Library of the Printed Web is a collection of works by artists who use screen capture, image grab, site scrape and search query to create printed matter from content found on the web. LotPW includes self-published artists’ books, photo books, texts and other print works gathered around the casual concept of “search, compile and publish.”
Rather than draw boundaries or define a new aesthetic, this collection of printed artifacts is presented as a reference tool for studying shifting relationships between the web (as culture), the artist (as archivist) and print publishing (as a new/old self-serve schema for expressing the archive).
The collection exists as a physical archive of artists’ books housed in a special wooden display case on wheels in New York City. LotPW includes at least one copy of each item in the inventory, except where noted. A travel edition of the collection is available.
An archive of archives
via a network of networks.
Many of the books in this collection are something like printout matter, referring to the aesthetic defaults of digital publishing while physically existing in an earlier format of mass media archive — the ‘hard copy’, where their internals are transitioned but largely preserved.
Guthrie Lonergan’s 93.1 JACK FM is a five-volume printout of a year’s playlist from the LA radio station of the same name. JACK FM has no DJs and is entirely opaque about how the music it plays is chosen. So what does a tabular, quantitative history of those choices tell us on their own? Is there anything substantive in these thousands of pages?
Elsewhere, the books use the offlining process to engage with the social conditions of internet behaviour, as in Stephanie Syjuco’s books — or ‘non-specific product units’ — which seem to evangelically revolve around the ‘freeness’ of text:
— and David Horvitz’s Public Access, detailing a highly codified and tactical Wikipedian argument around whether photos of the artist taken at a series of beaches along the Western Coast of the USA constitute valid and public ‘digital resources’ of the beaches in question.
Or the remarkable Apparition of a distance, however near it may be, by the library’s co-ordinator Paul Soulellis, which is comprised of ‘pages’ from the Google Books service where the hand of the page-turning worker-scanner has been caught (along with a ubiquitous pink finger-condom) and flattened into the digital reproduction of the book; the secret labour and mechanism fuelling a pristine digital archive.
Google’s pursuit of automatic and complete access to information can also be framed as an aversion to labour: inquisitions that run themselves alongside cars that drive themselves. Their prime tool to build such access is a database containing a record of all the human behaviour they can measure — learning, journeys, communication, etc — that can produce algorithmic recommendations for future behaviour.
Jason Huff’s AutoSummarize interrogates the limits of these kinds of recommendations, by feeding canonical books into the Microsoft Word’s summary functionality, which apparently finds the essence of a text in its proper nouns—
Some books seem to normalize digital work, like the printed version of Jon Rafman’s online project, 9-eyes, made up of images sourced from Street View. Online, where the images exist in close to their original format (i.e., found on the interface to the nearly limited Street View imagebase), the scenes feel rare, lucky and warm — they’ve been happened upon. In print, somehow, it’s a photography catalogue: read as selection, composition and gesture.
Often, the poetics of both the material and the sourcing techniques are brought out in their transition — or traversal — to print, while specific narratives are suppressed. The database and the network might have a centre, but not a start or an end. It’ll tell you a different story depending on the question that it’s asked.
Library of the Printed Web was presented at The Book Affair at the Venice Biennale in May. Photos here are from the library.