Printed Web (1–3) will be available at both of these events (except the Chinatown Edition, which is sold out), as well as the first of my new Printed Web Editions — one-off artist project zines.
Also this fall — I’m developing the next issue of Printed Web, which will be a special commission for the International Center of Photography. This will be for the museum’s inaugural exhibition in their new location on the Bowery in early 2016. And in February, I’ll be back in Paris for the opening of L’image Inframince at xpo gallery, a show I’m curating around the current condition of the image on the network and in physical space.
Meanwhile, Library of the Printed Web continues to grow. Please direct all web-to-print projects my way for consideration! Someday, I’ll properly conserve these artifacts and develop a proper home for this collection. The works deserve to be treated better than my sorry bookcases at home.
Earlier this year, I announced an open call for the third issue of Printed Web, a semi-annual publication dedicated to web-to-print discourse. I received a stunning array of files from recognized artists like Olia Lialina, Kim Asendorf, and Clement Valla, but the real beauty of the open call was connecting with a new group of people working with material found or created on the web — 147 contributors in all. A particularly diverse view of networked culture formed on my desktop through an accumulation of notes, attachments, tweets, and downloads. Gathering this community around Printed Web was immensely satisfying for me, and I wanted to include every submission in the issue — but having received hundreds of PDFs, JPGs, PNGs, and GIFs, the logistical challenges to this have been considerable.
My intention had always been to publish all of the files in a single print edition, but as submissions poured in, I decided that “scattering” the material across different networked versions would allow the project to occupy multiple positions in a way that suited its multiplicitous content.
A cheap, black-and-white, print-on-demand paperback book becomes just one of the physical artifacts of Printed Web 3. All of the artists’ files come together in this Index/Reader as a “defense of poor media,” prioritizing accessibility and circulation over craft and polish. Potent texts by Alexander Galloway (an interview) and Silvio Lorusso (a manifesto), grabbed from the web, provide some context and framing.
A collection of 10 print-on-demand zines focuses the material into curated groupings. A tight selection of 10 images printed onto neoprene fabric slows some of the work down even further, wrapping PDFs around books like insulating skin.
If the books, zines, and skins are a meager attempt to fix some stability into the work as printout matter, the files are also offered for download in several different formats, allowing “readers” of Printed Web 3 to perform their own versions of the material. A 147-page-frame GIF compresses all the material into a single loop, while all 329 files submitted to the open call are organized into artist folders as an archive (in the order that I received them). These files, available via Dropbox or a server directory on rhizome.org, may be browsed, downloaded, printed, posted, and circulated.
After twelve weeks, my first Experimental Publishing Studio at RISD concluded yesterday, with a four-hour critique of the students’ final projects presented within a collaboratively-designed google doc. Everyone took turns transcribing the critics’ feedback and in the end we had a 111-page document that was published as a PDF and as zipped HTML. It contains manifestos, GIFs, PNGs, videos and downloads. It’s a beautiful artifact of the event and a serious act of performing publishing.
Every one of the students questioned publishing as an artists’ practice and discovered new ways to expose work and make content public.
And here’s our performing publishing statement, which appears on the first page of the document —
What is publishing today? Platforms, channels and modes of production are mutating and multiplying. Ubiquitous tools and an abundance of free material means that the artist is empowered to consider her own publishing agenda, outside of corporate constraints. What does it mean to “make public” when the circulation of texts, images and our own identities has become routine? Is posting (always) publishing?
This semester, the Experimental Publishing Studio at RISD explored various strategies for dispersing work, pushing content across networks, into and out of physical space and on and off platforms. Students were encouraged to develop their own “performing publishing” agendas, considering curation, fixity and dispersion in their practice. We erased, transcribed, versioned, intervened, traced, recited, collected, grabbed and scanned. We published our experiments to private and public spaces and used the studio environment as a laboratory for critical discussion and encouragement.
On May 13, 2015 our final meeting will serve as both a conclusion to the studio and as a real-time enactment of our work and ideas. Beginning at 1:00pm, the studio will perform eleven final projects into the collaborative design of a publication for four hours. On-site feedback from guest critics will be incorporated into the document, while others will be invited to occupy the screen. At 4:30 pm, the document will be closed and we will publish the event as a digital file for circulation, download and output.
I teach the studio again in the fall.
I’ve created a new graduate studies elective called Experimental Publishing Studio at RISD, and it’s now underway with 12 students. And I decided to publish the syllabus on NewHive as a sort of manifesto. It’s my agenda for the studio but it’s also a way to start talking about the current state and future of digital publishing.
