Attention! Criticism and its Distractions

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Rhizome contributor Orit Gat was invited to speak at Frieze Art Fair earlier this month. Audio from the panel, "Attention! Criticism and its Distractions," organized by Brian Dillon, is now available to download on the Frieze Foundation website.

Much of the panel's discussion refers to the essay Gat wrote for Rhizome last spring, "Screen. Image. Text":

The generations to come of age in the days of digital publishing and reading on screens have a much more complicated relationship with images. The human eye-brain system is capable of reading a large number of high quality images in a matter of split seconds, and this, alongside the hand-eye coordination—think about the pleasure of a touch screen versus inky newspaper pages—is rapidly developing to mirror our changing habits of consuming information. So much so that the contemporary heightened sensitivity to the way we read images can lead to an ability to, at times, ignore the quality of the images when inserted into a text, the way our brain glides over a typo in the flow of reading. The way we read images online is only one thing these magazines deal with in the process of publishing, but it is surely an element that dictates a large portion of the reading experience of these publications.

 

The first issue of the Illustrated London News (1842)

The endless discussions on the future of print bring up the contemporary fluency with images on a regular basis. Aside from the fact that digital publishing is often cheaper and always easier to disseminate, many consider the role of the image in digital publishing to be a key aspect in the contemporary experience of reading. The benefits of handheld devices are considered time and again, especially in relation to embedding a variety of image formats: slideshows, moving ...

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A Book is Technology: An Interview with Tan Lin

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Over the past 15 years, poet, novelist, and filmmaker Tan Lin has been at work creating an "ambient" mode of literature that engages a set of practices including sampling, communal production, and social networks, addressing issues such as relaxed copyright, boredom, plagiarism, and the commodification of attention.

He has written 10 books, most recently Seven Controlled Vocabularies and Obituary 2004. The Joy of Cooking; Insomnia and the Aunt; and HEATH COURSE PAK. His video work has screened at the Yale Art Museum, Artists Space, the Drawing Center, and the Ontological Hysterical Theatre. He is currently finishing work on a novel, OUR FEELINGS WERE MADE BY HAND. He teaches creative writing at New Jersey City University.

We talked by Skype, G-chat, email, phone, and used Google Drive in real-time to talk about the many different uses of technology in his work and what its implications are for the future of literature:


In your books, especially HEATH (plagiarism/outsource) and Seven Controlled Vocabularies and Obituary 2004. The Joy of Cooking, you introduced people to a new idea of what a book of literature can be. For these books, in their various versions and associated events, you incorporated everything from email to Twitter, programming languages to RSS feeds, Google Translate to Post-it notes. What led you to use so many different forms of technology in the creation and publication of a book? How would you define a book?

People forget that a book or codex is a technology. My interest with HEATH and 7CV was to treat the book as a distinct medial platform through which a lot of ancillary information passes, much like a broadcast medium like TV or a narrow-cast medium like Twitter or Tumblr. Reading is information control, just as a metadata tag is a bibliographic control. So I wanted to highlight the book’s medial and time-based underpinnings.

How would you prepare someone who has never read a Tan Lin book to read one of your books?

It’s a little hard to say. I think a book is something consumed slowly over many years—it’s a little like watching a plant reproduce. What are HEATH and 7CV? I’m not sure, but maybe a delayed reading experience that involves Course Paks, marketing departments of publishing houses, seminars at the University of Pennsylvania, RSS feeds, and Post-it notes. And, of course, other books—with 7CV, The Joy of Cooking—and with plagiarism/outsource, blogs that chronicled Heath Ledger’s death. Why insert The Joy of Cooking into the title of 7CV? Because it was the cookbook my family used to become American and because I thought the title would increase Google hits. I consider Google a mode of (loose) autobiography. A book in Google Books, like someone’s search history, isn’t really a book; it’s data connected to other data, and it’s searchable. Reading, like autobiography, is a subset of a search function...

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The Web That Can't Wait

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Moyra Davey, from the exhibition Spleen. Indolence. Torpor. Ill-humour, (Murray Guy


One of my earliest memories is getting hit in the face by a book. I was two; we had just moved to Dubai, and were staying with another family for the first few weeks. While we were playing, their younger son threw his book at me. It cut open the thin skin below my right eye, just above the line now demarcated by insomnia’s purplish bruisings. I remember only fragmented flashes. The green Small World Library hardback with Goofy on its cover, the tears, and the blood—so much blood that the book retained a rusty stain on the spine. 

