December 9, 2005

The Agrippa Files

by Nick Montfort · , 11:33 pm

Agrippa, small edition Tonight red lanterns are battered, laughing, in the mechanism. The Agrippa Files, a site fashioned as part of it Transcriptions Project at UCSB, has gone online, documenting the 1992 Agrippa (A Book of the Dead) – the 1992 collaboration between artist Dennis Ashbaugh, author William Gibson, and publisher Kevin Begos, Jr.

Read on for news from the press release.

The Agrippa Files is a scholarly site that presents selected pages from the original art book (with the permission of the publisher); a unique archive of materials dating from the book’s creation and early reception; a simulation of what the book’s intended “fading images” might have looked like; a video of the 1992 “transmission” of the work; a “virtual lightbox” for comparing and studying pages from the book; commentary by the book’s publisher and scholars; an annotated bibliography of scholarship, press coverage, interviews, and other material; a detailed bibliographic description of the book; and a discussion forum.

Background: Originally published in 1992, Agrippa (A Book of the Dead) was a limited edition art book that contained double-column pages of DNA code laid out to allude to the Gutenberg Bible, copperplate aquatint etchings by Dennis Ashbaugh alluding to DNA gel patterns (some overprinted with antique newspaper advertisements of technological artifacts), and a “disappearing” poem about memory, family, youth, and mechanisms by William Gibson (on a read-once-only, self-encrypting diskette). During the rise of the Internet and Web in the early 1990s, the poem and book were read as marking a symbolic transition from the codex book to digital media. But in all this time, the physical book itself has rarely been seen.

The Agrippa Files was developed for the Transcriptions Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara, by a team from the English and Comparative Literature departments: Alan Liu, Paxton Heymeyer, James Hodge, Kimberly Knight, David Roh, and Lisa Swanstrom.

The launch of The Agrippa Files coincides with the anniversary of the Dec. 9, 1992, simulcast (“The Transmission”) of images and readings from the original work at The Kitchen in New York City and other locations.