Reading and Listening to Extinction and Vitality

Phonautograph, 1859, via wikipedia:

Wow — that’s a whopper of a headline. But that’s exactly what I found myself thinking about on Sunday, after a weekend full of “born-again” media. It all began at Cabinet, where, on Friday night, the ever-amazing Jonathan Sterne and artist Sari Carel “revisiti[ed] extinct sounds.” Their conversation ranged from the “preservation” of extinct bird species through recordings of their calls; and the role of the phonautograph in the process; to the drive toward ever-expedited extinction, or deletion, in an age of ubiquitous digital archiving.

Then on Saturday we made our fifth annual trip to the New York Art Book Fair, held again this year at PS1. I recognized most of the exhibitors from years past, and I even remembered flipping through many of the same publications last year and the year before…and the year before that. Yet because I was able to provide new contexts for some of this seemingly familiar work this year, projects I might have otherwise walked right past instead pulled me in. I had read a fantastic article in Art Journal this summer on Wallace Berman’s Semina, and was happy to see the publication featured in the “Loose Leaf” exhibition on the first floor. And although I’d enjoyed the busy-ness of Werkplaats Typografie‘s project rooms each year, this year my husband and I were especially taken in by the pedagogical mission of their Mary Shelley Facsimile Library.


I loved e-flux’s chalkboard room last year and was sad to have missed — thanks to a torrential downpour — their Airstream trailer-based book coop in the courtyard. I so regret allowing a little rain (okay, a lot of rain) to prevent me from seeing this.

As much as I love the Jorge Pardo floor in the old Dia space in Chelsea, where the book fair was held for its first few years, PS1, a former school of course, just feels so perfect as a location for the fair. As a site rooted in communal learning and sharing materials, it highlights the vitality, the sociality, the materiality of the publishing, distribution, and reading practices it contains during this fall weekend each year. And of course PS1 itself is a project of Alanna Heiss’s Institute for Art and Urban Resources, which transformed abandoned or underused buildings into artist’s spaces. It’s a space of revival. And inside its walls each year I can’t help but feel the vitality of print — the persistence, the flourishing, of a print culture that many have presumed extinct.


Click, Scan, Bold, Copy, Post

Photo by Me, February 16, 2007

Over four years after first putting pen to paper — and after a pretty brutal editing session, during which I painfully extracted some key sections from my obnoxiously long first draft — I’ve finally received a final e-print of “Click/Scan/Bold: The New Materiality of Architectural Discourse and Its Counter-Publics,” which will be published in the forthcoming issue of Design and Culture. I had a great experience working with the journal staff, and I found the peer-review process to be fairly efficient and constructive, which is certainly not always the case.

I typically post pdfs of my publications here, but I’ve discovered that, according to the RoMEO database of “publishers’ policies regarding the self- archiving of journal articles on the web and in Open Access repositories,” Berg, Design and Culture‘s publisher, does not “formally” support archiving of D&C articles. Drat. In lieu of posting the entire article, which I hope to do eventually, I offer my abstract (which, now, months removed from its submission, seems a wee bit underwhelming; I’ve discovered that I need at least a year away from any writing project before I can fully grasp what I’ve done — and before I can write an abstract that does some justice to the piece):

The past five years have brought several exhibitions, conferences, and other events that examine the past, present, and future of architectural periodicals. Incited in large part by the transformations wrought by new digital and social media in both architecture and publishing, these events reflect a desire among their participants to shape the materiality of architectural discourse – and even to frame the creation of discursive space as a form of architectural design itself. It is often hoped that the creation of new forms of “little” or “subversive” publications will result in the production not only of a designed object or process, but also of new discursive (counter)publics.


Information Isn’t Free


Yesterday afternoon Nicholas Jackson posted a piece on the New York Post’s “egregious” paywall on The Atlantic’s Technology Channel. The post struck a chord, since it was just the night before that my husband and I saw Page One: Inside the New York Times, a new documentary, at the likewise new Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center in the beautifully renovated Lincoln Center. It’s not a flawless documentary, but it’s certainly not anywhere near as bad as Michael Kinsley’s review (in The Times) would lead you to believe. Kinsley, a “senior editorial advisor for Bloomberg View, points out that in this “mess” of a documentary, the “real star of the show” isn’t any of the reporters or the Times itself, but Renzo Piano’s Times headquarters on 8th Avenue. Kinsley might just be bitter that he has to work across town in STUDIOS Architecture’s Bloomberg headquarters, which has no street-front presence, and which, some of my students have noted (I’ve taken a few classes there on field trips), feels like Willy Wonka on Wall Street. Even though it’s not actually on Wall Street.

via Geoff Livingston on Flickr:

I was surprised to discover that, at several moments during the film, I felt bursts of emotion and conviction: I believe in this institution, dammit. It’s not perfect, but when you take into consideration the scope of its operations and the pressures it’s operating under, I’d say it’s doing a commendable job.

I believe in the institution of journalism — and a lot of what we’re proposing these days as its successors simply don’t measure up. The mixing of categories — the conflation of journalism and “media,” or journalism and aggregation; the proposition that blogging or Tweeting is the new journalism (Twitter is a tool, not a “craft” or an institution), or that there’s such a thing as a citizen “journalist” (they’re typically citizen “content providers”) — is a little frightening to me. Vice magazine‘s video series, which is addressed in the documentary, isn’t journalism. Wikileaks, also addressed at length in the film, isn’t journalism. It’s content provision. And Gawker — with the “Big Board,” listing top-ranked stories in real-time, looming over all in its workroom — simply isn’t in the same business as the Times.

via Laughing Squid:

Gawker’s Nick Denton claimed, with characteristic hubris, that The Times simply doesn’t get this new landscape and is destined to crash and burn (or something to that effect); the implication was, obviously, that Gawker’s a model to aspire to. What doesn’t the Times get? How to “churn out quality content”? How to incentivize “journalists” to aim for top spot on the Big Board? We need publications that represent resistance to such popularity-, and profit-driven approaches to agenda setting.

I’ve been a paying seven-day-a-week subscriber to the Times for 14 years, and to the Wall Street Journal for six. I read both papers every morning as a means of orienting myself — as a way to get outside my own head and learn about not only those things that I’m inclined to care about, but those that other smart people, whose judgment I trust, think I should know about (as corny as it sounds, I think this is what’s required of me as a democratic citizen). I realize that the people who provide this service have valuable skills and areas of expertise, and they deserve fair compensation for what they do. Those reporters in the foreign bureaus, the people running the presses and driving the delivery trucks, the web developers and designers creating the Times‘ fantastic interactive features, etc. — they all need to get paid. If we believe in the institutions that employ them, we need to make sure they remain economically viable.

Journalism isn’t free. Advertising isn’t footing the bill anymore, so we need to find ways to pay for our news or risk losing the vitally important public services these institutions offer.

[Update: Coincidentally, L. Gordon Crovitz addresses these issues — in particular, the consequences of the demise of local journalism, and the fact that government funding isn’t the answer — in today’s WSJ.]


Blog to Book, Space Beer to Ballard: The BLDGBLOG Book

Blog to Book, Space Beer to Ballard: The BLDGBLOG Book” [Review] (September 13, 2009).