Kickended Featured on The Guardian

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One week ago I launched Kickended, an archive of Kickstarter’s $0-pledged campaigns. After a few days I discussed it with Nell Frizzell for The Guardian’s Art and Design section. Below the full article, here the original source.

Kickended: the enthralling world of crowdfunding flops

Nell Frizzell, Friday 14 November 2014

In the world of crowdfunding, the line between success and failure is remarkably thin. Potato salad thin. Christian rap album thin. Conspiracy novel about the “possible antichrist” Bill Clinton thin. Which is one of the reasons why the Italian artist and researcher Silvio Lorusso created Kickended, an online archive of every Kickstarter campaign that failed to gain a single dollar of support. Using KickSpy, the site trawls the crowdfunding platform to bring those silent, failed projects into the light. Not to mock, but to mark.

“Their failure is only a result of their context,” says Lorusso over the phone from Italy. “If you took some of those videos out of the Kickstarter box and put them on, say, YouTube, you would think they were really interesting art projects.” And, in the case of the New England Bridges project, which aimed to chronicle people’s thoughts about bridges as a downloadable publication, or the glorious video by the remote viewer and astrotraveler Michael Tellstar on his proposed paranormal educational TV pilot, I can see what he means.

Astrotraveler Michael Tellstar

Of course, risking failure is intrinsic to making art; from stage fright to that tricky opening sentence, creativity is all about feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Or, as Samuel Beckett put it, sometimes all we can really hope is to “Fail again. Fail better.” But could anything have made the Prosperity fashion bracelet (a coloured strap “designed to be positive and uplifting”) or the bra that doubles as a pocket fail any better?

“I use the archive to explore the notion of failure,” says Lorusso. “But I’m not doing this to make fun of people. There are lots of Tumblrs that just publicly shame campaigns; I wanted this to be neutral. I’m not saying these projects were bad.”

He must have come across some stinkers though? “I’ve seen a lot of Christian rap,” he admits. “But those are some of my favourite videos. I’m not at all religious, but I’m fascinated with that niche genre. I’ve also seen movies specifically inspired by religious visions.”

A quick scroll through the almost 10,000 projects that have cropped up on Kickended since it launched a week ago can feel like ploughing through the world’s largest GCSE art and design portfolio. There are paintings made of lightning, the Occupy Wall Street movement reimagined as a kid’s book and something called Painted TV which is, essentially, four amateur canvases strapped to a huge flatscreen TV.

There are multimedia projects based on Mary Magdalene’s first encounter with Christ after the Resurrection, there is a socially minded group of Australian musicians led by Paiten Platypus and Kailen Kangaroo known as The Buskateers, a collection of vaguely Nazi-inspired sci-fi erotic crayon drawings called The Goofies, and at least one “documentary about the actual rediscovery of an ancient site that was used as an interdimensional portal to other worlds.”

Resurrected: Kickended archives this multimedia art project about Mary Magdalene and Christ

“I think a lot of visitors to Kickended must feel these people are really lonely – not even one of their friends gave money,” says Lorusso. “But I don’t think it’s necessarily like that. Maybe they just didn’t work hard on the campaign.” There is, however, a more personal reason for Lorusso’s apparent sympathy: “Kickended originated from an unfunded idea of mine,” he explains. “I submitted to Rhizome – a US platform for net art – and although I got down to the final 20, I didn’t win the commission. And because I wasn’t able to programme it myself, the project couldn’t exist. So, you could say Kickended came from my own failure.”

Lorusso believes these totally unfunded projects have “a purity” precisely because they remain unrealised and abstract: “A lot of these ideas only exist as one line of text and a picture,” he says. “It’s up to you to imagine what it would have been like. With most successful Kickstarter campaigns, the project is already nearly complete – you can see the product or watch the trailer. But here, you don’t have a clue what they would have been like – so you can build it, and make it great, in your mind.”

