Interview: Printing Out The Internet

Published:  July 29, 2013
Interview: Printing Out The Internet
In May, UbuWeb founder Kenneth Goldsmith asked the world to print out the internet and send it to him for exhibition in Mexico City. The world responded — within a few weeks Goldsmith had received ten tons of paper through the post, including printed spam mail, porn, news articles, memes, poetry, the complete works of Austrian composer Gustav Mahler. In the scheme of the unfathomable enormity of the internet, it’s hardly a scrap of the whole, but it was perfect for his aims.


How did Printing Out The Internet begin?
LABOR Gallery in Mexico City invited me to do a show dedicated to the memory of Aaron Swartz. I began by seeking out works that made the internet material, such as a 5000 page book of every picture of Natalie Portman on the internet or another set of books of 72,000 pages of texts on the internet written about the Iraq War. In the end, these projects seemed too small, too boutique compared to the 4 million documents that Swartz liberated from JSTOR. So, I thought, what if I organise a crowdsourcing project to print the entire internet? In the end, over 20,000 people contributed a total of ten tons of paper.


How does it feel to stand among ten tonnes of the internet?
The bulk of them are in a 6 meter high pile in a room by itself. I’ve curated selected contributions and have displayed them on long tables. The feeling, I think, is one of awe and sublimity, a proper feeling for the vastness of the internet.


Kenneth Goldsmith. Image courtesy of The Washington Post

Printing Out The Internet. Image courtesy of The Washington Post

What kind of contributions did you receive?
Everything that’s on the internet — porn, emails, memes, spam — you name it, all printed out on A4 pieces of paper.


The initial proposal of the show received both passionate interest and strong criticism. What has been your reaction to this?
My idea is that the show is the conversation — what happens in the gallery is sort of besides the point. The fact that an absurd — and impossible — proposition like this could get the world talking in a heated way proves to me that the show is a huge success.


What happens to all the material after the show?
We will recycle the whole thing. And what will be left will be several volumes, with printouts of the responses to the show — good and bad — as well as press. Come to think of it, this interview will become a part of that documentation.



Become a part of the documentation as well — leave your thoughts on the exhibition below.



2 Responses

  1. i follow ubuweb in twitter and never got a convincing reason for this project(just promoting waste and the like), until now(the disturbing/aestetic/poetic feeling of vastness, no less). hope to be included in it.

  2. How bizarre!! Just seeing (what is a frankly a small part of) the internet printed out in hundreds of boxes is so surreal. It’s quite mind bending really when you think about how much energy we put into the online world.

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