artists’ books

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39 movements

front with cover wrap

inside cover

18 Hafrún.

9 Fiskísupa + 11 Eínbui.

32 Old friendship ties + 34 Self.

18 Hafrún.

15 Earth + 16 Just in front of me.

This book is finished. I’m giving most of the edition of 50 away to people in Skagaströnd this week. It feels so good to hand the object over, to pass it on, to be able to leave it behind.

The experience is similar to what happened with Weymouths, but 530 is different for a few reasons. I created this work on-site, in and around the chance encounters with people in town, so there’s already a familiarity with the work (and me), and certain expectations.

Also, 530 is much more accessible. The entire work is embodied in a single book, and easily communicated. The power of the object. With Weymouths, I could only give away parts. And the mass and expense of the project—12 books in a custom-made box—meant that very few people were able to fully encounter Weymouths. Of course, Weymouths wasn’t really about that total experience—it was more about the value of the ephemeral encounter, conversations, fragments, a glimpse.

530 is a complete poetic work. A place-based book work that serves as a particular expression of my experience with this place. It works as a solid brick of connected encounters that can be recreated or re-imagined by the reader, or not, in any number of ways. Framed like this, I can easily hand over the object-based work and leave the rest up to the recipient, and this feels very satisfying.

The final 39 movement-parts of 530 (Sá veldur sem á heldur), written as a score and ordered by chance:

1 Navigation. 2 Depths. 3 Take three, three cards. 4 1815. 5 Bank sea hermit. 6 The box is a battery. 7 Quota. 8 Light. 9 Fiskisúpa. 10 Island. 11 Einbúi. 12 Outlaws. 13 ____________________. 14 Yeah, we are just. 15 Earth. 16 Just in front of me. 17 Mayor. 18 Hafrún. 19 Mirror. 20 Town. 21 Water. 22 Back to God’s Country. 23 We have our families. 24 Fjords, on the sea. 25 Scientist. 26 Bensín. 27 We have our connections. 28 Those transparencies. 29 1964. 30 Horse. 31 Strong. 32 Old friendship ties. 33 Þórdís. 34 Self. 35 530. 36 There’s one bird. 37 Mountain. 38 Rabbarbarabaka. 39 Grandfather.

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Munich

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That Ed Ruscha, Books & Co. show is really getting around. Here’s the ABCED presentation (and my Strippedat the Museum Brandhorst in Munich.

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The Book Affair

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↑ David Horvitz hiding.

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↑ AA Bronson.

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↑ My talk.

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↑ Photos above by Automatic Books.

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Here are some scenes (and lots more) from Automatic Books‘ The Book Affair, a three-day book fair during the opening of the Venice Biennale. Unlike the larger, more well-known fairs, this was small, intimate, casual and every single table was of remarkable quality. There were presentations by Giorgio Maffei, Dexter Sinister and David Horvitz in the evenings and ongoing talks throughout the two days, including mine. We got lots of traffic, even in the rain. Reactions to Library of the Printed Web were really satisfying, which has got me thinking about what to do next. I have to admit that I much preferred presenting and selling other artists’ work, rather than my own. It’s becoming obvious that one idea is to work directly with some of the artists in the collection to produce new work, either as a publisher and/or in a physical space (gallery). Lots to think about for the fall…

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Search, compile, publish.

Towards a new artist’s web-to-print practice.

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This talk was presented at The Book Affair at the opening of the 57th Venice Biennale, 30 May 2013. [Download PDF].

I recently started collecting artists’ books, zines and other work around a simple curatorial idea: web culture articulated as printed artifact. I began the collection, now called Library of the Printed Web, because I see evidence of a strong web-to-print practice among many artists working with the internet today, myself included. All of the artists—more than 30 so far, and growing—work with data found on the web, but the end result is the tactile, analog experience of printed matter.

Looking through the works, you see artists sifting through enormous accumulations of images and texts. They do it in various ways—hunting, grabbing, compiling, publishing. They enact a kind of performance with the data, between the web and the printed page, negotiating vast piles of existing material. Almost all of the artists here use the search engine, in one form or another, for navigation and discovery.

These are artists who ask questions of the web. They interpret the web by driving through it as a found landscape, as a shared culture, so we could say that these are artists who work as archivists, or artists who work with new kinds of archives. Or perhaps these are artists who simply work with an archivist’s sensibility—an approach that uses the dynamic, temporal database as a platform for gleaning narrative.

