FALL 2011: V.07 N.02: CAA Conference Edition 2011
“The experimental rhythm of problem solving and problem finding makes the ancient potter and the modern programmer members of the same tribe.”  – Richard Sennett
“Free Software is an ‘activity-without-end product’ not in the sense of having no output, but rather in the sense of constantly creating the capacity for production elsewhere.”  – Simon Yuill
This paper addresses Free/Libre/Open Source Software (FLOSS) and its relevance to the book as a contemporary art form. Philosophically, FLOSS reinvigorates the artist’s book with the values of free access, emphasizing independent publishing, community-building, and freedom of information as inspirations for bookmaking. Methodologically, FLOSS provides artists with alternatives to proprietary software for use in bookmaking and encourages artists to consider new models of production. Pedagogically, FLOSS extends opportunities for learning as empowerment. Just as the artist’s book can serve as an empowering medium via its handmade, self-published nature, FLOSS provides students with software that they can make on their own – media they can decode and change. The speaker will employ an ongoing project, Open Edition, as a case study. Open Edition aims to extend the Free Software Foundation’s “four essential freedoms” to users of the artist’s book, integrating FLOSS with the art of making books by hand. 
Digital Practice and the Artist’s Book
I began making books because I was inspired by the ability to self-publish and participate in alternative infrastructures of production and distribution. As an artist and activist, I was drawn to the book because of its accessibility, ubiquity and physicality. I was thrilled by the direct interaction necessitated by the form, which radically challenges the modern assumption that art is somehow best left untouched. In addition, as an anthropologist and budding librarian, I was interested in deconstructing the book in order to understand and enact the architecture of this persistent, age-old information technology.
As artists of the book, we are empowered by the ability to make a book from start to finish, completely by hand. We pride ourselves on our intimate knowledge of the form. We will argue for days as to the merits and weaknesses of photopolymer plates vs. lead type. We make paper by hand, mindful of every step, from harvesting the fiber to forming each individual sheet. When making binding decisions, we measure to fractions of a millimeter. Yet we fire up the Adobe Creative Suite to create imagery and text for our books without a moment’s hesitation. When it comes to our digital practice, most of us remain blissfully unaware, or at least uninterested, in the architecture of the information technologies that we daily employ.
During my second of three years as a graduate student in the MFA in the Book Arts Program at the University of Alabama, I became increasingly aware of this disconnect.  In response, I started to explore free and open-source software, with a focus on its contemporary relationship to making art. I found inspiring projects such as Access Space, GOTO10 and Open Source Embroidery.  I discovered alternatives to proprietary software, including OpenOffice, Gimp, Scribus and Processing.  I found initiatives such as the Free Software Foundation, the Open Source Initiative, and Creative Commons, as well as entire operating systems, including Linux and GNU. 
Amidst all of this discovery, I simultaneously embarked on an arduous journey – a rite of passage known as the creative thesis project. At the University of Alabama, the goal of the MFA in the Book Arts Program is “to introduce the student to the various and interrelated aspects of the books arts including letterpress printing, bookbinding and related structures, hand papermaking, and history of the book.”  With my thesis, I was required to evidence this body of knowledge. I was also determined to explore the potential for integrating FLOSS into that process, inviting my colleagues to consider the importance of software as an “interrelated aspect of the book arts.” 
To this end, I founded the Open Edition project in the spring of 2009. Open Edition is an ongoing project, committed to exploring the philosophy of FLOSS through the medium of the artist’s book. In this exploration, the artist’s book is considered both for its potential as a free information technology and as a free cultural work.  As such, Open Edition is an attempt to extend the FSF’s “four essential freedoms” to the users of the artist’s book, integrating FLOSS with the art of making books by hand.  Open Edition advocates for the understanding and use of free software, particularly in the book arts community, by supporting relevant practice, scholarship and pedagogy.
