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This Artist Wants to Print Out the Internet

In honor of internet activist Aaron Swartz, this artist is trying to print out the entire internet

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Goldsmith at his exhibition, lounging on the internet. Photo: Know Your Meme

American artist Kenneth Goldsmith is trying to free the contents of the internet by printing out the entire thingor, as much of it as he can muster. It’s a physical, symbolic representation of the ideal of free information and is inspired by the work of Aaron Swartz, the noted hacker, developer and activist who committed suicide in the shadow of a scandal involving MIT and the scholarly publishing database JSTOR.

Swartz, says Wired, had downloaded millions of scientific papers “with plans to release them to the public.” Wired:

JSTOR provides searchable, digitized copies of academic journals online. MIT had a subscription to the database, so Aaron brought a laptop onto MIT’s campus, plugged it into the student network and ran a script called keepgrabbing.py that aggressively — and at times disruptively — downloaded one article after another. When MIT tried to block the downloads, a cat-and-mouse game ensued, culminating in Swartz entering a networking closet on the campus, secretly wiring up an Acer laptop to the network, and leaving it there hidden under a box. A member of MIT’s tech staff discovered it, and Aaron was arrested by campus police when he returned to pick up the machine.

A highly-controversial legal battle ensued—ending when Swartz took his own life six months ago.

Goldsmith isn’t printing out the internet himself. In fact, such a feat would probably be impossible. Instead, he’s asking people to send printed sheets to his gallery in Mexico City. Talking to the CBC’s As It Happens, Goldsmith said he’s so far received 10 tons of paper, including: “’lots of porn, of course,’ people’s email inboxes and thousands of pages of source code, among other things.”

Goldsmith said he doesn’t actually intend to get the whole internet. Instead, he’s using the installation to try to physically demonstrate the scale of Swartz’s actions.

The exhibition is going for another month, says CBC, and Goldsmiths is still looking for more.

More from Smithsonian.com:

At the Internet Cat Video Festival, LOLcats Become Art
Have You Ever Wondered How the Internet Works?

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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