Artist Profile – Michael Mandiberg

Published on 2018-09-11

Artwork featured in the salon – 'Print Wikipedia' (2015) Edition 5 + 2AP. Image courtesy of Denny Dimin Gallery.

Michael Mandiberg works across conceptual websites, activism campaigns, data science, and publishing projects to investigate how the internet shapes contemporary labor, wealth, identity, and epistemology. Mandiberg has shown at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The New Museum, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Denny Gallery, and Transmediale amongst others. 

Some of Mandiberg’s early works presciently shoved the physical world into the internet and reimagined what ownership might mean there. In 2001 the artist created Shop Mandiberg, which put all the artist’s possessions—half-used jams, a favorite coat, keys to the apartment—up for sale online. That same year Mandiberg launched and They both feature Depression-era photos that Walker Evans originally took and Sherrie Levine later appropriated. Mandiberg offers digital scans of these photographs, which are distributed with certificates that “insure that each satellite image be considered with equal authenticity.”

Resale sites and photo-sharing platforms have become highly-trafficked realities since Mandiberg launched these speculative projects. The artist was thinking about communal ownership of digital assets long before the art world started hosting cryptocurrency conferences. And though Mandiberg still does digital works, now that the internet is so ubiquitous, the artist’s practice has explored physical publishing more. 

FDIC Insured tells the story of the Great Recession through 527 castoff investment self-help books. The logos of failed banks are burned onto their covers. The large-scale installation, first shown in an abandoned office space near Wall Street, “combines the failed utopian promises of the discarded self-help books with the newly-vacated corporate logos, branding the collapsed futures promised by the physical objects with the visual identities of economic failure.” Mandiberg says it “memorializes the abstractions and utopian promises of global capitalism, which can never be fully understood or achieved under the frenetic flow of big data and deregulated markets.” 

The banks promised a flood of deregulated wealth; the internet promised a ubiquity of free information. And it seems like we might be on the brink of an epistemic collapse. What does it mean to have instant access to basically all recorded human knowledge? Print Wikipedia shows just how unwieldy the reading assignment would be. The piece is all of Wikipedia, as of 2015, in over 7,600 700-page books. (For reference, traditional encyclopedias typically max out at a few dozen volumes.) Mandiberg made the piece by running custom software to convert every English-language Wikipedia article from the site’s database into a PDF that was uploaded to an on-demand printing site. It took a few weeks. The vastness of the entries and speed at which we can summon them all, as an impractical stack of books, questions what we’re really getting from all this high-speed knowledge. Mandiberg calls it “a poetic gesture toward the challenges of knowing in the age of big data.”

Artist profile by Katheryn Thayer for The Current.

'Print Wikipedia' is featured in 'The Current // Truth' curated by Tina Rivers Ryan from September 6 – 14th, 2018. Become a member of The Current to attend our private salons: