“There’s very little pornography, and I’m really surprised by that,” says Pamela Echeverría, founder and director of Labor, the art gallery hosting the exhibit. “I thought, ‘Oh, my God, we’re going to receive really nasty pictures.’ So far, it hasn’t happened.”
Instead, after the May 22 announcement of its “crowdsourced project to literally print out the entire Internet,” the gallery received printouts of spam folders, bank statements, online diaries, news articles, 20 pages of the letter “A” repeated continuously, 500 pages of poetry created by erasing text extracted from Web sites, and musical scores to the complete works of Austrian composer Gustav Mahler.
The submissions are being read aloud by members of the public at a desk on a small platform in the gallery, where visitors will be able to rifle through them. The exhibit runs through Aug. 26.
This prompts the cosmic question that follows all artwork in all forms from all eras of civilization: Why?
The answer: to memorialize Aaron Swartz.
Another cosmic question: Who?
The answer: Swartz, 26, was the Internet prodigy and free-information activist who committed suicide in January while facing federal charges of computer hacking after his alleged theft of millions of documents from the academic database JSTOR.
Another question: How is Swartz honored by the recitation of lyrics to every song that Prince recorded under the alter ego “Camille”?
The coordinator of the exhibit, explicitly titled “Printing Out the Internet,” isn’t exactly sure if there’s a direct correlation between tribute and tributee.
“My gesture is dedicated to and inspired by him,” says Kenneth Goldsmith, the New York poet whom Echeverría enlisted to create an homage to Swartz. “Mine is a poetic gesture, a ’pataphysical gesture. His was a political gesture, a gesture of liberation. And I’m not doing this so that everybody can go and steal all the material on the Internet. I actually want to use his gesture as a jumping-off point to begin to ponder much larger questions.”
If such larger questions are ’pataphysical — meaning they, like their answers, are imaginary — are they even worth asking? More importantly, can this previous question about the larger questions be classified as meta-’pataphysical? And if we found the answer to that question on the Internet, how many pages would it take up when printed?