In fact, I would suggest that Library of the Printed Web is an archive devoted to archives. It’s an accumulation of accumulations, a collection that’s tightly curated by me, to frame a particular view of culture as it exists right now on the web, through print publishing. That documents it, articulates it.

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And I say right now because this is all new. None of the work in the inventory is more than 5 years old—some of it just made in the last few weeks. We know that net art has a much longer history than this, and there are lines that could be drawn between net-based art of the 90s and early 2000s and some of the work found here. And certainly there are lines that could be drawn even further into history—the use of appropriation in art going back to the early 20th century and beyond. And those are important connections.

But what we have here in Library of the Printed Web is something that’s entirely 21st century and of this moment: a real enthusiasm for self-publishing, even as its mechanisms are still evolving. More than enthusiasm—it could be characterized as a mania—that’s come about because of the rise of automated print-on-demand technology in only the last few years. Self-publishing has been around for awhile. Ed Ruscha, Marcel Duchamp, Benjamin Franklin (The Way to Wealth), Virginia Woolf (Hogarth Press) and Walt Whitman (Leaves of Grass) all published their own work. But it was difficult and expensive and of course that’s all changed today.

Lulu was founded in 2002 and Blurb in 2004. These two companies alone make most of this collection reproducible with just a few clicks. I could sell Library of the Printed Web and then order it again and have it delivered to me in a matter of days. Just about. About half of it is print-on-demand, but in theory, the entire collection should be available as a spontaneous acquisition; perhaps it soon will be. With a few exceptions, all of it is self-published or published by micro-presses and that means that I communicate directly with the artists to acquire the works.

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Besides print-on-demand, some of it is also publish-on-demand, and both of these ideas put into question many of our assumptions about the value we assign to net art, artists’ books and the photobook. The world of photobook publishing, for example, is narrow and exclusive and rarified—it’s an industry that designs and produces precious commodities that are beautiful and coveted, for good reason, with a premium placed on the collectable—the limited edition, the special edition, and even the idea of the sold-out edition. (See David Horvitz’s stock photography project Sad, Depressed, People, pictured above—one of a few non-self-published and not printed-on-demand photobooks in Library of the Printed Web). Controlled scarcity is inherent to high-end photobook publishing’s success.

But many of the works in Library of the Printed Web will never go out of print, as long as the artists makes them easily available. There is something inherently not precious about this collection. Something very matter-of-fact, straight-forward or even “dumb” in the material presentation of web culture as printed artifact. It’s the reason I show the collection in a wooden box. It’s utilitarian and functional and a storage container—nothing more than that.

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So we have print-on-demand as a common production technique. But what about the actual work? What concepts on view here might suggest what it means to be an artist who cultivates a web-to-print practice? And how is print changing because of the web? Are there clues here?

The content of these books varies wildly, but I do see three or maybe four larger things at work, themes if you will. And these themes or techniques have everything to do with the state of technology right now—screen-based techniques and algorithmic approaches that for the most part barely existed in the 20th century and may not exist for much longer. If something like Google Glass becomes the new paradigm, for example, I could see this entire collection becoming a dated account of a very specific moment in the history of art and technology, perhaps spanning only a decade. And that’s how I intend to work with this collection—as an archive that’s alive and actively absorbing something of the moment, as it’s happening, and evolving as new narratives develop.

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So here are three or four very basic ideas at the heart of Library of the Printed Web. They are by no means comprehensive, and in each case the techniques that are described cross over into one another. So this isn’t a clean categorization, but more of a rough guide. My goal is not to define a movement, or an aesthetic. At best, these are ways of working that might help us to unpack and understand the shifting relationships between the artist (as archivist), the web (as culture) and publishing (as both an old and a new schema for expressing the archive).

Grabbing (and scraping)

The first category is perhaps the most obvious one. I call them the grabbers. These are artists who perform a web search query and grab the results. The images or texts are then presented in some organized way. The grabbing is done with intent, around a particular concept, but of primary importance is the taking of whole images that have been authored by someone else, usually pulled from the depths of a massive database that can only be navigated via search engine.

So a key to grabbing is the idea of authorship. The material being grabbed from the database, whether it be Google or Flickr or a stock photography service, is at least once removed from the original source, sometimes much more. The grabbing and re-presenting under a different context (the context of the artist’s work) make these almost like readymades—appropriated material that asks us to confront the nature of meaning and value behind an image that’s been stripped of origin, function and intent.