There is a project in the archive called The Ham Toner which, as far as I can tell, is a giant corkscrew you wedge into the ground and use for reverse sit-ups. According to the blurb, “What it targets is your backside; like nothing else”. It is also described, somewhat erotically, as having “Full penetration, welded every 180 degrees on a solid steel shaft.” Is Lorusso really saying these kinds of projects are beautiful acts of creative risk and folly – not simply the butt of a thousand well-toned jokes? “It’s easy to be negative and cynical about it,” he says. “I value Kickstarter, but I think as a system it should be seen in a critical way. Especially when the Silicon Valley-driven narrative pushes the American Dream that everyone can make it. Their algorithm only shows successful campaigns, but it’s important to look at the ones that didn’t make it and wonder why.”

Zero-dimensional … a page from Kickended, an archive of failed Kickstarter campaigns

Zero-dimensional … one of many proposed documentaries from Kickended

So what can we learn from this great archive of penniless dreams and discarded ambitions? What do they tend to have in common? “Really short descriptions and really long, poorly shot, cheaply made videos,” says Lorusso. “It’s ironic that the more successful Kickstarter campaigns seem to be launched by people who already have money. Oh, and there are so many food campaigns: there’s a whole sub-archive of ‘I want to make a fried egg’ and ‘I want to make a pizza’. I find them very interesting from an anthropological perspective.”

As with watching a video of someone squeezing a spot, or walking in on a local band’s first gig, we can’t help but look at Kickended. There is something enthralling and engrossing about any idea that dances so dangerously along the knife edge of abject failure. And yet, to be misunderstood in your own lifetime doesn’t necessarily make you a failure. For your magnum opus to exist only as a tagline and 20-second video doesn’t make it any less great.

It just won’t make you any money.

Interview in Swedish Magazine Tecknaren

Recently I had the pleasure to be interviewed by Sara Teleman for Tecknaren. Tecknaren is a beautiful Swedish magazine about graphic design and illustration. Even if you don’t speak Swedish, there are several interesting images to look at, in particular a section dedicated to South African political posters.

The main picture in the interview with me was taken by Fulvio Orsenigo in one of my favourite places in Venice: the Querini Stampalia library (full picture here). Some of the mentioned works are in collaboration with Sebastian Schmieg and Giulia Ciliberto.

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“The Art of Hybrid Publishing” – Interview by the Hybrid Publishing Lab

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In occasion of the upcoming Post-Digital Scholar Conference (12-14 November, Lüneburg), I answered a few questions on “The Art of Hybrid Publishing”. The interview was originally posted here.

Hybrid Publishing Lab: What recent changes do you see in working with the visual aspects of publishing?

Silvio Lorusso: If we consider e-books, my impression is that the visual aspects of publishing, part of what is traditionally called editorial design, are still problematic. EPUBs are subject to the restrictions of various render engines, devices, retail platforms, etc. To realise this, it is sufficient to follow the #eprdct thread on Twitter: there’s a constant demand for hacks or shortcuts to make visual features work among different systems. Looking instead at platform-specific tools such as iBooks Author, my feeling is that the “enhancements” they produce are most of the time just an interactive “topping” on very traditional – not to say reactionary – forms of publication.

In an article recently appeared on BuzzFeed, Lincoln Michel states: “Despite the regular hyping of enhanced e-books/hypertext/apps/interactive books, I don’t see those going anywhere outside of a few specific markets like children’s books and textbooks. The problem is that we already have a whole industry devoted to interactive narratives: video games.” I would add that the Web itself seems to offer a mature and fruitful space for interactive narrative and visual experimentation. So why confining such possibilities in an enclosed and secluded form? The main reason seems to be commercial: websites are not perceived as products to buy. That said, a publication that is in some ways separated from the Web makes sense in many cases, as it triggers very different dynamics of fruition and exchange. This situation leads me to believe that designers should try to conceive publishing formats that parasitically take advantage of the existing platforms and technologies and leave bigotry aside when determining what a publication is. In this regard, I can mention a proposal by Konst & Teknik to use existing Wi-Fi signals to distribute 5–10 lines of text in the form of network names and passwords.

Paradoxically enough, visual and material efforts in print design are more lively than ever. Sometimes they represent a direct response to its alleged marginality. Take for instance the incipit of Fully Booked: Ink on Paper (Gestalten, 2013), in which the clichés about the death of paper are subverted: “Let me state this for the record: The internet is not dead.” Here the digital environment plays a crucial part as well: platforms like Tumblr foster a ceaseless visual dialogue and exchange between designers all over the world. While I appreciate this phenomenon, I perceive a certain homogenisation of styles and graphic solutions.

