“I want to print out Wikipedia.”
It’s the sort of naïve declaration your mum might make. A concept so unfathomable that only a crazy person would have the time and effort to print off every single one of the 11.5m entries from 7.5m contributors. Never mind the financial clout for all the paper costs.
So step forward Michael Mandiberg (himself on Wikipedia), a New York-based conceptual artist and computer programmer who’s spent the past three years turning the entirety of Wikipedia into 7,600 printed and bound physical volumes of the encyclopedic site, dubbing the project as “a poetic gesture towards the futility of the scale of big data”.
We’re not sure Jimmy Wales had this in mind when he set up the not-for-profit site - what with it sort of defeating the point of it all – but it just goes to show how powerful and all-consuming Wikipedia has become. And then there’s the data itself. Who’s to know how many mistakes made their way to print, or how many celebrities have been incorrectly listed as dying in speedboat accidents? Then again, we suppose that’s the beauty of it.
While the physical volumes are at the core of the project, Print Wikipedia has also seen Mandiberg write software to quickly convert every single entry into a series of printable formats. At an upcoming exhibition called From Aaaaa! to ZZZap!, the entire 11GB compressed file will be uploaded to print-on-demand website Lulu.com, which is estimated to take about two weeks to print in full.
And should you have a spare £318,000 to buy the 7,600 book artwork, reading it all should take around two decades.