A defining example of a grabber project is Joachim Schmid‘s Other People’s Photographs. Amateur photographs posted publicly to Flickr are cleanly lifted, categorized and presented in an encyclopedic manner. This was originally a 96-volume set, and this is the two-volume compact edition, containing all of the photographs. Removed from the depths of Flickr’s data piles, banal photographs of pets or food on plates or sunsets are reframed here as social commentary. Schmid reveals a new kind of vernacular photography, a global one, by removing the author and reorganizing the images according to pattern recognition, repetition and social themes—the language of the database. The work’s physicality as a set of books is critical, because it further distances us from the digital origins of the images. By purchasing, owning and physically holding the printed books we continue Schmid’s repossession of  “other people’s photographs” but shift the process by taking them out of his hands, so-to-speak. This idea is made even more slippery, and I would say enriched, by it being a print-on-demand work.

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Texts can be grabbed too. Stephanie Syjuco finds multiple versions of a single text-based work in the public domain, like Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 or Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (part of the installation Phantoms (H__RT _F D_RKN_SS). She downloads the texts from different sources and turns them into “as is” print-on-demand volumes, complete with their original fonts, links, ads and mistranslations. She calls them re-editioned texts. By possessing and comparing these different DIY versions as print objects she lets us see authorship and publishing as ambiguous concepts that shift when physical books are made from digital files. And that a kind of re-writing might occur each time we flip-flop back-and-forth from analogue to digital to analogue.

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If a grabber works in bulk, I’m tempted to call it scraping. Site scrape is a way to extract information from a website in an automated way. Google does it every day when it scrapes your site for links, in order to produce its search results. Some grabbers write simple scripts to scrape entire websites or APIs or any kind of bulk data, and then they “send to print,” usually with little or no formatting. The data is presented as a thing in itself.

Grabbing and republishing a large amount of data as text is at the heart of conceptual poetry, or “uncreative writing,” a relatively recent movement heralded by Kenneth Goldsmith. In conceptual poetry, reading the text is less important than thinking about the idea of the text. In fact, much of conceptual poetry could be called unreadable, and that’s not a bad thing. Goldsmith tweeted recently: “No need to read. A sample of the work suffices to authenticate its existence.”

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Guthrie Lonergan‘s 93.1 JACK FM LOS ANGELES 2008 is a good example of a scraper project. JACK FM radio stations don’t have DJs—the format is compared to having an iPod on shuffle. Lonergan wrote a simple script to downloads all of the activity of one of these JACK FM radio stations over the course of a year—the date, time, artist and the title of every track played—and presents it as a 3,070-page, five-volume set of print-on-demand books. The presentation of the data in bulk is the thing, and the project is richer because of it. Again, the questions at hand are about authorship, creativity, ownership and the nature of decision-making itself—human vs machine. As Lonergan says on his site, “Who is Jack? … How much of this pattern is algorithmic and how much is human? You might begin to read the juxtaposed song titles as poetry.”

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Chris Alexander‘s language-based McNugget project is another scraper, or so I thought. This work of poetry is a massive index of tweets containing the word McNugget from February to March 6, 2012, nothing more and nothing less. I was curious about how he did it—if he was a grabber or more of a scraper, if you will, and I asked him that directly. Here’s his response:

“Somewhere early in the process, I discussed automated methods of capture using the Twitter API with a programmer friend, but in the end I opted for the manual labor of the search because I was interested in experiencing the flow of information firsthand and observing the complex ways the word is used (as a brand/product name, as an insult, as a term of endearment, as a component of usernames, etc.) as they emerged in the moment. Most of my work is focused on social and technical systems and the ways they generate and capture affect, so I like to be close to the tectonics of the work as they unfold—feeling my way, so to speak—even in ‘pure,’ Lewitt-style conceptual projects whose outcome is predetermined. Getting entangled with what I’m observing is an important part of the process. At the same time, I think it’s useful to acknowledge that much of what I do could be automated—and in fact, I use a variety of layered applications and platforms to assist in my work most of the time. Somewhere in the space between automation and manual/affective labor is the position I’m most interested in.” [email 5/20/13]

So, his process isn’t automated. It’s not scraping. But the potential to automate and this connection to conceptual art and predetermined outcome intrigues me—”the idea becomes a machine that makes the art” (Sol Lewitt). The art may be reduced to a set of instructions (like code?), and the execution is secondary, if necessary at all (dematerialization of the art object). So does it matter if the execution—the grabbing—is done by a human or a bot? Of course it does, but perhaps along a different axis, one that looks at this idea of entanglement vs non-interference. But that’s another matter, one that I won’t address here. I’ve come to suspect, after this discussion with Chris, that the distinction between grabbers and scrapers, on its own, is not so important after all. Without more information, it doesn’t reveal anything about artistic intent or the nature of the object that’s been created.

