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.
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.