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.


Installing the book.

So how does one install a book?

This installation is only one instance of 273 Relics for John Cage. The book is present and the book is an object — to be touched and handled. To spend time with the book: so the special tables elevate it (39 inches from the floor), making it easy to view, giving it an honorary position.

30 images were extracted from the process as a slow 30-minute projection, and two audio recordings of the 52 texts (ordered randomly) are on the headphones. And Relic 241 is there, leaning back — kind of like a spectator to the whole thing.

These events form a particular instance of the project, as it was installed in North Carolina on October 7. But the project is alive, and I imagine other permutations are possible — I like to think that a future installation might produce different works, different configurations. What if all 160 photographs could be installed. Scattered on the floor, leaning against different walls. A giant, immersive video projection, in a darkened room. And the beautiful Untitled Pixels, which didn’t even make it into this installation (there wasn’t room).

Within a few hours, one of the books (#1) had been taken. It’s a small edition of 10, so this came as a surprise, but then I loved that its new owner, unknown by me, had chance determined something entirely new for the work. In an almost Cage-ian move, the disappearance is now part of the work. I gave book #2 to Beverly Plummer. Book #3 will be sent to the John Cage Trust, and #4 will be donated to the Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center.

273 Relics for John Cage, the book, represents each part of the project, but it also is the project. The book is an index — it’s both a catalogue of the work, and the work itself. I hope to produce a second, larger edition soon.


Two different ways to mock-up

Installation studies. On the screen, at the fabricator.

And by the way, what a fabricator. Tim Spelios is a furniture/fixture/cabinet-maker with Donald Judd-like craftsmanship.