Hunting

So, let’s talk about hunters. Some of the more well-known work in the collection is by artists who work with Google Street View and Maps and other database visualization tools. The work is well-known because these are the kinds of images that tend to go viral. Rather than grabbing pre-determined results, these artists target scenes that show a certain condition—something unusual or particularly satisfying. I call them the hunters. The hunter takes what’s needed and nothing more, usually a highly specific screen capture that functions as evidence to support an idea. Unlike grabbers, who are interested in how the search engine articulates the idea, hunters reject almost all of what they find because they’re looking for the exception. They stitch together these exceptional scenes to expose the database’s outliers—images that at first appear to be accidents but as a series actually expose the absolute logic of the system.

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A great example of this is Clement Valla‘s project Postcards from Google Earth. He searches Google Earth for strange moments where bridges and highways appear to melt into the landscape. He says: “They reveal a new model of representation: not through indexical photographs but through automated data collection from a myriad of different sources constantly updated and endlessly combined to create a seamless illusion; Google Earth is a database disguised as a photographic representation.” Google calls its mapping algorithm the Universal Texture and Valla looks for those moments where it exposes itself as “not human.” When the algorithm visualizes data in a way that makes no sense to us, as humans in the physical world— the illusion collapses. By choosing to print his images as postcards, Valla says he’s “pausing them and pulling them out of the update cycle.” He captures and prints them to archive them, because inevitably, as the algorithms are perfected, the anomalies will disappear.

Performing

The remaining set of works in Library of the Printed Web is a group I call the performers. This is work that involves the acting out of a procedure, in a narrative fashion, from A to B. The procedure is a way to interact with data and a kind of performance between web and print—the end result being the printed work itself. Of course, every artist enacts a kind of performative, creative process, including the hunters and grabbers we’ve looked at so far. But here are a few works that seem to be richer when we understand the artist’s process as a performance with data.

One of my favorite works in the collection is American Psycho by Jason Huff and Mimi Cabell, and it’s performative in this way. The artists used Gmail to email the entire Bret Easton Ellis novel back and forth, sentence by sentence, and then grabbed the context-related ads that appeared in the emails to reconstruct the entire novel. Nothing appears except blank pages, chapter titles, and footnotes containing all of the ads. Again, another unreadable text, aside from a sample here or there. But the beauty is in the procedure—a performance that must be acted out in its entirty, feeding the text into the machine, piece by piece, and capturing the results. It’s a hijacking of both the original novel and the machine, Google’s algorithms, mashing them together, and one can almost imagine this as a durational performance art piece, the artists acting out the process in real time. The end result, a reconstructed American Psycho, is both entirely different from and exactly the same as the original, both a removal and a rewriting, in that all that’s been done is a simple translation, from one language into another.

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My own practice is increasingly web-to-print, so I have a special, personal interest in seeing Library of the Printed Web evolve in real time. It’s too early to call it an anthology, but it’s more than just a casual collection of work. I’m searching for something here, a way to characterize this way of working, because these artists are not in a vacuum. They know about each other, they talk to and influence each other, and they share common connections. Each time I talk to one I get introduced to another. Some of the links that I’ve uncovered are people like Kenneth Goldsmith, places like the Rhode Island School of Design, and certain tumblr blogs where the work is easily digested and spread, like Silvio Lorusso‘s mmmmarginalia. I’m curious—is anyone else doing this? Who is looking at web-to-print in a critical way, and who will write about it? I’d like Library of the Printed Web to become a way for us to monitor the artist’s relationship to the screen, the database and the printed page as it evolves over time.

