Printing the Internet

Kenneth Goldsmith wants to print out the entire Internet, and he needs your help.

Kenneth Goldsmith, seen here, wants to print the Internet. All of it.

by Rob Walker | @YahooTech

Kenneth Goldsmith wants to print out the Internet. And he wants you to help him attempt this presumably impossible feat.

“What you decide to print out is up to you — as long as it exists somewhere online, it’s in,” Goldsmith’s announcement explains. “We just want shitloads of paper. We’re literally looking for folks to print out the entire internet. We have over 500 square meters of space to fill, with ceilings that are over 6 meters high.” This exhibition (if that’s the right word for it) will go on view July 26; when it ends in August, the paper will be recycled.

The project was inspired by, and is dedicated to, Aaron Swartz, the programmer-activist who committed suicide earlier this year, and who had been accused by federal prosecutors of breaking various laws in the course of downloading a giant cache of academic articles from the JSTOR service. Like Swartz, Goldsmith is a believer in information availability.

“The amount of what he liberated was enormous -- we can't begin to understand the magnitude of his action until we begin to materialize and actualize it,” Goldsmith said when reached via email. “This project tries to bring that point home.”

If you’re familiar with Goldsmith, the idea to print out the entire Internet may not be a surprise: Currently serving as the Museum of Modern Art’s first poet laureate, and the founding editor of UbuWeb, a sprawling online archive of avant garde creativity, Goldsmith is an unusual thinker, to say the least. His books include Day (which involved retyping an edition of The New York Times); Solilquy (which documentedevery word that he spoke for an entire week); the recent Seven American Deaths and Disasters (transcripts of media reports from 9/11, the day John F. Kennedy was shot, and so on); and Uncreative Writing (which makes the case for repurposing existing texts into new forms of literature).

Still, even by Goldsmith’s standards, this scheme sounds like a doozy. In cooperation with UbuWeb and Labor, a gallery in Mexico City, Goldsmith has issued an open call to everyone everywhere to “print out as much as of the web as you want — be it one sheet or a truckload,” and send the printouts to the gallery.

Not surprisingly, some have reacted to this with eye-rolling, or outrage. “Might be the worst idea for an art project I’ve seen recently.” “ What a pointless waste of paper and money. Is it art for art's sake or just crap?” “ Neat conceptual art piece, the actual realization of which is an unbelievably stupid idea.” And so on.

Goldsmith, however, was unfazed by the criticism.

“While we could theorize printing out the internet in its entirety -- something that a conceptual art piece would do -- the sheer bulk and physicality of the act needs to be materialized to be able to understand the sheer magnitude,” he told me via email.

Sure the task seems impossible, he conceded, but even a small portion of the printed Web would “overwhelm any space.”

And that’s what the project is getting at. Interestingly, it also happens to tie directly to Goldsmith’s past work: “quantifying ephemeral material.” In this instance, the goal is to “literally materialize the amount of information around us.” In the Internet era, figuring out what to do with information that exists is more meaningful than generating more information: “The advent of digital culture has turned each one of us into an unwitting archivist,” hoarding endless MP3s and digital pictures and old emails, he continued.

“I think it's fair to say that most of us spend more time organizing and managing our cultural artifacts that we do actually interacting with them. This is a new condition, something that the concept of this show wishes to underscore.”

Amusingly, this gesture toward grappling with endless digital documentation will in fact be documented at — where anyone who donates printed Web material will be listed as a contributing artist. But Goldsmith has hopes for the physical hoard avoiding death by recycling in August: “I’d love to see it grow and travel, moving to Biennials, getting larger and larger,” he mused.

And c’mon, aren’t you at least a little bit tempted to be a part of such an unlikely effort? Feel free to print out your favorite Yahoo Tech story and send it to Mexico. The address for all submissions is below.


Francisco Ramírez #5

Col. Daniel Garza

Del. Miguel Hidalgo 11830

México D.F.