Turning Pixels into Print: An Interview About the Printed Web

(photo courtesy Paul Soullelis)
(all images courtesy Paul Soullelis)

Editor’s note: This also appeared in our inaugural edition of Hyperallergic’s Review of Art Books and Zines.

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Since 2013, Paul Soulellis’s Printed Web series has been gathering online material and publishing it on paper. His latest volume, which will debut at the 2015 NY Art Book Fair, features the work of Clement Valla. Hyperallergic spoke to Soulellis about his desire to make pixels into something physical.

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Hrag Vartanian: Your Printed Web project continues to grow, but I keep wondering about the role of nostalgia in this project. Do you see that as playing a part?

Paul Soulellis: Oh, for sure. When we print the web we change the context and create a different point of view, and I think nostalgia is embedded in this perspective. Susan Sontag said that “photographs actively promote nostalgia” and that all photos “testify to time’s relentless melt.” With this kind of power in mind, I think the Printed Web project performs a kind of longing in networked culture, acting from a desire to slow it down, to grasp it, to freeze material before it melts. Although instead of melting, I’d say time relentlessly agitates language and images on the web; entire archives tend to appear and disappear in an instant. Single images explode into infinite versions. So when I ask artists to slice through this landscape and submit web material for the printed page, I do think there’s a kind of longing at work, on my part and maybe the artists’, too — to counter the fragility of the network in time by materializing it in space.

Three_Digs_A_Skull-1280HV: You describe Printed Web as “an accumulation of accumulations,” but can you explain what that means? Because the printed artifact feels more orderly than that description makes it sound.

PS: Actually I use that phrase to refer to Library of the Printed Web, which is a physical collection of artists’ books and other web-to-print materials (Printed Web is my series of publications that curates from these artists’ works). So like any library, this is an archive that accumulates publications — this one being a specific view towards the accumulation of networked culture. It’s an archive of archives!

HV: The latest edition focuses on the new work of artist Clement Valla, who has appeared in past editions of Printed Web. Why are you drawn to his work and why do you think his art circulates so well in print?

PS: I first became aware of Clement from his Postcards from Google Earth project, which went viral a few years ago. Clement captured this archive of moments in Google Earth where the surface texture doesn’t seem to map properly onto the 3D terrain, so it was this strange collection of melting highways and collapsing buildings and bridges that drop into rivers. In The Universal Texture he wrote about this as a gap between algorithmic visualization and our understanding of the world, and I saw that he was articulating something essential about web-to-print work, both in his practice and in his writing. Valla says that “by capturing screenshots of these images in Google Earth, I am pausing them and pulling them out of the update cycle. I capture these images to archive them.” The speed and circulation of images really intrigues me and he explores this in a lot of his work, this desire to move images in and out of networked archives and operate on them.

“Three Digs A Skull” is a new work by Clement that I’m launching at NYABF as the first in a new series called Printed Web Editions, which are one-off zines focused on a single artist’s work. “Three Digs A Skull” is a work about ways of seeing and it’s an archive of images that were never meant to be seen. It contains 38 3D scans taken with mobile phones, grabbed as the software captures them — 2D information before it’s assembled into a 3D visualization. As a poetic inventory, it’s perfectly suited to the printed page.

HV: How do you think online material changes meaning — if at all — when it’s made physical?

PS: I think there’s always the potential for new meaning when context changes. Printing is especially powerful in this way, because outputting stuff — raw data or texts or images — can be a way to claim ownership (or likewise, to set something free). So can scanning or downloading or posting or uploading. Any of these actions can change the nature of material from private to public, from paid to free, from hidden to accessible. When it’s a physical translation, like printing, we’re able to transform the material in time as well as space.

Also, we value objects differently in physical space. Artists’ web-to-print publications are at once valuable manifestations of the ephemeral, as well as cheap and accessible artworks (usually!). I think it’s an ideal way to stage a group exhibition.

HV: What have you discovered about the differences between printed and online networks through Printed Web? Any surprises for you?

PS: The biggest surprise has been discovering how little difference there is sometimes. Like in Olia Lilalina’s “Summer,” which exists as an online work as well as a printed version in Printed Web #2, what “grounds” it on paper and in the hand is just a detail, like a thin, gray line surrounding the edge of the web browser on the printed page. Some of these works end up “vibrating” between versions, and I’ve been trying to characterize the quality of this “other space” for a while now. Maybe it’s what Marcel Duchamp called the infrathin — an indifferent difference, or “the immeasurable gap between two things as they transition or pass into one another.” It’s like a print-on-demand publication and the PDF that’s used to print it: each occupies its own position and circulates in different ways, but I see both of them as digital publishing. “Same, same, but different” (Oliver Laric, Versions).

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Library of the Printed Web will be at the Xe(rox) & Paper + Scissors tent, Table A04.


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