The Mobile is the Massage @ PublishingLab, Amsterdam – Workshop Report

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On the first of December, I had the pleasure to run the third instance of The Mobile is the Massage workshop with the PublishingLab crowd. The goal of this flash instance was to convert a physical book in which visuality and materiality play a crucial role to EPUB for mobile, a format known for its fluidity between screens and devices. Hopefully, this counterintuitive exercise would foster an awareness of the limitations and advantages of the EPUB ecosystem and, at the same time, provide a different perspective on the the original book.

Mock-up draft of title page for Xerox Book. Source: http://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2013/siegelaub/

Mock-up draft of title page for Xerox Book. Source: http://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2013/siegelaub/

The subtitle of the workshop was “So Conceptual” because the chosen book was a classic art exhibition in print format: the Xerox Book, published by Seth Siegelaub and Jack Wendler in 1968. I thought this was an interesting case-study because some of the artworks included in the Xerox Book express self-reflexivity: for instance Douglas Huebler concentrates on the page as a plane in a tridimensional space; Joseph Kosuth retraces the book’s production process through a series of captions; Lawrence Weiner provides an instruction to physically remove part of the page. Furthermore, the processes that define some the works could be easily emulated through scripts: take the random positioning of squares in Carl Andre’s contribution or the one million dots in Robert Barry’s one. Finally, the works aren’t purely visual, but have a strong literary value allowing writers and editors to play with it.

Carl Andre’s “Xerox Book” contribution (1968) (GIF by Greg Allen)

Carl Andre’s “Xerox Book” contribution (1968) (GIF by Greg Allen)

One of the three groups decided to translate/reinterpret Barry’s dots. Here, the idea was to play with the variable size of the font. At a first glance, readers actually see just a series of dots since font size is set to 1px, but enlarging the view, they would find the Wikipedia page for “pointillism” in several languages. Dot.

barry-1 barry-2

The second group focussed instead on Douglas Huebler’s piece. While the original work begins with a declaration of the fixed proportions of the A4 sheets, the group highlighted the fluid materiality of the screens by dynamically retrieving their dimensions via JavaScript. Here’s a mockup:

huebler

Finally, the third group dealt with Lawrence Weiner’s repeated grid. Their attempt was to ‘remove the removal’ and to reinterpret the grid with HTML default elements. In this way, the grid became an HTML table that nostalgically reminds of the early Web. Here it is, together with a gif showing the process.

wiener mobileismassage-small

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