Kenneth Goldsmith’s “Printing Out the Internet” Is Not About Trash

by Corinna Kirsch on June 26, 2013 · 5 comments Opinion

The art world is often extravagant. Opening dinners overflow with a cornucopia of earthly delights while paint, temporary walls, and tools get frittered away in the dumpsters outside. Resources like these get squandered all the time, and rarely does anyone raise an eyebrow. It’s surprising, then, to hear about the current trash-related protest against MoMA Poet Laureate and UbuWeb Founder Kenneth Goldsmith for his relatively small, but big-sounding paper-based project “Printing Out the Internet”.

The project itself seems innocuous enough. Goldsmith put out an open call for “Printing Out the Internet” in May. Through July 26th, he’s seeking A5-sized paper print-outs of the world wide web that participants will then mail to the LABOR art gallery in Mexico. The sheets of paper will be shown in an exhibition and then recycled after the show’s run. So far Goldsmith has received submissions from all corners of the Internet, as well as from UbuWeb’s extended network with documents like Paul Soulellis’s “Library of the Printed Web” and Justin Lincoln’s “New Aesthetic Time Capsule”. These projects sound like artworks in their own right.

In the project’s wake, a petition “Please don’t print the Internet” started in protest of how “Printing Out the Internet” wastes paper. It has only 370 signatures. Outside of that petition, the project’s formed its own dedicated following of trolls. Goldsmith has been reblogging select trolls on Tumblr.


image image image image

If this protest sound stupid to you, you’re not alone. Alongside the critics, Goldsmith has reblogged words of advice from his project’s fans. He’s also written in defense of his project. One of my favorite Goldsmith-isms cribbed, in part, from Guy Debord:

This seems like a lot of fuss in defense of trash. It makes me wonder if there’s another unspoken aspect of the project that could be producing these mixed-feelings. At heart, Goldsmith’s project is a conceptual one, but you’re only going to “get it” if you buy into his point that “printing the internet is an enactment of capital accumulated to the point that it becomes an image”.

I half-get that point. I get it because amassing quantities of nearly anything can “enact capital accumulation”. I also get that trash is what becomes of most of the Internet eventually; links get broken, Geocities goes kaput, servers change, etcetera.

I’m just not convinced the project needs to be on generic A5 paper, or if paper is even the best way to visualize the Internet’s video, sound, and text. Paper’s simple and generic, but the Internet’s specific, a gabfest of voices. As a mass of paper, the Internet turns into a white-washed image, but art should be specific to differentiate itself as a speck in that mountain of capital.

But maybe that’s where the project’s element of social practice comes in. “Printing Out the Internet” is a submission-based show, created, in large part by the individual decisions of its participants. It’s a tale of what Kenneth Goldsmith and UbuWeb followers find valuable or interesting, at least for the moment. No matter what participants send in, there’s that problem of specificity; the Internet will always be shown as a flat image.

Looking at these issues of community and capital, Goldsmith’s project isn’t so straightforward after all. These are complex points to mull over, and more difficult to parse through than an argument over waste. That’s too bad because it seems those ideas are getting overlooked in favor of an argument that has very little do with the piece at all.


Andrew birk June 26, 2013 at 3:45 pm

I dont care about the paper or the trees. I just care that its a bad fucking idea. Justify what you will, the core of this project is boring and baseless. For the record I deeply support the majority of Kenneth´s work. Although I live in Mexico City, it will be my pleasure NOT to attend.

Corinna Kirsch June 26, 2013 at 4:40 pm

You should attend and tell everyone if your predictions came true!

Justin Lincoln June 26, 2013 at 5:55 pm

Hi Corina Kirsh, I’m thrilled that the kind of messy, playful, and impure research of “Printing out the Internet” can find a home within the arts. I get the feeling that such research would go on even if that home wasn’t guaranteed.

I very much agree with your closing paragraph and enjoyed this post as a whole. Thanks as well for linking back to my project as it floats within the larger sea of Kenneth’s exhibition. My reply here started to balloon into TLDR territory so I posted the majority of it on my tumblr:

Take care, and thanks again.

joshuacaleb June 26, 2013 at 6:57 pm

ha! funny to see your own tumblr handle staring back at you from a screen capture


Benjamin Cook June 23, 2014 at 1:51 pm

I actually really like this idea.

It seems to point out the fact that we use the internet as a supplement to real life. our digital worlds are reflections of our physical ones just as much as it is the other way around. By printing out the pages, the divide collapses from non physical “content” in to real life and in doing so, points out the limitations and implications of the physical world as well as highlights the weight of importance that we put on things in our physical lives.

Just my opinion
-Benjamin Cook

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