Kioskbaskere til alle, 2013
Available online from: www.kta.lnd4.ne
Commissioned by Kunsthal Aarhus, supported by Statens Kunstråds Billedkunstudvalg and Aarhus University. Thanks to Risskov Bibliotek and Lise Kloster Gram, Aarhus Kommunes Biblioteker.
In Kioskbaskere till alle, e-book versions of current Danish bestsellers are modified and re-distributed, turning stories about sex and murder into conceptual poetry that reflects on the changed conditions of literature in a networked and digital public sphere. A public, which reveals itself as compromised by market interests, but where the Kioskbaskere til alle intervention ironically points towards possibilities of creating alternative publics through truncation. The project is a simultaneously de-constructive and constructive critique of the new digital model for distribution of literature, launched by the major Danish publishing houses in 2013. In an attempt to maintain market control, this model creates artificial scarcity and mimics the model of analogue book distribution but eventually ends up being more restrictive than the analogue distribution. This is ironic not the least since the promise of the discourse surrounding digital technologies was always about equal distribution and simplified access to cultural products.
Kioskbaskere til alle re-distributes some of the most popular books, kioskbaskerne, from Århus Kommune’s Libraries in new versions that are caricatures of the changing market conditions. At first glance, the re-distributed bestsellers appear as more or less exact copies of their originals. However, sometimes a word from the title and/or parts of the authors name are missing. When a reader examines the books carefully, he/she will find that the entire novels have been altered. All text that is not literally in the public domain (i.e. words or phrases, which regardless of their graphical representation, have been registered as trademarks), is substituted by blank spaces. This means that chunks of information are missing and that the readers eventually have to guess the overall meaning of the content. The experience of this textual public domain is amputated and fragmented, but since the work excludes the ”privatised” words, replacing them with voids, it is precisely under this amputated condition that it at all can be understood as a public domain.
Within the historical bourgeois public sphere, as proposed by Habermas, the private consumption of literature became the building block for ”public” conversations that took place among the privileged members of a society. Habermas ended his classic study with the fear of the vulgarisation of these conversations into a ‘plebeian public sphere’ compromised by market interests and corresponding to the society of consumption and mass media. The fact that libraries since long cater to a bestseller and mass media culture could be connected to this cultural-conservatist idea of an eroded public sphere. However in the context of a digitally distributed ”plebeian public sphere”, the project Kioskbaskere til alle does not reject this development but through a performative and critical intervention utilises it as a site for making the public aware of the contemporary socio-economic contradictions that undermine the radical ideal of the public domain as consisting of cultural resources that can be shared on equal terms.
Kioskbaskere til alle is developed as part of Kunsthal Aarhus’s exhibition Systemics #2: As we may think (or, the next world library). During the exhibition period it will be possible to borrow physical versions of the modified books at Risskov Bibliotek and e-books versions are distributed online from www.kta.lnd4.ne. Display copies are presented at Kunsthal Aarhus.