My first step after founding the project was to establish a wiki, which would serve as the organizational hub for Open Edition, providing a means for experimentation and a forum for discussion.  In the spring of 2009, I began inviting colleagues and friends to visit the wiki, which I created using PBworks and eventually migrated to MediaWiki upon my discovery that PBworks was not a FLOSS wiki engine.  My intention at this point was to generate interest in the project and to build a community of invested participants. I posed questions including, “What is the definition of a free book?” and “What is the source code of an artist’s book?”  I also began building a list of links on the wiki to provide a set of resources for anyone interested in integrating FLOSS with the art of the book.
In the middle of the 2009 spring semester, as project planning and wiki migration ensued, I was invited to submit a proposal for summer residency at Asheville BookWorks, a book arts studio located in Asheville, NC.  I was eager to dive into a physical exploration of the ideas that I had been absorbing, and I was also ready to synthesize the growing energy around the project into a concentrated burst of activity. As such, I took the invitation as an opportunity to organize Fibre Libre: Open Source Papermaking, the first Open Edition event.
I chose to focus on papermaking for this first event, both because it is a logical first step in the process of bookmaking, and because I saw great potential in the papermaking process as a means for thinking through the structure of FLOSS – fiber as source, paper as object. As such, the event was designed as an opportunity to learn about free software while learning to make paper. The proposal was accepted and the event was scheduled for the weekend of July 25-26, 2009, at Asheville BookWorks.
The papermaking studio at Asheville BookWorks had the capacity to accommodate ten on-site participants, including myself. With the wiki as a hub, I invited a group of participants who had varying degrees of papermaking experience, some with little to no experience and some who had been making handmade paper for years. After confirming on-site participation, I issued an open call to the Open Edition community to send 100% cotton clothing to BookWorks before the event, which would be cut down, soaked and beaten into several batches of fibrous pulp for the event Fibre Libre. All ten of the on-site participants contributed their clothing to the pulp, as did five more Open Edition community members who were unable to attend the event.
The workshop began on the morning of Saturday, July 25th, with a demonstration of the papermaking process. After the demonstration, we practiced making sheets together, ensuring that all participants felt confident in the process. We then began v1.1 of our Open Source Paper, with a collaboratively determined starter formula of Fibre Libre. As the workshop progressed, participants had the opportunity to alter the edition of handmade paper by changing the Fibre Libre formula and creating their own versions of Open Source Paper. We also started Fibre Libre v1.2 by charging a second vat with pulp, allowing two participants to make sheets simultaneously.
During the afternoon, emboldened by several hours of making sheets as demonstrated, an innovator emerged. He began to push the limits of our exploration, moving from openness into freedom. Our rogue papermaker began pulling fiber from vats with window screens procured from his nearby home, depositing them onto the asphalt outside the studio.
He also placed two window-screen-formed sheets to the hood of his car, which he drove around West Asheville, experimenting with a mobile alternative to the traditional process of pressing and drying the sheets under weight.
Our rogue meticulously documented his process, recording to fractions of a minute the timing of his iterations, and photographing each step in the making of his derivative works.
The asphalt sheets were forgotten for days after the workshop, rained upon and neglected. Upon discovery, I carefully lifted the sheets, discovering that small shoots of vine had worked their way through the fiber and integrated themselves into the paper. The car hood experiment is ongoing to this day, over six months since the workshop. Small specks of fiber still cling to the paint of our rogue’s Volvo station wagon.
As is abundantly clear from these examples of derivation, the edition of handmade paper resulting from our workshop was variable and dependent entirely on choices made by the participants. More subtle evidence of these choices can be observed in the shifting color, weight and texture within each version of the Open Source Paper.
Upon conclusion of the workshop, we pressed and dried our two-hundred-plus sheets, broke and spent a few hours cleaning and reflecting on the experience. We parted ways the next morning, with a celebratory brunch and the promise of further opportunities for collaboration in the fall.
During the following week, I collected the sheets, our notes, several bags of remaining clothing, and an impressive collection of dried pulp from the studio. After debriefing and thanking the folks at BookWorks, I packed up my car and made my way to Tallahassee, where I had been invited to serve as the Resident Artist at Florida State University’s Small Craft Advisory Press (SCAP) for the 2009-2010 academic year. 
