Michael Mandiberg worked for over three years coding a program, which compiled Wikipedia entries as of April 7, 2015, into nearly 7500 volumes complete with titles and covers. Print Wikipedia includes 36 volumes that were solely for the appendix of the 7.5 million contributors, and 91 volumes were composed of the entries’ table of contents. In total the collection covered 5.4 million pages. This work was featured in the artist’s exhibition at New York’s Denny Gallery titled From Aaaaa! to ZZZap!. Not all volumes were present at the gallery though the upload process onto Lulu.com was projected continuously. Each volume is available to purchase at $80 a piece on Lulu.com or http://printwikipedia.com/.
This work is primarily described as,
“both a utilitarian visualization of the largest accumulation of human knowledge and a poetic gesture towards the futility of the scale of big data” (Denny Gallery, Michael Mandiberg: From Aaaaa! to ZZZap!).
In creating a statement on the vastness as well as fleeting aspects of modern day databases Mandiberg finds a new, unique purpose of this data. These Wikipedia books become immediately obsolete in terms of information because they are no longer updated. However, by assembling this data and packaging it into a permanent book the contents become more significant. The juxtaposition of certain topics creates an odd poetry. This poetry, though available to all, due to the impermanence of the Internet and the ubiquity of editable content- once printed becomes singular and profoundly unique.
Another appeal of Print Wikipedia is what Mandiberg calls, “Spine Poetry”. There are 28 volumes that list from “BAT” to “BAT”. As Mandiberg says, “a “bat” is an animal, is a baseball bat, but “bat” is also the first three letters of the word battle. One of the things which is most meaningful on a poetic level are these juxtapositions these kinds of found poems in spine poetry”.
Michael Mandiberg’s Burned Books series explores similar themes of the temporality of technology and the Internet. Mandiberg burned words into old volumes and reference books to highlight their outdated purpose and meaning. By laser cutting this pages Mandiberg showed the power of new technology over the old of which it replaces. Examples include yellow page books carved through with “GOOGLE” and a dictionary carved with “OMG LOL”. These carvings show the uselessness of these previously essential resources. Also by using the physical books Mandiberg is showing the size and effort, which went into these resources creation that now seems incredibly futile.
Print Wikipedia’s necessary futility for its statement reminds one of an exhibition by Ai Weiwei at the Tate modern in London. Ai Weiwei’s sunflower seeds consisted of millions of skillfully sculpted and painted unique sunflower seeds. By making these seeds non identical- Ai Weiwei contrasted China’s modern day factory production against its skillful and rich history in the arts- especially with porcelain.
All three of these works reference a sort of forgotten history, which was seen by the artist as important to the current state of the industry. China’s current huge factory production has risen from the nation’s origins of skilled artistic production, which was highly sought after.
The origins of many online resources are rooted in physical encyclopedias or other very large published organizations of fact. Mandiberg underwent the arduous process of collecting and printing Wikipedia in order to reference this past and the ways in which our culture have evolved. Now we create our reference in entries or through the use of our data (why the inclusion of the contributors to this project was imperative). Our information is also less professional and not even guaranteed as correct. The work creates a physical similarity between the online work and traditional reference texts which actually illustrates the content dissimilarity -the contrast of Wikipedia to a World encyclopedia or an equally meticulously researched and edited dictionary. The direction of innovation has largely been focused on implementing new technologies, which has created mass access to information, but these pieces of art encourage us to compare, perhaps nostalgically previous reference books, and realize that something has been lost.
Print Wikipedia by Michael Mandiberg. (2015, July 10). Retrieved April 05, 2016, from https://vimeo.com/133172929
Vincent, J. (2015, June 18). Even this art project to print Wikipedia can't actually print all of Wikipedia. Retrieved April 05, 2016, from http://www.theverge.com/2015/6/18/8803331/print-wikipedia-michael-mandiberg
Michael Mandiberg: From Aaaaa! to ZZZap! (n.d.). Retrieved April 05, 2016, from http://dennygallery.com/exhibitions/fromaaaaatozzzap/
Burned Books | P-DPA. (2014, March 2). Retrieved April 05, 2016, from http://p-dpa.net/work/burned-books/