Grabbing/scraping

Alexander, ChrisMcNugget. PoD, Troll Thread, 2013, 528 pages.
Burel, LudovicFist. it: éditions, 2009, 32 pages.
Burel, LudovicLobster. it: éditions, 2009, 32 pages.
Burel, LudovicWaterfall. it: éditions, 2008, 32 pages.
Cablat, Olivier. Enter the Pyramid.
Fathom Information DesignFrankenstein. PoD, 2011, 336 pages.
Hallenbeck, TravisFlickr favs. PoD, 2010, 315 pages.
Horvitz, DavidSad, Depressed, People. Vancouver: New Documents, 2012, 64 pages.
Kosas, KarolisCaptchaFakeJPGReflectionSearch. Selections from Anonymous Press (Α–Π), PoD, 2013.
LeClair, AndrewOccupy Wall StreetEther Press. PoD, 2011, 500 pages.
Lewis, JonathanThe End. PoD, 2011, 30 pages.
Lonergan, Guthrie93.1 JACK FM LOS ANGELES 2008. PoD, 2008, 3,070 pages (set of five books).
Lorusso, Silvio and Sebastian Schmieg56 Broken Kindle Screens. PoD, 2012, 78 pages.
Pujade-Lauraine, Grégoire. Significant Savages.
Schmid, JoachimAre you searching for me? PoD, 2012, 80 pages.
Schmid, JoachimOther People’s Photographs, Volumes I & II. PoD, 2011, 400 pages each.
Schmidt, AndreasPorn. PoD, 2012, 80 pages.
Schmidt, AndreasRGB. Set of three books. PoD, 2012, 80 pages each.
Shaykin, BenjaminSpecial Collection. 12 books, 2009. (on loan from artist)
Sira, VictorVoyeur A Midsummer. PoD, 2010, 40 pages.
Soulellis, PaulStripped. PoD, 2012, 74 pages.
Syjuco, Stephanie. Re-editioned texts: Fahrenheit 451. PoD, 2013. Set of 3 books.
Syjuco, StephanieRe-editioned texts: Heart of Darkness. PoD, 2012. Set of 10 books.
Umbrico, PenelopeDesk Trajectories (As Is). New York: 2010, 60 pages.
Umbrico, PenelopeSignals Still / Ink (Book). New York: 2011, 60 pages.
Umbrico, PenelopeMany Leonards Not Natman. New York: 2010, 56 pages.
Vredenburg, ElliotCorporate Image Search. 2012, 78 pages.
Vredenburg, ElliotThis is Cloud Country. 2012, 450 pages.

Hunting

Henner, MishkaDutch Landscapes. PoD, 2011, 106 pages.
Henner, MishkaNo Man’s Land I and II. PoD, 2011/12, 120 pages each.
Neilson, HeidiDetails from the Least Popular. PoD, 2013, 208 pages.
Rafman, JonThe Nine Eyes of Google Street View. Jean Boîte Éditions, Paris, 2011, 160 pages.
Rickard, DougA New American Picture. New York: Aperture, 2012, 144 pages.
Schmid, JoachimCyberspaces. PoD, 2004, 40 pages.
Soulellis, PaulApparition of a distance, however near it may be. PoD, 2013, 42 pages.
Soulellis, Paul. Las Meninas.
Soulellis, PaulThe Spectral Lens. PoD, 2012, 140 pages.
Valla, ClementPostcards from Google Earth. 2010.
Wolf, Michaelasoue. Wanderer Books, 2010, 72 pages.
Wolf, MichaelFY. Wanderer Books, 2011, 72 pages.
Zissovici, JohnNight Greens. PoD, 2013, 570 pages.

Performing

Antonini, FedericoA palindrome book. PoD, 2012, 96 pages.
Cabell, Mimi and Jason HuffAmerican Psycho. PoD, 2010, 408 pages.
Cayley, John and Daniel C. HoweHow It Is in Common Tongues. PoD, 2012, 300 pages.
Henner, Mishka. Harry Potter and the Scam Baiter. PoD, 2012, 334 pages.
Horvitz, DavidPublic Access. Vancouver: 2012, 94 pages.
Horvitz, DavidA Wikipedia Reader. New York: 2009, 48 pages.
Huff, JasonAutoSummarize. PoD, 2010, 100 pages.
Lorusso, Silvio and Giulia CilibertoBlank on Demand (minimum edition). PoD, 2012, 40 pages.
Thorson, LaurenWikipedia Random Article Collection. PoD, 2013. 13 booklets.
Soulellis, PaulChancebook #1: 26 March 2013 (Why Does It Hurt So Bad). PoD, 2013, 112 pages. Unique copy (edition of 1).
Tonnard, ElisabethWhere Is God. Rochester, New York: 2007, 117 pages.

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Venice

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I’ll present Library of the Printed Web at The Book Affair, at the opening of the 55th Venice Biennale, 29–31 May. I’ll have (most of) the collection with me in a specially constructed wood box (my mobile device), and a small selection of items will be available for purchase. I’ve designed a print-on-demand catalogue of the entire inventory and this will be also be available for purchase at the fair, as well as online (coming soon).