It’s nice to see the work that went into it getting some attention. Kenneth Goldsmith calls it essential and it’s the subject of an editorial by Michael Connor at Rhizome. He says it’s “required reading,” and that it offers a cogent way to think about digital publishing and the scriptural economy.
I’m thinking about how to get the students to collectively publish the output of the class so that it can be shared. Lots more to come.
When I launched Counterpractice in September, before I knew what it really was, I heard from people who said they were looking forward to seeing what would come out of it. I wondered, too. Even though I didn’t have any kind of plan, I knew that it was the right time to reboot and redefine my practice, after a few years of drifting from client work to residencies to teaching.
However vague, I had a few ideas. Counterpractice would need to embody a spirit of resistance, research and radical curiosity that I’d been building during the last few years. It would be home-grown, small and DIY. Less a service, client-based business and more “ideas laboratory.”
Tomorrow, the New Museum is hosting “demo day,” where 20 select members of NEW INC will present what they’ve been working on here. From what I can see, it’s a chance for the museum to showcase the program and the products that members are developing here.
I’m not presenting, and I have mixed feelings about this.
I’m focused on building my practice right now. Not by growing my client list or launching a product but by synthesizing what I do — what I previously thought of as side-projects or interests — into a single, articulated studio practice.
Much of this is “invisible” work. Defining how I work, balancing what I do and deciding which risks to take. This is a difficult agenda to quantify.
I don’t even see Printed Web as “product” but as an ongoing idea, with the magazine being just one way to articulate my thoughts around independent publishing, artistic practice and network culture. Teaching at RISD and events like Theorizing the Web and Interrupt (at Brown) are good venues for me to expose these ideas (I’m presenting at both)…but packaging them into a five-minute slide show to New Museum media and trustees feels “off.”
So I’m trying to shape (and sharpen) my overall practice and be selective about how and where to expose myself.
All of this has happened since I arrived at NEW INC just a few months ago, where the conditions have been ideal. A super-stimulating community and ample institutional support are excellent motivators; I had lacked both of these for a long while. Plus, a studio space like ours — open, shared and collaborative — means we’re constantly “working in public,” which can create a heightened sense of productivity.
Maybe these ingredients — community, institution and exposure — have given me a kind of permission, too. Sometime between September and now, it occurred to me that my studio is four connected parts. And for the first time, I’m giving equal weight to each:
4 Client work
Even though this looks like an obvious list, the first three components are totally new for me. They weren’t part of Soulellis Studio from 2001–10, or my career before. For twenty years, I had been solely focused on client work. So I look at this list and I see a new way of working.
What’s critical for me right now is being fully devoted to each of the four. And working hard to integrate them. My syllabus for Experimental Publishing Studio (a new graduate studies course I’m about to start teaching at RISD) contains readings and ideas that come straight out of my own research, which come out of (and fuel) my Printed Web projects. And I’m constantly looking for ways to bring this openness and these kinds of connections into the work I’m hired to do for clients.
So, this is Counterpractice right now.
Since I started Library of the Printed Web last year, and launched the first two issues of Printed Web this year, the project has gained a good amount of international attention from design students, artists, curators, critics, collectors, librarians and others interested in the so-called post-internet moment, appropriation, collecting, photography and technology. And from the talks, panel discussions and feedback that I’ve received, I’ve started to develop a more critical stance regarding the value of digital work in the context of the printed page.
Why is printing the web so compelling? How does it relate to larger conversations about materiality, circulation and the new ease of independent publishing?
When I first started to articulate my thoughts about this (Search, compile, publish), I focused on the more obvious aspects of web-to-print — like the tactility of the printed page (its thingness), speed of consumption and the basic techniques being used by artists working in this space, like hunting, grabbing, scraping and performing.
I always suspected I could go further, but that’s only come with a bit of time and a lot of dialogue. So I’ve written a text that tries to get at it — to position this moment in a more critical fashion, especially as it relates to independent publishing and the artist’s practice in a networked context.
I’m continuing to work on it, so it’s still a draft, but in the spirit of continuous, ongoing publishing (and working in public) — read the full text here.
ABCEUM will be featured at Offprint Paris this weekend. ABCEUM is a collaborative bookwork created by 16 of us at ABC [Artists' Books Cooperative]. I’ll be there with several members of ABC to represent the project, which was recently shown at the Brighton Photo Biennial.
