“Apparition of a distance, however near it may be” presents images of book objects frozen in a certain here and now. This ongoing collection of photographs portrays Google Books employees physically interacting with books in the digital space of the book scanner.
As accidental recordings, the images mistakenly add human physicality, movement and distortion to the experience of consuming the book in a browser window. These anomalies are usually corrected or removed by bots, but sometimes the errors remain to become spectral additions to the Google Books library, permanently altering the viewer’s perception of the content.
I search for these mistakes and work with them as found photography. They expose deviations in the algorithms hiding deep within the data.
“Apparition of a distance, however near it may be” is a reference to the discussion of aura in Walter Benjamin's seminal essay, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." As a photographic work, "Apparition…" makes visible the mechanical tactics behind the creation of the digital book image. The photographs, found by manually mining the vast Google Books landscape, expose the human labor behind the creation of our new digital archives, techniques normally unseen and unknown. Details in "Apparition…" ambiguously suggest race, gender, personal taste and other identifying traits of the worker that typically remain hidden in digital production.
The project also proposes value in the extended translation of print to digital, and then back to print: a wider view of the book as an object that exists simultaneously in digital and physical realities.
“Apparition of a distance, however near it may be” will launch as a 42-page print publication (8.5 in. x 11 in.) at the 2013 LA Art Book Fair, February 1–3 at the Geffen Contemporary at MoCA.
Paul Soulellis (b. 1968) is a New York-based artist and creative director, maintaining his studio in Long Island City, NY. His book works explore place, image and identity. Most recently, he created Library of the Printed Web, a curatorial project organized around artists who use screen capture, image grab, site scrape and search query to develop printed matter from content found on the web. The growing collection, housed in a wooden display crate, will be presented at the opening of the 55th Venice Biennale (The Book Affair / 29–31 May 2013). He was a Visiting Artist at the American Academy in Rome in 2011, where he produced Memory Palace. Other recent projects include Weymouths (2012), 273 Relics for John Cage (A Likeness Is an Aid to Memory) at the University of North Carolina (2011) and Venetian Suite (2010). Paul is a member of ABC Artists' Books Cooperative.
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