Multi is a contemporary multiple by O-R-G. It is software, a (very) simple application for making faces. Working from a limited stock of punctuation glyphs, Multi tirelessly assembles various configurations.
By 1961, Italian designer Enzo Mari was already making multiples. He spent that year drawing an apple. The result, La Mela, is a large silkscreen print produced as an artist multiple by Danese Milano in 1963 and continuously since. Mari lavished time on the drawing, abolishing detail and reducing it to an essential form. He was not looking to draw AN apple, but rather THE apple -- a perfect symbol designed for the serial logic of industrial reproduction. In place of the unique work of art and its limited market, multiples used (then) contemporary manufacturing to produce many exact copies circulated as consumer products.
Although they passed as design, these multiples had other motivations. They were artworks, designed for industrial manufacture. Each was made precisely the same and this was meant to erase the hand of the artist, or at least to disperse the work's "aura" through multiplication and distribution.
Multi reconsiders the multiple 50 years later. Digital coding has superceded the mechanical assembly line and the production logic is now inverted. Mechanical reproduction (manufacturing, printing, photography) produces many exact copies from one original. The copies may be indistinguishable from each other and from their master. Digital reproduction (copying, downloading, browsing) produces not copies, but new originals.* This logic is hardcoded in the "if-then" programming constructs of software so that digital duplication reproduces instructions, not their result. Each new instance of digital code presents itself distinctly and the same program will appear differently at different times.**
At any one moment, Multi presents one of 1,728 possible arrangements, each a face built from minimal typographic furniture. Instead of many identical copies from one design, Multi is one original set of instructions constantly producing alternate versions.
Every download of Multi is traceable. Any act of digital reproduction (downloads, page views, even opening a piece of software) records who, when, and where as user data and this information is compiled to create a unique digital profile of a user. That personal data is the currency of the online economy. Multi reconsiders this as well.
Multi is distributed as a password-protected download link, sent via email when purchased in the Walker Shop. The email address is then collected and added to a running file that includes names, dates, and addresses of everyone who has bought Multi before. This data is included with the purchase of the software as a text file, and given the small audience of this niche product, may turn up some familiar names. The value of Multi increases as a network effect of the number of users who have purchased it. Every time Multi is reproduced, its data becomes richer.***
To capture this value, Multi is priced at a nominal cost of $10.00 incremented with each sale.**** A buyer of Multi is then not only consuming the product but is also consumed by it. Through all of this, Multi plows ahead, silently reconstructing himself in myriad guises, concealing the blank, machine stare that is your data staring back at you.*****
* In "Visible and Invisible Sides of Reproduction," art critic Boris Groys compares mechanical and digital reproduction. He starts from Walter Benjamin's "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," to suggest that mechanical reproduction produces exact copies of originals, while digital reproduction creates brand new originals. Benjamin suggested that what separates an original from its copy was its presence at one location in space and time. This constituted the original's aura. With digital reproduction, Groys suggests the situation is different. Every piece of data on a network has a location, identified as its URL, which points to where the bits are physically stored. When a file is digitally reproduced (downloaded, copied, browser), its data is transferred to another location with a unique address. If aura is dependent on an original's location at a specific address, then each digitally reproduced original is not a copy, but instead a new original.
** Multi is not particularly useful. Perhaps it can best be described as having what critic Umberto Eco described in 1962 as a "propositional function." Multi offers an adjustable relation, a kind of proposition -- if this, then that -- as it cycles through a constantly turning animation to produce new faces by combining existing symbols according to a definite algorithm.
*** To play fair, the first two emails included on this list are David Reinfurt, Multi's designer, and Emmet Byrne, design director at the Walker Art Center. Please be in touch with us.
***** Multi is a small software designed and programmed by O-R-G. Multi was originally commissioned by Art Papers in 2014 and is available for OS X, iPhone, and iPad. Version 2.0 with the additional data was produced for Intangibles.
When purchasing Multi, please choose the cheapest available option in the drop down menu.
Upon purchase, the buyer will be put in contact with the artist who will provide a personal download link.