Our own individual works will also be featured at the ABC table and I’ll have both issues of Printed Web available for purchase.
14–16 Nov 2014
Beaux-arts de Paris, l’école nationale supérieure
14 Rue Bonaparte 75006 Paris
And on Saturday at 2pm, I’ll moderate a discussion about printing the web with
Mathieu Cénac and David Desrimais [Jean Boîte Éditions]
Tarek Issaoui [Rrose Editions]
Yannick Bouillis [Offprint Projects]
I’ve moved into my new studio at NEW INC and Counterpractice is real. And it feels different. Overnight, how I work has changed. I’m in a huge studio space filled with creative people and we’re all stretching into new territory. Working here is public and social. The stimulation is infectious. I haven’t felt this motivated in a long while.
And just off of the quiet of Portlander, I’ve landed in a September frenzy. A good frenzy though. Printed Web No. 2 is about to launch and a nice series of talks and exhibitions is coming up. Here’s what’s happening:
- Tonight, It Narratives opens at Franklin Street Works in Stamford, CT. Curated by MoMA fellow Zanna Gilbert and Brian Droitcour, who asked me to present a selection of print-on-demand titles from Library of the Printed Web, including Printed Web #1. Also part of this show: David Horvitz’s call for mail art. I sent over a copy of Portlander from England last week, so I hope it’s there.
- I wrote an essay on the printed web for CODE X, a new book published by Bookroom Press in London (edited by Emmanuelle Waeckerle and Danny Aldred). The book launches at the London Art Book Fair at Whitechapel Gallery (September 26–28). Alessandro Ludovico, Emmanuelle Waeckerle, Delphine Bedel and Colin Sackett will talk about the project on September 27. Wish I could be there.
- I’m launching Printed Web No. 2 at Printed Matter’s NY Art Book Fair at MoMA PS1. There’s an artists’ talk on Sunday, September 28 at 1pm, part of “The Classroom” (organized by David Senior, MoMA Library). More about that soon.
- ABC [Artists’ Books Cooperative] is launching a major new project called ABCEUM. 20 print-on-demand publications by 16 of our artist members. Each book is a room in a museum; together, the collection is a museum exhibition in print. I’m participating with NEW MEDIA (420 Videos). ABCEUM launches at the NYABF, as an installation at the Brighton Photo Biennial in England (October 4–November 2) and at Offprint Paris (November 14–16).
- I’m speaking about my work at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston on October 8.
- The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has invited me to participate in the Hanes Visiting Artist Lecture Series as part of a panel discussion (with Larissa Leclair and Taj Forer) on photobooks and self-publishing on October 30.
- I’ll be at Offprint Paris with Printed Web No. 2 and ABCEUM (November 14–16).
- And finally, I’m offering an all-day Printed Web Workshop at The Type Directors Club on November 21.
And in a few days I go back to the Isle of Portland to present Portlander during the b-side arts festival (September 5–14).
We printed 3,000 copies with Newspaper Club and we’re distributing them at libraries and all of the festival venues. It’s 64 pages and contains countless photographs, artist submissions, text fragments, oral histories and links and connections to everyone I met on Portland in June.
I’m anxious. The last time I saw everyone there, the project was a mystery. It was still open, with all of the potential that anyone could imagine and hope for. Now, the attention will be directed away from me, away from them, onto the printed piece. I’ll be putting my work in their hands (an unplanned side-effect: Portlander is full of images of hands!). That materiality is powerful. We can all point to it and talk about it. It becomes the thing that’s seen, given, received, carried, admired, saved, remembered, forgotten, thrown away. It’s a container for emotion and thought and conversation.
So of course I worry about reactions and thoughts and conversations. How will it be received. A printed publication freezes time and space. There’s something inscrutable there in its ability to show us some things, to present subjective experience and culture, but to deny us others. There’s no way to really capture anything, and yet these projects attempt to do just that. The publication exists somewhere right there in the space between a yearning to understand and the disappointment of never getting there.
And that’s a lesson for me. I was aware of it from the moment I got to Portland. I’ve done a few of these projects. I try to get closer to a place by creating a thing that embodies personal experiences, relationships and community. I embed my self in another territory — in public — and to do it well, I have to sort of give up my own identity (I push it aside to absorb the lives of others). It’s exhausting work, but it works for me. Built into each of these projects is my leaving. I always leave.
But does it work for anyone else? Is it worth the effort to share? This is what I’ll be asking myself in England.