The scar has since stretched and faded to a gathered curve, barely discernible to the touch and perceptible only if you know where to look. As I grew, I accrued many other scars, each with its own story, but this one remained special: my own facial bookmark. Like a tribal mark or that left arm vaccine scar that quietly signifies which global sphere you’re from, I had been struck by the weight of a book

And read I did, as if to fill up this hole that the book had gouged in my face—compulsively and voraciously, and at every snatched moment I could. Yet Dubai’s public library system was anaemic at best, and its bookstores, with their politely aligned new titles, antiseptic. Summer visits to India became all the more rarified as a result. Here, finally, pavements were hedged with booksellers, and inside, up rickety staircases and under the eye of equally rickety old men, were shelves heaving with books. These bookstores smelled like the ones I had read about: all heady with the intoxicating lignin of tomes gone to seed, mixed in with that slightly musty dampness unique to monsoon season.

Even in this bibliophilic paradise, however, lurked a sense of spoilage, insistently asserting itself like the background static of an AC. No matter how greedily I read and reread, I could never hope to possibly open—let alone own—even a fraction of the books I saw. And that’s to say nothing of all the books I had never even heard of, but was still painfully aware were out there. 

Later on, college would highlight in relief just how much I hadn’t read. Each semester I took far more courses than I could legitimately handle, and reading became consumptive instead of submersive. It became good enough to quickly read each text just once; a slower savouring could come later. On visits home, I would fill my suitcase with that semester’s texts in hopes of rereading them—properly, this time—but they always remained in accusative stacks on the floor, neglected in favour of my childhood favorites. As much as I wanted to build a library and surround myself with books, NYC storage concerns colluded with a sense of self-exhorted acceleration to shift my primary reading format from books, to PDFs, to Twitter and tabbed browsing.

Here, again, was that same urgency transposed from page to screen. Do you know the feeling? That sharp, almost adrenal jolt when you open just one more tab and all the favicons disappear to give you a segmented line of characters? You can’t increase your screen resolution much more, but keep the pages open, just on the off chance that you might actually read them. Perhaps you quickly scan in order to close a tab, yet find yourself clicking on “History” just moments later, just in case you missed something. Perhaps you feel guilty about not giving each piece the undivided attention you once lavished upon your books, but often, just knowing the dust jacket-like gist seems to be enough. You consider developing an Instapaper habit, but don’t trust that you will ever train yourself to go back, sit down, and read them at leisure. Because should you manage the impossible, and find time to actually read them after the fact, won’t it be too late? Won’t the conversation have moved on?

This kind of pearl clutching over time poverty and the whirling hyperkineticism of the Web is nothing new. A few decades into the Internet, the browser has become cemented as the new battleground. At face, debates about the experience of reading online rest on a collective nostalgia for the book as an aesthetic object. What’s really at stake is the practice of reading itself: when, where, and on whose platform...

 

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The Piracy Project at Printed Matter Aug 17-18

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A pirated Vargas Llosa novel bought in Lima, Peru in 2010, that went on sale a week before the official version arrived in bookshops.


On Aug 17th at Printed Matter in New York, The Piracy Project is holding a panel selecting books from the HELP/LESS exhibition to include in their collection, along with Rhizome editor Joanne McNeil, Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento (Clancco), David Senior (MoMA Library), and Anthony Huberman from the Artist's Institute. The following day, they will host a workshop making copies of the books selected to go back to their library in London:

The Piracy Project (Andrea Francke & AND Publishing) will host a panel discussion and book pirating session on August 17th, 6-8, and Saturday August 18th, 3-7PM, respectively.

In a public presentation/discussion, Andrea Francke and Eva Marie Weinmayr will introduce The Piracy Project. Panelists Joanne McNeil (Rhizome), Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento (Clancco) and David Senior (MoMA Library) and will present a selection of books from the exhibition that they would like to see inducted into the Piracy Project library, negotiating concepts of originality, copying, moral issues and taste as they defend their selections. At the end of the conversation, 3 books will be chosen as the winners.

On the following day, Saturday, August 18th, Eva and Andrea will make copies of the winning books to bring back to London to add to their collection. Anyone who would like to help us in the process of making the books is invited to join and find out more about the project.

 

right: No se lo digas a nadie by Jaime Bayly; left pirated copy with two extra chapters added by an anonymous writer. 


Check out the essay The Piracy Project contributed to Rhizome last spring, The Impermanent Book:

In the context of the Piracy Project, which we initiated ...

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Screen. Image. Text.

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Tauba Auerbach, RGB Colorspace Atlas. (2011)

I once heard Leon Botstein, the President of Bard College, compare books to stairs. “They’ve invented the elevator,” he said, “but sometimes you still walk up.” There are countless discussions on the future of the book—they are picked up in magazine feature articles, in trade conferences, and in academic roundtables—and in all of these, the future of the printed word seems certain: in a generation or two, print will become obsolete. In this age of changing habits, if print is the stairs and screens the elevator, then what could the escalator be?

