“Somewhere in that sentence, that week, those people”February 27, 2013
We're pleased to announce the publication of the second volume of Invalid Format: An Anthology of Triple Canopy, designed by Project Projects and co-published by Sternberg Press. Invalid Format, published annually, is at once an archive of Triple Canopy's widespread publishing activities and a translation into print of projects that originally appeared in other forms. What follows is the book's introduction.
We began the first volume of Invalid Format by describing how Triple Canopy came into being in the summer and fall of 2007, as a flurry, then an avalanche, of emails between friends and strangers. At the time, we had only a vague sense of what we were after: an online magazine, an original framework for serious reading and viewing in a medium that seemed to resist such efforts. Our first four issues, compiled in volume one, are a record of our attempts to make that vagueness concrete. Online, we started to move, however haltingly, beyond text illustrated with JPEGS and placed within horizontally sliding pages. Offline, we worked to turn the ideas and experiments that had constituted Triple Canopy into nonprofit paperwork and grant applications; traded in a flattened power structure for a traditional masthead.
By 2009, where this second volume picks up, we were realizing ambitions once floated in Google Groups. This was something of a surprise, and a challenge: How could we continue to publish distinctive work, and just what did we mean by “publish”? Did we have a politics? Was Triple Canopy a job? What was it, really, that we were after? We had a sense of our relationship to technology—selectively enthusiastic about “innovation,” skeptical of any libertarian endgame—and had all learned some HTML; we understood what our content-management system could and couldn’t do. And so we settled into (tweaked, chafed against, abandoned) the structures we had in place. Our second four issues, compiled here, achieved fuller expression: Typically, there were autodidactic and polymathic hydras, essays and reports too expansive to fit elsewhere, projects by visual artists translating their studio practices to the Web, video that wanted to live somewhere between a gallery and YouTube, literature that did something else on a computer screen besides beg to be printed.
For more than a year, we were consumed by two issues devoted to urbanism, approached from many angles and in many forms: a translation of an interview with a Chinese expert on underground cities, a multimedia presentation on “smart sprawl” by a fabricated eco-friendly development firm, a rumination on John the Baptist and cellular automata. Those issues, set against the backdrop of the foreclosure crisis and a deflationary failure of political will, incorporated academic thought and artistic license, parsed city zoning and experimental geography, rhymed Tijuana’s slums with Dubai’s McMansions. But perhaps more important, they helped define Triple Canopy’s mode of turning outward while looking inward; our desire to have our publication annex public space.
We tested the urbanism issues in the Kitchen’s black-box theater, punctuating the editing process with performances of articles-in-progress amid the band Zs’ brutalist constructions and Nine 11 Thesaurus’s rap about teen life in Brownsville. With the microcinema Light Industry and a circle of artists and academics, we organized a weeklong series of screenings and discussions radiating from Wang Bing’s fourteen-hour documentary Crude Oil, on view five times, from dawn to dusk—an exhaustively deep reading of art-time with work-time. As part of the NY Art Book Fair at MoMA PS1, we got dozens of once and future contributors to read, dance, project, and otherwise make present pieces from an issue of Aspen, the half-century-old magazine-in-a-box that’s been our lodestar. Taken together, these experiences of Triple Canopy as a protagonist, moderator, facilitator, writer, venue, designer, historian, technologist, and entity about town pushed us to place ourselves in what we later dubbed “the expanded field of publication.”
Invalid Format serves as a record of these widespread publishing pursuits, and as a translation of these activities, across forms, into print. Its design, by Project Projects, reflects this challenge of transformation. Invalid Format is built around templates meant to accommodate different kinds of material, while constraining the ways in which it might be represented. Last time, we called this “the book as content management system,” but that’s not quite correct. The pages aren’t generated automatically based on a set of parameters. Each layout reflects decisions about how works produced for the screen might be transposed to the paperback, shifting between vertical and horizontal orientation as your iPad (or an eighteenth-century botany treatise) might—yet no e-book’s structure is so precisely responsive to such varied contents. And while the form (and introduction) of this volume may be partly recycled from the first, there’s a greater sense of reaching to do things with print that we couldn’t do with the Web—or that we could do with the Web but must redo on the page, if not revise, abridge, omit. How do you print an interactive exegesis of Latin American modernism? A memoir on Hinduism and electronic prayer that concludes with a Flash-driven puja? An mp3ed excursus on the sound of the rolled r? A YouTube essay on authenticity? A quodlibet on Prussian blue, when Web color isn’t true color and, anyway, this book is in grayscale?
A book is also a preservation strategy. Think of the obsolescence of all new media: cassette tapes, LaserDiscs, Zip drives. This book is one of our preservation strategies, among many, because we want Triple Canopy to last. We want to run on more than charisma and fumes, to be able to pay our editors and contributors, and generally to behave like a new-model arts organization. We want to be collective in a sustainable way, not just as an appealing formal arrangement. It’s one thing to talk about it, as we did in our first year or two; it’s another to get $100,000 for “capacity building” from the Andy Warhol Foundation on the condition of regular meetings with consultants and the generation of an “organizational narrative.” We became a nonprofit. We conferred with lawyers and accountants, built a board of directors, started writing checks. We saved up for a redesign (see volume three). We started a Twitter account and thought we’d leave it to rot.
The correspondence concluding this volume attests to our long march to institutionalization. So many of our models refused to play the game: Aspen famously folded after the US Postal Service revoked its periodical mail rate, and we couldn’t afford that either. So, from email flurry to paperwork. Triple Canopy began in September 2007 with thirty people packed into a living room (and others tuned in via Skype), speaking in and out of turn; staying up until 3 a.m. taking positions and making jokes, achieving and abandoning consensus, impressing and infuriating one another, feeling elated and nervous and always that something was at stake. After a long summer day in 2009, a dozen editors and cohorts—almost all of them having performed Aspen or illustrated an article or played a party—ate soup dumplings after an art opening for another contributor-friend (a category that now seems, inevitably, to include everyone we know). We paused midway for a ceremonial signing of Triple Canopy’s articles of incorporation, a few hundred flimsy pages. And this past week, as Labor Day approached, a dozen more people cycled through our white-walled office in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, to edit, design, copyedit, and generally fuss over this book, in PDF and as sheafs of proofs, while others stole time from office jobs across town to chip away at this introduction, emailed from an Alpine village to comment on the cover, texted from LA with answers to fact-checking queries, or, in the case of Light Industry, now our roommates, went over layouts in between testing 16-mm prints and CD-ROMS for a marathon Chris Marker screening. Somewhere in that sentence, that week, those people; somewhere in those technologies and procedures and jokes and arguments—somewhere in there is the book you’re holding.