PDF Composite Mixtape

“Data Formats” — a strange starting point. As the rapidly changing technologies of a post-medium condition continue to complicate artistic practice, it gets harder and harder to trace the site of production. There are a lot of answers to this problem, from Boris Groys’ political constellations to Bourriaud’s delineations of postproduction art. However, to put my cards on the table, these formulations leave me a little cold, for reasons I’ll try to enumerate throughout the lecture. What I’d like to present is a method for reading the kind of periodic release of digital objects emblematized by Primary Information’s Excursus output over the last few months. (Which, I’ll note, is not uncommon, but rather a very popular practice: selecting, scanning, assembling, publishing, circulating online.)


Rather than begin with a set of critical responses, I’ve found it useful to begin fresh with a scholarly mode of activity described by Jerome McGann and Lisa Samuels as “deformance,” or working through a creative rendering of the object of one’s study. Which brings me to the PDF Composite Mixtape projecting behind me. In a kind of hermeneutic circle, the PDF only comes about via the event (mediagenic) and the lecture is unthinkable without the PDF, which assembles a focused set of captures from Primary Information’s digital output. More than an advance in academic narcissism, I hope to argue, this type of creative making, or poiesis, is methodologically necessary for the knotty tangle of concerns that seal off digital practices.


The PDF Mixtape demonstrates some of these entanglements, and the corresponding difficulty of interpretation. First, most obviously, on the level of content, it pulls from dozens of historical sources, assembling an unlikely and haphazard array of text and image, unified only by their inclusion in Excursus IV. Disparate texts and unrelated images are layered or composited within frames. Second, on a more formal level, a variety of resolutions and file formats converge in a PDF framework. Then, media are convoluted in a mixture of moving image, static text, and screen-dependent resolution. It doesn’t even display the same across the limited set of PDF readers on my own laptop. Even the ones that it does work in are impossible to use. It moves slow, then fast. It requires a constant refocusing attention.


Hoping to disentangle some thoughts along these lines, I’ll start with some methodological concerns before delving further into “PDF Composite Mixtape,” all of which will hopefully lead us into a practical discussion around the interpretation of digital objects more generally, and the work on display here specifically.

Screenshot 2014-10-13 07.03.11



“PDF Composite Mixtape,” ICA Excursus: Primary Information.

Presented as part of “Card Catalogs / Data Formats,” with Mashinka Firunts, as part of “Excursus IV: Primary Information,” Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, June 2, 2013.

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