Upon arrival in Tallahassee, I prepared for the next step in my creative project production by sitting in on a graphic design course at FSU. The course, Computational Design, was taught by professor Meg Mitchell, and focused on the basics of Processing.  “Processing is an open source programming language and environment for people who want to program images, animation, and interactions. Initially developed to serve as a software sketchbook and to teach fundamentals of computer programming within a visual context, Processing also has evolved into a tool for generating finished professional work.”  After sitting in for several months of demos and discussions, I was able to start writing my own programs with Processing.
For my creative thesis project, I designed a simple program with which I could generate data visualizations based on the progression of events at the Open Source Papermaking workshop. I decided to employ Bezier curves to visually represent each of the fifteen on and off-site Fibre Libre participants. I chose this imagery because the mathematics of the Bezier curve are central to the architecture of digital illustration. In addition, the shapes made possible by the Bezier curve lent themselves well to creating a visual narrative, reminiscent of the changing landscape that we navigated during the workshop.
After finalizing the program, I invited the Fibre Libre participants to try their hands at Processing to create a Bezier curve that would visually represent their involvement in the workshop.
Another instance of participatory content generation, this invitation also provided the opportunity for me to introduce the project participants to Processing, a free software resource that I believe has great potential, specifically when integrated with the art of the book. As a result of this exercise, each Fibre Libre participant generated his or her own Bezier curve and shared Processing code with the group.
From the code and imagery generated via Processing, I created a digital landscape that visualized our collective process and the community formed during the event. I used Scribus, a free desktop publishing software, to order the images and prepare them for negative output.  I then used the negatives to make a series of photopolymer plates, which I printed on a flatbed letterpress at SCAP.
The text of the book involves two mirrored strands of data, and was also printed on the letterpress with digitally generated photopolymer plates. One strand is constructed from the Bezier curve codes generated by the Fibre Libre participants, and the second strand features documentation of the papermaking process.
In both cases, the text serves as a representation of the story’s information architecture – the source code of both the handmade paper and the images created by the group. In sum, the printed matter serves as an archive of the project, a narrative of our process, and a potential guide for readers to use as a point of departure for their own experimentation.
I designed the binding structure for Fibre Libre with the intention of physically manifesting the information architecture of FLOSS. The Bezier curve imagery and handmade paper serve as two versions of the object code of the book, and the text, situated behind the images and paper, provides the source code for the book.
I chose a structure that requires interaction and invites experimentation – a hybrid accordion/pamphlet that can be dismantled and bound again, providing users with the FSF’s “four essential freedoms,” translated for use with the book form:
The freedom to use the book, for any purpose (freedom 0). The freedom to study how the book works, and change it to make it do what you wish (freedom 1). The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2). The freedom to distribute copies of your modified version to others (freedom 3). 
The inclusion of a copyleft statement on both the project wiki and the acknowledgements page of the resulting artist’s book requires that these freedoms remain intact, inviting users to engage these freedoms as they see fit.
Upon completion of the book, I began to consider methods of distribution. In the past, when I finished a book, I would price it using a loose formula based on numbers of pages, colors and hours. I would then post the book on my website and provide copies to a small group of trusted distributors, most of whom focus their efforts on placing artists’ books in library collections across the country. With Fibre Libre, I wanted to more closely consider the avenues for distribution and their relationship to the Open Edition project goals.
How could I provide free access to a book produced in a limited edition of only fifty copies? I provided each of the fifteen participants with a copy of our collaborative creation. In addition, I provided copies of the finished piece to the archives at my graduate program, Asheville BookWorks and SCAP. With the remaining thirty-some copies, my goal was to ensure that the books would make their way into collections where they would be enlivened by use. I considered offering the books as donations to institutions that would agree to facilitate and fund workshops in papermaking, FLOSS, letterpress printing and/or bookbinding. I also considered offering packages to institutions interested in offering a presentation and/or workshop, with the book included in my artist’s fee. Discussing these options with institutions and distributors, I ran into prohibitive walls of hierarchy and red tape. Communication channels were too complicated, I was told, to accommodate these models that required explicit collaboration and sharing of funds between departments. In the end, with “free” as in “free speech,” not as in “free beer” as my mantra, I decided to price and distribute the book as usual, with an explicit commitment of all proceeds from sales of the book to the Open Edition project.  Per my usual practice, I saved several copies of the book for teaching and exhibition purposes.