A talk is planned for Thursday 30 May, 12pm.

The presentation will include over 50 book works (and zines, postcards, etc.) by 30+ artists, including Penelope Umbrico, Joachim Schmid, David Horvitz, Fraser ClarkMishka Henner, Guthrie Lonergan, Lauren Thorson, Clement Valla, Elisabeth Tonnard, Karolis KosasBenjamin Shaykin, Jason Huff, Silvio Lorusso, Stephanie Syjuco, Federico Antonini, Jonathan Lewis, Andreas Schmidt, Doug Rickard, Heidi Neilson, John Zissovici and many others.

As Library of the Printed Web grows, I intend to keep the collection focused on self-published works. Many items coming to Venice are rare or one-of-a-kind.

The Book Affair
Biblioteca Castello
S. Lorenzo-Castello 5065
Venice, Italy
29–31 May 2013

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Experimental Book

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I’m really excited to be teaching an experimental book studio this fall at Purchase College.

Experimental Book traces the development of the artist’s book through the twentieth-century and beyond. This interdisciplinary Art + Design studio course asks highly motivated students to consider the future of the book and expand the boundaries of the traditional codex through provocative studio exercises and projects.

The class will benefit from critical readings, site visits to important book collections, notable guest critics and a collaborative, hands-on studio atmosphere.

Students will help shape the book’s radical trajectory into the twenty-first century by producing their own book works. Of particular interest will be the physicality of the book as it evolves in the digital space, including print-on-demand, publish-on-demand, book scanning, book videos and books-in-browsers.

Working with noted artist and creative director Paul Soulellis, the studio will engage in thematic exercises to explore narrative structure, form, chance, word and image, digital vs. print technologies, photography, typography and production, as well as audience and performance.

Each student will develop a final book project and participate in a collaboratively-designed studio exhibition.

Paul Soulellis (Soulellis.com) is a New York-based artist and creative director, maintaining his studio in Long Island City. His book works explore place, image and identity.

Our muses
Tauba Auerbach
Badlands Unlimited
Irma Boom
James Bridle
Marcel Broodthaers
John Cage
Sonia Delaunay-Terk
Johanna Drucker
Marcel Duchamp
Kenneth Goldsmith
Mishka Henner
David Horvitz
Richard Kostelanetz
Sol Lewitt
Dieter Roth
Ed Ruscha
Joachim Schmid
Elisabeth Tonnard
Penelope Umbrico
Visual Editions
Robin Waart
+++

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Chancebooks

New work: Chancebooks (Paul Soulellis, 2013) is a publishing-on-demand experiment using Wikipedia and chance operations. Each Chancebook is a one-of-a-kind collection of up to 500 randomly pulled articles from Wikipedia. The selection and sequence of content is generated in real-time as the artist repeatedly clicks the “random article” button that appears on all Wikipedia pages and individually adds each page to the book. The total number of articles is determined by first pulling a random number (1–500) at random.org.

The title is determined by the artist from the list of article titles.

Only one copy of each Chancebook exists, printed on-demand and delivered to the artist. The book’s design is automated and determined by the print-on-demand service. Included within each book are the date of creation, the location of the artist and the exact time and duration of the content generation.

Chancebook #1 (Why Does It Hurt So Bad) was created at 2:29pm on 26 March 2013 and delivered to me 29 March 2013.

Chancebook #1, part of ongoing series
26 March 2013 (Why Does It Hurt So Bad)
Digital print-on-demand
Edition of 1
Perfect binding
5.5 in. x 8.5 in.
112 pages

39 articles
Rosa Rosal

Iridostoma
Himalayan Snowcock
The Ice Break
Santa María Coyotepec
Amos K. Hadley
Plasma gasification
Flatland
Fronville
Ndop
Bert Archer
Bud (disambiguation)
Søren Wichmann
WSET
Danny Gormally
Liberty Hill Schoolhouse (Gainesville, Florida)
Pratap Singh Kairon
Derivation
USNS Gordon (T-AKR-296)
Shooting at the 1908 Summer Olympics – Men’s double-shot running deer
HINDRAF
Fuzzy Duck (band)
The Legion of Doom (mash up group)
Nottingham Concert Band
Sun WorkShop TeamWare
Judo at the 2011 Pan American Games – Men’s 81 kg
Why Does It Hurt So Bad
Francisco de Figueroa
William Pelham (bookseller)
Western Fields
Antonio Enrique Lussón Batlle
Frederick Bligh Bond
2013 Women’s EuroHockey Nations Championship
Vorbarra
Central African Republic parliamentary election, 1964
Lake Chelan AVA
2000 Purdue Boilermakers football team
Vertigo ovata
Ucchan Nanchan no Honō no Challenge: Denryū Ira Ira Bō

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The Generosity Echo

“The Generosity Echo” originally appeared in Communication Arts (Typography Annual, Jan/Feb 2013).

