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Printing Out the Internet is a conceptual art project orchestrated by Kenneth Goldsmith, the Poet Laureate of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and the curator of the literary resource site Ubu Web. The project was launched in May 2013 as a memorial to the late programmer and activist Aaron Swartz who committed suicide in January 2013. The project was on display at LABOR art gallery in Mexico City, Mexico from July 26th – August 31st, 2013 and by the end of the project, more than 10 tons of paper had been sent in from more than 20,000 contributors.
On May 22nd, 2013, Kenneth Goldsmith created the single topic Tumblr blog Printing Out the Internet, issuing a call for submissions that day. Readers were invited to participate in the project by printing out anything they found online and mailing it to the art gallery LABOR in Mexico City. The intended goal was initially to print out the entire internet, filling a space of more than 500 square meters (nearly 5382 square feet) with paper. The first post suggested sending in personal documents, like one’s Gmail inbox or blog, as well as archives from sites like Wikipedia, the New York Times and WikiLeaks. It was also noted that all the submissions would be recycled at the end of the show. Additionally, a Facebook page and Twitter account were created to draw more attention to the project. By the end of the project, more than 20,000 people had sent in printed objects. All of their names were collected and posted to a Tumblr blog.
Kenneth Goldsmith is a long-time proponent of what he calls “uncreative writing,” or writing which has been produced under constrictions which eliminate the author’s own creative control over the result. These methods can include the use of “readymade” artifacts as art objects (a method pioneered by the Dadists), the use of a writing algorithm, or the use of transcription. Prior to this art project, Goldsmith’s work has been widely studied and talked about, earning him a great deal of mainstream attention, including a White House lecture devoted to his work (shown below, left) and an appearance on The Colbert Report (shown below, right).
News Media Coverage
On May 29th, 2013, Yahoo! News was the first to cover the project, noting it was receiving disgruntled reactions on Twitter. Prior to the exhibit opening, Printing Out the Internet was featured on a number of various news sites and art and culture blogs including the Poetry Foundation blog, the Daily Mail, Animal NY, Refinery29, the Huffington Post, Cnet and PSFK. After the installation opened, photos of Goldstein and the collected papers (shown below) were featured on the Washington Post, CBC News and the August 2013 issue of the print magazine Harper’s.
Less than two weeks after the project’s announcement, many bloggers criticized it as wasting paper creating unnecessary carbon emissions. On May 31st, TechHive calculated approximately 4.73 billion sheets of paper would be needed to print out the entirety of the web, stacked at 305.67 miles high. With a year’s worth of email is factored in, the stack would grow to 3,3966,850 miles worth of paper. In June, a Change.org petition launched to ask Goldsmith to reconsider his project and think about the damage it would be causing to the environment, gaining nearly 500 signatures by August. Throughout June, bloggers from The City Lights booksellers, Art F City and Motherboard discussed the physical harm the printing task would create. Many tweets complaining about the waste of paper were compiled on the single topic blog Tweets About Internet Print.
In July, a piano composer sent an email to Goldsmith asking for permission to use text from the project’s Tumblr as part of a piano piece. Additionally, Goldsmith has held staged public readings of the collected material (shown below).
IF YOU PRINTED THE INTERNET, READING IT WOULD TAKE 57,000 YEARS, 24 HOURS A DAY, 7 DAYS A WEEK NON-STOP AND IF YOU READ IT FOR 10 MINUTES A NIGHT BEFORE BED, IT WOULD TAKE 8,219,088 YEARS.
WE BEGIN ON JULY 26TH.
Washington Post – Printing Out the Internet exhibit is crowdsourced work of art
Poetry Foundation – Kenny Goldsmith Wants You to Print Out the Internet
Huffington Post – Artist Kenneth Goldsmith Wants To Print The Entire Internet
Motherboard – The Tree Cost to Print a Warehouse Worth of Internet