The launch of artist Paul Chan’s publishing company, Badlands Unlimited, in 2010 could have been mistaken for a career non sequitur. His foray into book publishing felt at once completely futile and deliciously subversive—anachronistic in form, and yet prescient in its embrace of technology as a means of interrogating (and thereby furthering) that form. Given the perilous economic prospects for artists and publishers alike, why not simply take matters into one’s own hands? As an online distribution platform for works written by Chan and others, Badlands Unlimited does just that.
In profiling the outfit for a recent issue of Frieze magazine (Off the Page, May, 2010) I realized that I had been watching this seemingly new venture develop for many years: Chan’s personal website, National Philistine, has served as the digital analog to his practice for well over a decade, a fact that many aren’t aware of by his estimation. (“Sometimes I even forget that I have a website,” he said, when asked about the longevity of his domain, which has been active since 1999.) The following conversation attempts to articulate some of that history, while indulging in a few detours along the way, as a means of suggesting iterative possibilities for publishing on the web—and beyond...
James Bridle, a publisher based in London, is a member of a rising class of digital futurists that fuse multiple professional experiences—for him, a university degree in Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence with an organic interest in literature—to form a dynamic public-facing practice. “Essentially, when any new technology comes along, I try to force literature into it in some way,” he wrote during our recent email exchange.
The Iraq War: A History of Wikipedia Changelogs (2010)
Bridle runs the conference gamut from book fairs and South by Southwest to the UNESCO World Forum on Cultural Industries in Lombardia, Italy, where he lectured just weeks ago. His presentations are documented on another website devoted to technology and so-called book futurism, http://booktwo.org/, where he posts a series of essays and updates on his myriad projects. The Frankfurt School is an obvious inspirational go-to, given the titles of his posts and projects: Walter Benjamin's Aura: Open Bookmarks and the form of the eBook (2010), The Author of Everything (2011), and Robot Flâneur (2011). Bridle’s better-known efforts include The Iraq War: A History of Wikipedia Changelogs (2010) a twelve-volume set that chronicles, in print, every change made to the Wikipedia article on the Iraq War; Bookkake (2008) is a digital and print-on-demand publishing system for erotic literature, while bkkeepr (2008) and Open Bookmarks (2010) help users track and share their reading experiences through Twitter and social bookmarking.
Artists' eBooks Screenshot
The Iraq War: A History of Wikipedia Changelogs segues elegantly from the digital to the object worlds; the books qualify the data, physically. I see a different, yet equally compelling set of relational possibilities in the project I chose to focus on for our interview—one that I now know Bridle considers a failure (his words; not mine!): Artists' eBooks is, as its title suggests, a digital imprint designed to provide an experimental publishing platform for writers and artists. In the conversation that follows, we discussed the shifting nature of the reading experience from print to screen, and its implications for the book-as-medium...