HPL: Can you share with our readers what the Post-Digital Publishing Archive is about? And do you think of an archive as a new digital form of publication?

Lorusso: The Post-Digital Publishing Archive actively question the meaning of publishing in a computational and networked context. In doing so, it aims to contribute to an extension of this very notion. It mainly consists of two channels. The first one is p-dpa.net, currently including around 30 projects by artists, designers and poets. It also hosts a growing series of interviews and articles. In my opinion, the index page is the most useful, because it connects the artworks by the media, technologies, and platforms employed, so they can be replicated, transformed, or remixed. The second channel is p-dpa.tumblr.com, a more or less daily activity log. Currently, I’m working on an open glossary of terms and concepts somehow related to this extended notion of publishing. It stems from the need to rethink the language used to investigate such fluid field of study. People are free to add items.

I definitely see the archive as a form of publication. I would even say that it is the contemporary form of publication par excellence. Cloud systems and social media push users towards an incessant collection and organisation of the contents they produced or stumble upon, but only within protected spaces. Pervasive archiving is the default. And when third parties construct users’ identities by linking the archived materials, it becomes critical to develop tools and methods to actively question the effects of these archiving procedures and to develop more autonomous ones.

HPL: What was your experience when developing the Digital Toolkit for publishers?

Lorusso: The Digital Publishing Toolkit consortium consists of four subgroups. The one I collaborate with is devoted to the development of a new hybrid workflow for the Institute of Network Cultures, whose publications are mainly text-oriented. We discussed about and experimented with metadata, markup languages, conversion tools, publishing platforms, etc. By doing this we realised that, while at the moment there is no ideal or ready-made solution, the process of developing custom techniques stimulates new approaches to the production of content.

As an example, EPUB is generally considered an output format for classic publication formats such as the novel or the anthology. But what about using it as a means to archive content from the Web? Or, conversely, what about looking at EPUB as a source, whereas it is easily accessible both by humans and machines? By investigating the way digital publications are produced, several preconceptions become apparent and can therefore be called into question.

HPL: Which book will you always have as an analogue copy in your bookshelf?

Lorusso: Recently I had to move, so I could only bring with me books that are: 1. easily portable; 2. not easily translatable to a digital version. The one that best fits these criteria is a small flip book by Federico Antonini and Alessio D’Ellena titled The ‘Guy Montag Flipping a Softcover Blank Book’ Flip Book. Its size is 650 x 90mm. It contains a scene from the movie Fahrenheit 451 (1966) in which Guy Montag flips a blank book while explaining where to find the books to burn. I like the way it reflects multiple materialities, by “flip-flopping” – to use a notion by Robin Sloan – from book to movie and back to book again.

Call for Papers – Progetto Grafico 28: Publishing

Pamphlet, Helmut Smits (2006)

Pamphlet, Helmut Smits (2006)

Progetto grafico 28: Publishing
Edited by Maria Rosaria Digregorio, Silvio Lorusso, Silvia Sfligiotti, Stefano Vittori

By devoting an issue to “Publishing,” which has always been a central theme for people dealing with communication design, Progetto grafico has decided to start by redefining and expanding upon the term, going beyond its primarily editorial connotations to explore its significance as “making public; disclosing; popularizing.”
The latter seems to be a core issue for both those who design/produce editorial material (professionally or otherwise) as well as those who use it.

The current scene includes a hybrid between print and digital publishing, aided by the emergence and spread of many types of tools that facilitate the publishing process, making it more accessible and sometimes even automatic and involuntary: in this light, any online activity can be considered a form of publication.
If anyone can act as publisher, it becomes essential to take into account two other crucial aspects of the process: on the one hand, the distribution and use by an audience; and, on the other, the continually evolving tools that make it all possible.

Choosing what to make public and what to protect from unintentional publication become part of the publishing business. Even the very idea of copyright is put to the test, and is often overridden by other forms of sharing and reworking.
The people involved in the process (authors, editors, designers/producers, readers) no longer have clearly defined roles: in theory, anyone can be a publisher, and can find readers anywhere. But in practice, one has to wonder how much such public information is actually accessible, and reconsider publishing practices within the broader picture of such information’s accessibility.