After sorting out these physical and institutional restrictions inherent to the distribution of a limited edition artist’s book, I redirected my energy toward the wiki as a means for open access to the project. During the course of production, I had built an introductory page for Open Edition, and a project-specific page for Fibre Libre, with an overview of the project and a selection of images illustrating production.  In addition, I created a page to represent the physical book, with images of the entire book and scans of each opening, all available for free download from the site.  Though an imperfect, distanced representation of the piece, it would allow unlimited digital access to the book, opening it up to the four freedoms of use, study, redistribution and modification/distribution.
Currently, I am in the process of uploading images and videos that document each project step, from papermaking to designing to printing to binding. I am also creating detailed instruction sheets that can be downloaded from the site, providing points of departure for anyone interested in creating derivatives of the work. I will eventually upload my own derivative works, ranging in form from single images to animations to interactive applets, and invite all members of the Open Edition community to do the same. My hope is that the wiki will eventually function as a center for learning and experimentation, inviting a collective exploration of FLOSS and its relationship to the book as an art form.
Free the Book
In The Craftsman, Richard Sennett asserts that “people who participate in ‘open source’ computer software…are a community of craftsmen to whom the ancient appellation of demiergoi can be applied.”  Etymologically, Sennett explains, this appellation, employed by Hephaestus in Ancient Greece, combines “public” (demios) with “productive” (ergon).  This name stands in stark opposition to cheirotechnon, Aristotle’s later term for craftsman, “which means simply handworker,” separating craft from the community and limiting it’s utility to that of technical skill.  With Open Edition I hope to re-identify with the demiergoi by integrating FLOSS with the art of the book and emphasizing bookmaking as a “public craft.” 
Of course, as is true within the FLOSS community, there is a tension within this intention that is difficult to resolve. Bookmaking with a focus on community building and freedom of information can easily come into conflict with “a focus on achieving quality, on doing good work.”  This “structural problem [of] how to reconcile quality and open access” was very present throughout the process of completing Fibre Libre.  Upon revisiting some of the video footage from our workshop, I realized that I was a bit of an open-source tyrant as the project facilitator. Forcing collective decision-making and structured process, I ensured that moments of derivation would be few and far between, unless an innovator, such as our rogue, was determined to emerge.
In addition, my open invitation for participants to experiment with Processing seems very closed in retrospect. Participants were instructed to vary only the RGB values and control points of their Bezier curves, in order to generate images for inclusion in the book. My justification for this was an avoidance of the chaos that could ensue in the bed of the press if opportunities for derivation were left completely open. I could not bear to release that much control of the resulting images, as I had a vision for the piece and vested interest in its aesthetic qualities.
Finally, due to time restrictions imposed by my schedule for thesis completion, the processes of printing and binding the book were completely closed. Though the wiki opens up these steps via documentation and instruction, it does so retroactively, working back from the finished piece. Moving forward with the Open Edition project, I look forward to opening up these steps, involving the community in every part of book production.
Coming to terms with the tight grip I held on this purportedly free process, I am reassured by the fact that this first Open Edition experiment embodies many of the strengths and struggles experienced by the FLOSS community. In the same way that one’s first attempt to use free software is often accompanied by a simultaneous feeling of freedom and utter confusion, encountering Fibre Libre evokes a similar response. It’s simple – a book that tells the story of a group of people, learning about free software while learning to make paper. It’s complicated – a ubiquitous structure that is uncharacteristically malleable and dynamic, housing a language that is at once familiar and initially unintelligible.
