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The Stodgy Exhibition Catalog Gets Updated For Digital Natives

For the Queens Museum's biennial, the catalog hits the sweet spot between digital and physical—and can be printed on-site at the show.

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Though the Queens International, the biennial exhibition at the Queens Museum featuring artists within the borough, opened this past April, the show's content has been growing and evolving ever since. Performances and readings are still being held in the space; musicians play live at the exhibition and film pieces are still being screened. For the museum, it's not unusual: with a focus on work that is experimental and often participatory, a static exhibition rarely fits the bill.

What's less common, however, is for the catalog to evolve along with it. Existing up to this point as a web-based platform, the biennial exhibition catalog is mutable: it updates to include post-opening performances, artist interviews, and written responses to the work. And starting this weekend, it will also be downloadable as a PDF even as curators continue adding to it. On-site at the exhibition space, visitors can print a hard copy of the catalog, on-demand, using the museum's risograph printer.

The idea, says designer and creative director Ayham Ghraowi, who was tapped by the museum to head the project, was to create a catalog that didn't just document the show but was also a part of it. Working with designers Martin Bek and Brandon Gamm, Ghraowi designed the show's logo with lettering made from equal-sized modular bits, which rotate in sequence on the site. The website itself was designed to look like a printed catalog, with content divided into left and right panels like leafs of paper in a book, as well as a retractable spine in the center. Last weekend, the museum held a workshop in which participants used the printer to generate a piece of work based on the visual identity, which in turn will become part of the catalog.

This week, ahead of the catalog launch, Ghraowi will launch a feature of the website that pulls content from the site and formats it on the fly into stylized, downloadable PDF, ready to print. According to the exhibition site, the newly purchased risograph printer "allows the publication to sit somewhere between a handmade screenprint and Xerox copy," transforming the morphing digital content into a fixed physical copy. In a digital world still obsessed with printed ephemera, the hybrid catalog offers the best of both worlds.

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