Like many designers today, I spend a great deal of time in the cloud—connecting with friends and followers on Twitter and other social media platforms. These tools are important; they allow us to amplify our work and broadcast to a larger design community with incredible speed and ease. And I’ve come to rely on my network as a kind of support, generously encouraging me with valuable feedback, or even friction.

But do these tools actually let us engage in deeper conversations around our work? While I treasure the constant connection to the crowd, I find it difficult to slow down for more focused interactions unless I’m physically present. For me, the opportunity to go further in a discussion around my work—to explore, to learn, to grow—best occurs when it can mediate both digital and physical worlds.

So I decided to take my work outside. Not just out into the elements, but beyond many of my normal boundaries as a designer. Frustrated with my own addiction to the screen and propelled by my need for richer connections, I stepped outside the studio, curious to discover new kinds of encounters.

Working on a commission for the b-side multimedia arts festival (part of the London 2012 Festival), I carried a twelve-volume set of books entitled Weymouths out into the windy streets of Weymouth, England. I had created the books over the course of a year, investigating the connections and disconnects between two towns named Weymouth (one in England, the other in Massachusetts). Three hundred books were printed and I gave them all away, one by one, to people I encountered in the small town. For twelve days, I bicycled the books around in a wicker basket and set them up in highly visible areas—at the town clock, in a public square, at the bakery. I unfolded a large piece of printed fabric with a small sign that said “free books” and stood nearby as people reacted—looking, pointing, commenting. Most threw confused glances my way, without slowing down. Once in a while, someone would pause and approach me to ask, “What’s this about?”

Invariably, they were delighted to hear that this was an art project. And yes, they would love to receive a free book.

I know what it’s like to work on something precious and deliver it to a client or a gallery, or to post it to my blog. This was different. By bringing the books outside, and opening myself up to chance conversations and surprise, I was able to watch the project come alive in ways I couldn’t predict. By provoking the audience and giving the books away, I came face-to-face with people stretching to accept art and design in an unexpected context.

I felt totally exposed, like a performer on stage. No amount of market research could have prepared me for the uncertainty of standing in the street with my work, waiting for an interaction. In my twenty-year career as a designer, I’d rarely come into contact with the people I visualized while designing. In Weymouth, I experienced the vulnerability— and privilege—of meeting every person who received one of my books. And I witnessed the remarkable, real-time creation of conversations and community around my work.

Aside from UX designers, rarely do I hear my peers referring to the end users of their design work as a community. Print designers, especially, tend to think of their audience as isolated individuals, perhaps because of the private nature of reading. And the ability of a print designer to communicate with the recipient of a finished piece is fairly limited; we’re typically removed from the end user by a distributor, be it client, agency or publisher. It’s also common for a print designer’s work to reach its end recipient as a purchase, which tends to separate creator and audience. Because Weymouths was a commission for an arts festival, I was able to remove the commercial barrier of book distribution and give the work away for free.

What I quickly discovered at the start of the twelve-day “performance” of Weymouths was that the free book was simply an excuse for interaction. By giving the books away, I removed the dead-end feeling of completion that often accompanies a financial transaction. Instead, surprised by the more open-ended gesture of gift-giving, the audience was quick to engage and reciprocate with their own sense of shared value. At the very least, a conversation was exchanged. Many of these chats were the start of friendships; all were fascinating.

On day one, within two minutes of setting up my first public book encounter, I met Pete, the popular proprietor of Aunty Vi’s Tea and Cake Shanty on Weymouth Beach. I gave him Volume #1 and Pete fell in love with the project. Acting like my agent, he encouraged his customers to go get a “rare book;” for days, he spread news about Weymouths across town. The following week, he took me into the Dorset hills in his truck and we ended up in the forest where allied forces slept before departing for Normandy on D-Day. Pete’s appreciation for the project was so great that he was moved to share his own Weymouth with me, generating new connections across time and space.

