What We Learned from Printing Wikipedia as a Book

"'Print is dead,' but people still care about books."

by Beckett Mufson
15 July 2015, 7:00pm

Images courtesy the artist

Print Wikipedia is a long, arduous task, and the name of artist Michael Mandiberg's exhibition at Denny Gallery. Last month we spoke to Mandiberg about the poetic value of converting the largest source of human knowledge and information into a 7,471-volume, 5,244,111-page book.

"Print Wikipedia is both a utilitarian visualization of the largest accumulation of human knowledge and a poetic gesture toward the inhuman scale of big data,” he says. “To make an intervention into a book is to critique the ordering systems of the world. If books are a reduced version of the universe, then this is the most expanded version we’ve ever seen.”

During the 24-day, three-hour, and 18-minute long project, Mandiberg continuously printed new volumes through The exhibit ended over the weekend and turned out to be a very educational experience for the artist. We circled back with him to see what arcane wisdom he gained from the meticulous run. Here's what he shared with us:

1. “Print is Dead” but people still really care about books. So many people came into the gallery and wanted to talk about the books. They wanted to talk about their memories of childhood encyclopedias, and the materiality of knowledge. 2. Books are a really useful unit of measurement. We don’t have a great sense of how much knowledge fits inside a gigabyte of data, but we do have an embodied understanding of how long it takes to read a book…or 7473 of them! 3. Wikipedia is full of lists. So many lists. Almost 600 volumes of them. Knowledge coalesces around other structures too. I included 28 volumes that start with “Bat.” These are not about flying bats or baseball bats, they are a compendium of battles. From the Battle of Aachen to the Battle of Żyrzyn. Likewise, the 26 volumes that start with “New” represent a structural history of colonialism and the industrial revolution.

Read more about Print Wikipedia and its encompassing exhibition, From Aaaaa! to ZZZap! in our previous coverage. Print your own Wikipedia volume on See more of Michael Mandiberg's work on his website.


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