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Looking Back on 15 Years of Wikipedia and Art

It's hard to imagine life without Wikipedia, but that was just 15 years ago.
Wikimedia Commons

Today marks the 15th anniversary of Wikipedia's first day online. On January 15, 2001, the doe-eyed Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger began to try and realize the incredibly ambitious goal of putting the sum of all human knowledge into a single place, and to make the whole thing available to anyone, free.

Over the last decade-and-a-half, Wikipedia has become an invaluable resource for the art world. Artists who want to learn the basics about the masters, students writing essays about history's innumerable art movements, or socialites simply looking to brush up on the artist or gallery they're visiting, all turn to Wikipedia to top off their own internal databases.


The site has become more than just a battleground for countless wars over common knowlege, but an icon itself worthy of meta Pop art. Whether it's coder Joël Franusic's website that randomly cycles through every loop on Wikipedia to conceptual artist Michael Mandiberg plans to print the whole damn thing, the art world has become fascinated with trying to understand the sum of human knowledge that is Wikipedia.

Below are a series of artworks and projects that grapple with the behemoth of at-our-fingertips information—minus a bit of human error—that Wikipedia has become.

Wikigalaxy by Owen Cornec

Visualizing the sum of human knowledge isn't easy, but Owen Cornec's Wikigalaxy is just that, and beautifully executed too. Visit the interactive website to explore knowledge like astronauts explore stars.

Evan Roth's No Original Research

Evan Roth adds a kaleidoscopic twist to the basic-ass Wikipedia model in his series No Original Research. Visuals normally used to explain stuff like anatomy and math become mesmerizing under his hand.

Malus Ecclesia by Joe Davis

Wikimedia Commons

This project from bioartist Joe Davis actually seeks to make Wikipedia more complicated. He proposed a project called Malus Ecclesia that would to encode Wikipedia articles into DNA extracted from an ancient apple that might have been related to the biblical Fruit of Knowlege. Whoa.

Moritz Stefaner, Dario Taraborelli, and Giovanni Luca Ciampaglia's Notabilia Infographic

Vastly more articles have been deleted from Wikipedia than currently exist, according to research by Moritz StefanerDario Taraborelli, and Giovanni Luca Ciampaglia. This simple graph demonstrates the disparity from the tip that is existing Wikipedia, and the iceburg beneath.


Joël Franusic's WikiGIFs

Who needs context? Joël Franusic's simple WikiGIF website unleashes the wealth of human visual knowledge upon you, unburdened by explanation, citations, or confusing words. Some of these things are really beautiful.

Seedfeeder's Prolific Sexual Wikipedia Illustrations

The tale of how one altruistic internet denizen became a prolific illustrator of sexual positions, both hated and lauded by his audience, is worth a read. Seedfeeder made 48 different drawings of 35 sexual positions between 2008 and 2012, and his creativity might never have been known without Wikipedia as a platform.

George Bush's Wikipedia-Inspired World Leader Portraits

George W. Bush Library

Former United States President George W. Bush used pictures from Wikipedia to paint a vexing portrait of Russian President Vladmir Putin and that will never not be funny.

Print Wikipedia by Michael Mandiberg

Courtesy Michael Mandiberg and Denny Gallery, NYC

Michael Mandiberg captures the human urge to make tangible the ephemeral in his 2015 performative installation piece Printing Wikipedia. Using the website, he converted the whole of the internet encyclopedia into printable e-book form, then decked his installation space with 7,471 rectangles, representing the number of 1,200-page books it would take to print out the whole thing.

Feminist Edit-A-Thons

Sometimes art immitates Wikipedia, but now is time for Wikipedia to immitate art, according to a group called Art + Feminism which organizes Wikipedia edit-a-thons across the country. Last year there was a 1,500-person strong edit-a-thon centered around the Museum of Modern Art, plus 75 smaller locations, resulting in 400 new female artist pages and significant edits to 500 more. This year, Art + Feminism wants to double that figure, with locations ranging from Montreal to St. Louis. The next one is on March 5. Check out the event page here, and email Art + Feminism to participate.


See more art on Wikipedia.


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