Willow Patterns has been selected for the ISEA 2015 exhibition in Vancouver 14-18 August 2015. Read more about it here. In 2012, one of if:book's most ambitious projects to date took a book from concept to print within a single twenty-four hour period. The race around the clock produced a collection of interdependent stories about a library, a flood, missing children, and a vase. It was called Willow Pattern.
Because the book had been written online using the platform, Pressbooks, we were able to collect every change made to the stories in progress. Every save, whether made consciously by the writer or surreptitiously by the system, was captured and stored in a database.
Last year, we cracked open that database and made it free to browse, search and download the data. We explored the numbers behind the book's creation, drawing stories from graphs and making connections between the book's content and it evolution. We then invited a group of poets and students to conceive and create 'remixes': artistic responses that relied less on the book as a finished product and more on it as a process, a series of alphanumeric strings to be pulled apart and reordered.
We called this extended database version of the book Willow Patterns. Plural.
Through it all, though, was a desire to represent the project beyond a 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 database in print.
And so, today, we present Willow Patterns: The Complete 24-Hour Book. This collection reproduces every version of every story from the 24-Hour Book project and lays them out in ink and paper and in chronological order.
Willow Patterns is printed on 234 x 156mm cloth hard cover. At more than 17,000 pages, the complete work is a little over 1.1 metres long.
Its twenty-eight volumes are colour-coded by hour providing insight into how the work ebbed and flowed over the project's duration.
The volumes themselves also represent an hour, except between 9:00pm and 1:00am where the sheer mass of work would not fit into a single book. These volumes are divided into half hours.
The cover and continuous spine design is by Benjamin Portas, who was also responsible for the book's original cover.
The cover design riffs off elements of the original Willow Pattern cover while also using minimalist design to indicate the book's time frame.
The set does not use volume numbers, but rather times on the 24-hour clock, beginning with 1200.
Internally, the book uses strict chronological order. Each version is identified as either an autosave (captured by the system) or a revision (a deliberate save by the author).
Pages are not numbered sequentially, but rather identified by their time.
The text is set in 8-point Baskerville. We chose to present the data in columns, as befitting a large multi-volume work.
This is not light reading
Strictly speaking, this is not reading at all.
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? We suggest it is all these things.
If the future of the book includes print as an aesthetic choice, then we must consider who makes that choice and to what end. Such a future must surely 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.
Follow the rabbit hole
Explore the full gallery of images at if:book's Flickr account.
The book is currently on display at the Queensland Writers Centre, level 2, State Library of Queensland.
The original book Willow Pattern is still available to read on your preferred device.
The complete database, in actual database form, is still online and explorable.