This moment in time, and the awareness of the possibilities electronic publishing grant, affect the manner in which we relate to texts in a way that is under constant scrutiny. But images prove to be a different problem. The separation between text and images has a long history. In fact, images have posed a challenge for publishers from the early days of print—be it the cost of printing them; the payments for illustrators, photographers, and designers; or simply contextualizing the images and their relation to the text—but they have become crucial to our understanding of texts. When the Illustrated London News, the world’s first illustrated weekly newspaper, began publishing in 1842, the relationship between the text and the engraved images in the paper was such a novelty that it took the weekly about a decade to stake a hold in that era’s news distribution channels. Once it did, it became one of the most widely circulated newspapers in Victorian Britain. The marriage of text and the engraved image marked a new level of fluency in communication via images, which does away with staples of early print day, even though the separation between image and text lasted for many decades later, and can still be traced today. (Think, for example, of the plate pages, where color images were glued onto the paper, so that the book or magazine would be printed in black and white, adding the color pages later in a way that saves money on printing, but also generates a wholly different relationship with images. These are often associated with encyclopedias, but a large number of artist’s monographs retained this design even after color printing became widely accessible, creating the odd text-image relationship where an artwork is described to the most minute detail, with a comment in parenthesis directing the reader to “color plate 3,” where the mentioned piece could be seen in glossy print.)

The generations to come of age in the days of digital publishing and reading on screens have a much more complicated relationship with images. The human eye-brain system is capable of reading a large number of high quality images in a matter of split seconds, and this, alongside the hand-eye coordination—think about the pleasure of a touch screen versus inky newspaper pages—is rapidly developing to mirror our changing habits of consuming information. So much so that the contemporary heightened sensitivity to the way we read images can lead to an ability to, at times, ignore the quality of the images when inserted into a text, the way our brain glides over a typo in the flow of reading. The way we read images online is only one thing these magazines deal with in the process of publishing, but it is surely an element that dictates a large portion of the reading experience of these publications.

 

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The Impermanent Book

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A few months ago Jonathan Franzen, author of The Corrections and Freedom, was quoted by The Telegraph from his Cartagena’s Hay Festival presentation:

“Maybe nobody will care about printed books 50 years from now, but I do. When I read a book, I’m handling a specific object in a specific time and place. The fact that when I take the book off the shelf it still says the same thing - that’s reassuring… and he goes on … Someone worked really hard to make the language just right, just the way they wanted it. They were so sure of it that they printed it in ink, on paper. A screen always feels like we could delete that, change that, move it around. So for a literature-crazed person like me, it’s just not permanent enough.” 

His speech raised heated discussions in newspaper columns and on the internet. The focus was mainly on defending technology and e-books as a viable and improved evolution, and on how he was being retrograde.  What was missing from the discourse was the fact that technology has also violently altered printed books in a way from which there is no return. We are so disconnected from the means of production that nobody seems to be aware that books are produced very differently then they were 100 years ago. Digital files are exchanged between writers, publishers and printers all over the world.

In the context of the Piracy Project, which we initiated in London in 2010, we discovered cases, which not only took control over the object, but over the content. Inspired by Daniel Alarcon's article in Granta magazine, “Life Among Pirates”, we traveled to Peru and discovered, for instance, a pirated version of Jaime Bayly’s novel No se lo digas a nadie with two extra chapters added. This physical object may look obviously pirated to a trained eye but could easily pass as the original if you were not looking for differences. The extra chapters are good, good enough to pass undetected by readers. 

right: No se lo digas a nadie by Jaime Bayly; left pirated copy with two extra chapters added by an anonymous writer. Bought in Lima Peru, The Piracy Collection

These books are sold in small markets, bookshops or by street vendors at traffic crossings. We had to buy several books and to compare page by page until we found a book with extra content. Asking the vendors for help didn’t work. They were quite offended with the insinuation that they carried modified books. Buyers don’t want to read a book by an anonymous author when they are buying Mario Vargas Llosa.  

Friends in Peru seemed extremely surprised to see an altered book. The same type of trust that Franzen had applied to printed books was broken. What have they been reading? According to popular literary theory, when reading a book we become joint authors by virtue of subjectively interpreting and shifting the context through our own personal sets of experience. In this sense, it might be very difficult to realize, in discussion with others, whether or not the book you just read has been altered. And then what happens when that seed of distrust is planted in your head? 

 

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Recommended Reading: Interventions, Issue 2—Framing the Internet

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Ernst Fischer, Collateral Resignation Agreement, 2011. (Print, Interventions's issue 2 unlimited edition).


On its "about" page, Interventions, the online journal of the Modern and Contemporary Art: Critical and Curatorial Studies MA program at Columbia University, is presented as an online curatorial platform featuring essays, web-based art projects, and experimental investigations into the space between these practices. The editors' letter for issue 2 reads,

In the first section of "Framing the Internet," we have gathered reflections on how the Internet and digital technologies have been mobilized as productive tools for curatorial, artistic and pedagogical inquiry, from round tables and critical texts to exhibition reviews and artist projects.