A few of the issues we would like to explore

  • Might there be forms of publication that can exist without an author, a client, or even a readership/audience?
  • What is a publisher’s “responsibility”?
  • Can not publishing be an (editorial) choice in and of itself?
  • What is the relationship between publishing and technology?
  • How can a publication reach its audience?

For this issue of Progetto grafico we welcome contributions (essays, research, design analyses…) in which the theme of publishing crops up in one of the ways touched upon above. We are interested in perspectives from all different disciplines, as long as they have some relevance to the realm of visual communication and its cultural implications.

Release: Autumn 2015
Submission deadline: 15 January 2015
Send your submissions to: redazione_progettografico@aiap.it

Progetto grafico is the international graphic design magazine published by Aiap – www.aiap.it/progettografico/

Editors: Riccardo Falcinelli, Silvia Sfligiotti
Editorial board: Serena Brovelli, Maria Rosaria Digregorio, Luigi Farrauto, Davide Fornari, Claude Marzotto, Carlo Vinti, Stefano Vittori

——//——

Progetto grafico 28: Pubblicare
A cura di Maria Rosaria Digregorio, Silvio Lorusso, Silvia Sfligiotti, Stefano Vittori

Nel dedicare un numero al “Pubblicare”, da sempre tema centrale per chi si occupa di design della comunicazione, Progetto grafico ha deciso di partire da una ridefinizione ed estensione del termine, per portarlo oltre la sua accezione principalmente editoriale, verso quella di “rendere pubblico, divulgare”. Proprio quest’ultima sembra essere al centro sia delle pratiche di chi progetta/produce artefatti editoriali (professionalmente o meno), sia di chi ne fruisce.

Il contesto attuale vede infatti un’ibridazione tra editoria stampata e digitale, aiutata dalla nascita e diffusione di moltissimi strumenti che facilitano il processo del pubblicare, lo rendono più accessibile e a volte persino automatico e involontario: sotto questa luce, qualunque attività on-line può essere considerata una forma di pubblicazione.
Se chiunque può essere editore, diventa fondamentale tenere in conto altri due aspetti cruciali del processo: da una parte la distribuzione e la fruizione da parte di un pubblico, e dall’altra gli strumenti in continua evoluzione che rendono tutto questo possibile.

Scegliere cosa rendere pubblico e cosa proteggere da una pubblicazione non intenzionale diventa parte dell’attività editoriale, e anche l’idea stessa di diritto d’autore è messa alla prova, e spesso superata da altre forme di condivisione e rielaborazione.
Le figure coinvolte nel processo (autori, editori, designer/produttori, lettori) non hanno più ruoli nettamente definiti: potenzialmente, chiunque può essere editore, e può trovare lettori ovunque. Ma è necessario chiedersi quanto ciò che è pubblico sia effettivamente accessibile, e riconsiderare le pratiche del Pubblicare all’interno del più ampio scenario dell’accesso alla conoscenza.

Alcune delle domande che vorremmo esplorare

  • Possono esistere forme di pubblicazione che facciano a meno di un autore, di un committente o addirittura di un pubblico?
  • Qual è la “responsabilità” di chi pubblica?
  • Anche non pubblicare può essere una scelta (editoriale)?
  • Qual è il rapporto che intercorre tra pubblicazione e tecnologia?
  • Come può una pubblicazione raggiungere il suo pubblico?

Per questo numero di Progetto grafico cerchiamo contributi (saggi, ricerche, analisi di progetto…) nei quali il tema del pubblicare si manifesti in una delle forme che abbiamo provato a sintetizzare. Ci interessano prospettive provenienti da diverse discipline, ma sempre con punti di tangenza con la sfera della comunicazione visiva e delle sue implicazioni culturali.

Uscita: autunno 2015
Chiusura call for abstracts: 15 gennaio 2015
Inviate le vostre proposte a: redazione_progettografico@aiap.it

Progetto grafico è la rivista internazionale di grafica edita dall’Aiap – www.aiap.it/progettografico/

Direzione editoriale: Riccardo Falcinelli, Silvia Sfligiotti
Comitato di redazione: Serena Brovelli, Maria Rosaria Digregorio, Luigi Farrauto, Davide Fornari, Claude Marzotto, Carlo Vinti, Stefano Vittori