Michael Mandiberg ART, from Print Wikipedia, 2015.
Photo : courtesy of the artist & Denny Gallery, New York

Wikipedia is unruly and statistics help us little. What does it mean, in any real sense, that there are 374 million different visitors every month? Or that there are ten edits per second? The database is not in keeping with our habitual ways of perceiving and measuring. We can’t feel its weight, for example, as we would a library tome, nor can we compare the page count of particular entries as a way of quickly assessing their relative cultural value. Even for the code-minded, the sheer quantity of information that Wikipedia contains defies representation. Michael Mandiberg’s project Print Wikipedia (2015) is an attempt to manifest the database in material form. He developed a software program that uploads the entirety of the English-language content and transforms it into bound books — seventy-six hundred volumes of seven hundred pages each. The table of contents alone takes up the first ninety-one volumes as it lists over 11.5 million articles; there is also a thirty-six-volume index listing 7.5 million named contributors. When the set is exhibited, the gallery space is transformed into a library (From Aaaaa! to ZZZap!, Denny Gallery, New York, June–July, 2015). All the walls appear to be lined with bookshelves filled to capacity. But in fact only 106 volumes are printed; the others are wallpaper — literally. If one would like to see particular volumes in tangible form, they are available via the print-on-demand website for US$80 each. But the moment any part of Wikipedia is printed, it is already obsolete: subjects vary indefinitely and the information presented under each heading is edited continuously, thus never achieving the solidity or sanctity of “established knowledge” that traditional encyclopedias suggest. Rather, Print Wikipedia emphasizes the slipperiness of the current epistemological terrain: every knowledge claim is up for revision by anyone at any time. Upon printing, however, the flow of information is arrested: it passes from “live coverage” to “old news” at the rate the algorithm can upload the data and the printer can spit it out.

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This article also appears in the issue 89 – Library - Library

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