The project is idealistic and the book necessarily flawed, version 1 of what I hope will be an ongoing experiment of “problem solving and problem finding.”  In the end, as is true with all FLOSS endeavors, the only truly relevant measure of the project is the extent to which it creates “capacity for production elsewhere”. 
1. Richard Sennett, The Craftsman (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), 26.
2. Simon Yuill, “All Problems of Notation Will be Solved by the Masses: Free Open Form Performance, Free/Libre Open Source Software, and Distributive Practice,” in FLOSS+Art, eds. Aymeric Mansoux and Marloes de Valk (GOTO10, 2008), 83.
3. Free Software Foundation , “The Free Software Definition,” http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html (accessed November 17, 2010).
4. The University of Alabama ,“MFA in the Book Arts,” http://www.bookarts.ua.edu, (accessed November 17, 2010).
5. Access Space, http://access-space.lowtech.org/doku.php (accessed November 17, 2010); GOTO10, http://goto10.org/ (accessed November 17, 2010); Open Source Embroidery, http://www.open-source-embroidery.org.uk/osembroidery.htm (accessed November 17, 2010).
6. Open Office, http://www.openoffice.org/ (accessed November 17, 2010); Gimp, http://www.gimp.org/ (accessed November 17, 2010); Scribus, http://www.scribus.net/ (accessed November 17, 2010); Processing, http://processing.org/ (accessed November 17, 2010).
7. Free Software Foundation, accessed November 17, 2010, http://www.fsf.org/; Open Source Initiative, accessed November 17, 2010, http://www.opensource.org/; Creative Commons, accessed November 17, 2010, http://creativecommons.org/; Linux, accessed November 17, 2010, http://www.linux.org/; GNU, accessed November 17, 2010, http://www.gnu.org/.
8. “Guidelines for the MFA Creative Project, Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in the Book Arts Program,” (curriculum, MFA in the Book Arts Program, School of Library and Information Studies, College of Communication and Information Sciences, University of Alabama, 2009), 2.
9. “Guidelines for the MFA Creative Project, Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in the Book Arts Program,” 2.
10. Definition of Free Cultural Works, “Definition,” http://freedomdefined.org/Definition (accessed December 12, 2010).
11. Free Software Foundation, “The Free Software Definition.”
12. Open Edition, “Main Page,” http://flatbedsplendor.com/wiki/index.php/Main_Page (accessed December 12, 2010).
13. MediaWiki, http://www.mediawiki.org/wiki/MediaWiki (accessed December 12, 2010); PBworks, http://pbworks.com/ (accessed December 12, 2010).
14. Open Edition, “Free Book Definition,” http://openedition.pbworks.com/w/page/12955614/Free-Book-Definition (accessed December 12, 2010); Open Edition, “Source Code of an Artist’s Book,” http://openedition.pbworks.com/w/page/12955623/Source-Code-of-an-Artist%27s-Book (accessed December 12, 2010).
15. Asheville Bookworks, http://www.ashevillebookworks.com/ (accessed December 12, 2010).
16. Small Craft Advisory Press, http://smallcraftadvisorypress.art.fsu.edu/ (accessed December 12, 2010).
17. MegMitchell_teaching, “Computational Design,” http://www.megmitchell.com/wordpress/?cat=6 (accessed December 12, 2010).
18. Processing, “Cover,” http://www.processing.org/ (accessed December 12, 2010).
20. Free Software Foundation, “The Free Software Definition.”
21. Free Software Foundation, “The Free Software Definition.”
22. Open Edition, “Main Page;” Open Edition, “Fibre Libre,” http://flatbedsplendor.com/wiki/index.php/Fibre_Libre (accessed December 12, 2010).
23. Open Edition, “Books,” http://flatbedsplendor.com/wiki/index.php/Books (accessed December 12, 2010).
24. Sennett, The Craftsman, 24.
25. Sennett, The Craftsman, 22.
26. Sennett, The Craftsman, 22.
27. Sennett, The Craftsman, 24.
28. Sennett, The Craftsman, 25.
30. Sennett, The Craftsman, 26.
31. Yuill, “All Problems of Notation,” 83.