On day four, I gave two books to an 82-year-old man at a pub. I learned that Geoffrey was a retired astrophysicist from Oxford. He was eager to share his work with me and drew me diagrams of his experiments, telling me that they explained exploding twin dwarf stars in distant galaxies. A few days later he gave me a copy of one of his papers, published by the Royal Astronomical Society—“Mass-transfer bursts and the superhumps in cataclysmic variables.” I was humbled by Geoffrey’s interest and generosity, and immensely inspired by his ability to reveal something sublime in the minor exchange of book and conversation. The next day, Geoffrey told me that he was saving one of my books to give to a friend.

Sally, a Weymouth artist, was moved to spontaneously compose a composition for a music box, based on one of my books. She performed it for me and an audience that had gathered for a talk about my work at the local bakery. One elderly woman, who listened to the performance and then read through every one of the books, thanked me “for creating this fascinating social networking project.” I watched as the spirit of gift-giving reverberated throughout town. The books were creating a community.

By the end of the project, I had received several gifts in return: books, notes, original artwork, countless stories and powerful memories that will stay with me forever. I continue to be inspired by all of the encounters. The community that formed around my books was small but seemed expansive in its ability to generate new meaning. In each connection, regardless of what was exchanged, my audience countered the books with their own sense of the meaningful, and passed it on. Sometimes, the shared action touched one or two people; other times, it expanded and bounced around town. I called it the generosity echo.

Weymouths was an experiment in orchestrated serendipity and small-batch community- building. It’s not exactly a sustainable model; we can’t give everything away. But try it for yourself, at any scale: see what happens when you let go of some of your work—and your assumptions. By stepping outside and returning to the face-to-face—and confronting the fear of an unknown audience—you may re-discover the power of real-time conversation. Sometimes the only thing that separates your work from an engaged community is being present.

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Ed Ruscha at the New York Public Library

I was lucky enough to be in the audience on March 6 when Ed Ruscha appeared at the New York Public Library for a conversation with Paul Holdengräber. Ed was in town for the opening of Ed Ruscha, Books & Co. the evening before. Here is the full recording (1 hr. 40 min.), posted by Live from the NYPL.

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46 books in a cabinet

Recently, I rolled Library of the Printed Web up Fifth Avenue to CUNY Graduate Center for a presentation at Theorizing the Web 2013.

Unlike the online experience of art (fast, ephemeral), Library of the Printed Web presents itself as a slow scene—a tableau vivant of found photography and texts from the web. The components—table, shelves, books—feel familiar because we used to spend a lot of time in physical bookstores, and indeed, the comment from just about everyone who approached the table was “are these for sale?”

LotPW contains flip-flop work derived from Flickr, Google Maps, Gmail, Wikipedia and other online repositories of content. The installation of the collection itself is an experiment that plays with expectations about consumption, entertainment and ownership. The books aren’t for sale, and the presentation is slowed-down to the confines of real-time and physical space. The installation is simple, accessible and deliberate; it can’t be “saved for later.” Someone even commented that “books in a wooden box” was a shocking idea, in the context of a web/theory conference. Containing the books within a specially constructed piece of wheeled furniture (a mobile device) is critical; the collection is pushed to the scene and the books are revealed from within the rough cabinet for examination, drawing out the physicality and substance of the material in its presentation.

This focus on the physical is not because I’m interested in some kind of nostalgic idea about what the book used to be. I’m not trying to access something “lost” or better than what’s available online.

Rather, with a group of people spatiotemporally engaged around a collection of web content, each work is able to present its own concept of itself. In this context, the individual book seems less about the web (or less about “webby” qualities) and more about the artist and the physical idea/action at hand (capturing, grabbing, collecting, archiving). And yet, the only thread that connects these 46 works is the web (specifically, the search engine). Once again, the physical book is performative. It acts as a container for an idea, and the printed page both frames its presentation and presents its interface. Does it sound like a reinvention of the book, of sorts? It kind of felt that way. It certainly felt fresh.

There was intense interest in some items more than others. Particularly—

American Psycho by Jason Huff and Mimi Cabell
AutoSummarize by Jason Huff
Occupy Wall Street by Ether-Press
My Apparition of a distance, however near it may be
Other People’s Photographs by Joachim Schmid
Postcards from Google Earth by Clement Valla

Here’s the full inventory, with links to the artists’ websites.

Meanwhile, the collection has already been referenced in the spring exhibition at the Centre des Livres d’Artistes in Saint-Yrieix-la-Perche, France (PDF). I hope to present Library of the Printed Web again soon, at another venue, along with a talk about the emerging web-to-print-based practice.