Electronic Publishing, One Bit at a Time


page closeup

For a recent commission from SKOR, La Société Anonyme has been working on a book that contains some digital image and sound documentation about the artistic life at this soon-to-disappear art foundation. The project is an electronic publication but not quite the one you would expect. No fancy PDF or trendy EPUB here, in fact we’ve been using acid-free paper as storage for raw binary data. The purpose is to be able to export a couple of digital images and sounds to a form that can be stored on a printed page and imported, or interpreted, back into sounds and images using a scanner or whatever optical device you may want at later stage (possibly once human civilisation as we know it has collapsed). This project takes a different approach than other forms of paper data storage. We don’t care about compression because we want the data to be accessible in as many ways as possible without the need of a codec or a filesystem, we don’t care about redundancy because we will be printing several books that can be recombined in case of partial damages and we do not care about encryption because these files are meant to be public archives. We don’t care about all these technological features because they just get in the way of delivering our material to post-human audiences.

So how does that work?

At the moment we are able to store 83 blocks of raw digital images and audio segments over nearly 300 pages. To be able to do that without compression we had to reduce the information quite a lot. A raw picture being better than a thousand compressed words, here is an example of the pipeline for the encoding of images.

031 - Tiny photo of a dog

This photo is reduced to a 320×240 12bit RGB image…

12-bit RGB Dog

… that is then traversed from the top left corner to the bottom right, reading the value of each pixels and turning that information into a 12 bit string (ie, a green pixel would be 000011110000). All the collected strings form a bitstream that is then used to create a 480×1924 bitmap of the data (including a top marker to indicate that the following bitstream is an image).

031 - Tiny_photo of a dog - raw

While not being optimized for size, using raw information is a valuable protection mechanism against future archive terrorists and art revisionists. Indeed not matter how damaged the printed document will be…

Damaged archive

… It will always convert back to something that looks just great!

glitchy decoded picture

More information about the project will be announced/posted soon after SKOR’s finissage on the 12th of July, meanwhile you can have a look at the undocumented encoder and start today converting and printing your precious digital art so that it can survive the art funding cut apocalypse.

UPDATE 17/07/2012: Project has been launched!