An aesthetic choice

Over the last two years, one of if:book’s most ambitious projects created a book from concept to print within a single twenty-four hours, extracted from that book an extensive database of edits, and turned that data over to number crunchers, artists, and poets to creative adapt and remix the work into new forms.

Through it all though was a desire to represent the project beyond its original 150-page paperback or a searchable collection of fragments. We wanted to capture the epic scale of the project and provide a sense of the undertaking in something tactile, something visceral.

We wanted to produce the entire database in print.

The result of around six months of database crunching, Willow Patterns: the Complete 24-Hour Book is a large multi-volume work that reproduces every saved version of every story in chronological order from midday to midday.

How large? Twenty-eight volumes large.

To be honest the sheer scale of the final work took me by surprise. And I was there on the day we created the original data.

For Willow Patterns, we went to town on production: hardcover tomes with a beautiful slipcover designed by the inimitable Benjamin Portas. Each volume represents a set amount of time and each hour of the project is coded by colour, meaning the viewer of the work can stand back and easily see natural ebb and flow of the writing and editing over time.

So what is this thing? A beautiful object for its own sake? A physical, tactile archive of data? A demonstration of new possibilities for print technology? A visual gag?

I would suggest it is all these things.

Bob Stein, founder of the US Institute for the Future of the Book, once told me that the decision to print will become an aesthetic choice. At first I took that to mean a choice on the part of the author or publisher, eventually I realised it is—rightly—the reader’s decision.

So if the decision to print is the reader’s aesthetic choice, then we must consider to what end the choice is made. We have to allow for the possibility of printed books designed for purposes other than reading.

To people with a passion for great reading and writing, that might sound depressing. But while Willow Patterns borrows from print’s powerful symbolism, it does not devalue the collected stories in the project’s final product. It provides information and background and provokes discussion that may lead not just to the final text, but to engagement with broader ideas around the purpose of writing and reading and the media through which we transmit them.


Willow Patterns: The Complete 24-Hour Book is on currently display at the Queensland Writers Centre. A gallery of images is also available from the if:book Australia web site.