Which is exactly what this publication offers. It includes texts on subjects as varied as the Internet as a free tool for  communication, production, and dissemination of artistic production in a way somewhat independent of capital (Anton Vidokle); RMB City, the Second Life city—or rather, community—planned and developed by Beijing-based artist Cao Fei (Ceren Erdem); and Indexhibit a tool for artists to build websites and online portfolios (Cat Kron, in a short survey whose subject seems fascinating but that could have been handled in a more complex way). These are accompanied by artist projects—mainly by Columbia MFA students, a fantastic way of tying this publication, whose ambitions seem more global than to solely appeal to the Columbia community, with its natural collaborators within that community—and includes the brilliant idea of the unlimited edition: each issue includes a one-page PDF available for download as a large-edition art project. 

One of the highlights of the issue is the inclusion of a roundtable discussion that took place at Columbia on October 4, 2011. Titled "Framing the Internet," it invited artist Anton Vidokle, media theorist Alexander Galloway, and Bettina Funke, head of publications ...

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The Piracy Project

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Sissu Tarka, Pirate Affect, 2008

The Piracy Project was initiated by AND Publishing as a result of a threat to close down the Byam Shaw Library at Central Saint Martins school of art in London, where AND is located. AND's website defines the Piracy Project as "an international publishing and exhibition project exploring the philosophical, legal and practical implications of book piracy and creative modes of reproduction." What this means in practice is a series of suggestions to the way we interact with books, all of which are archived on the project's website, as well as distributed and exhibited by AND Publishing.

Could book piracy be considered a methodology? At a time when discussions about book piracy have proliferated mainly as a result of the rising popularity of e-readers (so often described as the publishing industry's saviors), the publishing industry found itself in a position similar to that of the music and film industries, both of which have been fighting piracy unsuccessfully for a long time. Still, somehow, book piracy always seemed a little different. True, it has its quirks, like illegal translations done from a language other than the original or chapters added in to an illegal version. But maybe book piracy seems different because in a way, we have all pirated books. We read PDFs that a university professor scanned from his or her private copy of a book, including their comments in the margins. We try to interpose open pages on Amazon and those on Google Books in order to get the information we are looking for. Somehow, it seems more acceptable; when a professor scans a few chapters from a private copy it is deemed "fair use," and thus not a copyright infringement, because it is done for educational reasons. But the habit ...

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Another Book on the Bookmarks Shelf: BooksOnLine

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BooksOnLine is an experimental free access library initiated in 2006 by artist Pierre Hourquet. The website features more than thirty books by a variety of artists, with titles such as Honey blood (by artist Suzanna Zak), Slow (Flemming Ove Bech), Not in that Particular Order (Grégoire Grange), or Homeless Caravan (Damon Way), hinting at the book's content, but not revealing a thing about the artist or the designer.

"In the beginning, I wanted to publish books. Designing books and printing them is very easy. But distributing them would be a full-time job. So I decided to publish books online.

The first books were made with friends—artists or photographers—then, after making a few books, I decided to contact artist I like. Every artist I've contacted has been very glad and enthusiastic to contribute. Some of them became good friends.

I like to design the most basic book I could, a very simple one with a colored cover and few pages. So the books have the same shape, the same number of pages, and all use the same font. The layout is more specific for each book."

 

 

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E-flux Talks About the Book Coop at the New York Art Book Fair

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E-flux’s book coop is a mobile home for publications from over two hundred art institutions across the world. It will be presented at the New York Art Book Fair, which opens today and runs through the weekend at MoMA PS1. I aksed e-flux for more information about the project:

 

Costly and often monopolistic approaches to the distribution of art books has resulted in a situation where it has become common for not only the author, but also the publisher to receive little to no revenue for a book's sales. The book coop was initiated as a way to bring together and give greater access to an array of contemporary art publications being produced by museums, foundations, residency programs, artist-run spaces, and universities all over the world. It was formed to offer these publishers the opportunity to make their titles public without having to follow the traditional routes provided by distributors, and to experiment with publishers to create a platform where the responsibilities of distribution and access are shared. 

The members of the book coop represent a good majority of the e-flux journal network, a group of over 200 varied contemporary art institutions who print and locally distribute the e-flux journal. When forming the project earlier this year we invited all journal network members to participate. New members of the book coop have been added to the initial group since announcing the project’s presence at the NYABF last week, which is great. 

We first presented the book coop at Art Basel this summer as part of the Kopfbau, a larger e-flux project which saw us occupy an old Art Basel office slated for demolition. We took a few of the offices, demolished a couple of walls to make a large rectangular room with wall to wall, almost floor ...

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