if I am interested in the photocopier as office tool and drawing object/subject, I really cannot not look at Copy Art of the 1960s to c1990 >> I had known of it before, seen some pieces as well as also always understood it to be somewhere a field that was demarcated by
- mail art (cheap, circulates with ease, part of its purpose is this circulation)
- DiY/ self-organised forms of practice
- a predecessor to digital art, digital technology
- art in the age of mechanical reproduction (Benjamin), and a wider field of reproduction, printing and printmaking processes
An initial survey yields a few projects and artists, and, possibly not surprisingly, with the 1960s and 1970s thoroughly being canonised by art history these days, also a surprising number of fairly recent exhibitions (mainly group) of copy art (e.g. Xerography at Firstsite, Colchester in 2013).
In an overview of the field in the late 1980s, John Walker observes
What appeals to artists and designers about the copying process? Artists can reproduce existing images (or details of them) selected from the cornucopia of pictures supplied by the mass media simply and cheaply but exact duplication is rarely their aim. What interests them more are the opportunities for montage, distortion and transformation. In this respect any degradation of the image during copying or recopying is an advantage not a disadvantage. Artists can reduce or enlarge images and modulate their original colours schemes by changing the hue and tone settings on the machine.
Furthermore, in terms of the photographic process at play, it is notably the placing of bodies and 3D objects on the glass surface to be captured within a very shallow depth of field which provides a particular form of process:
Artists can also place their bodies on the machine and copy parts of them. Three-dimensional objects placed on the document glass of the machine are reproduced in a distorted fashion because of the machine’s shallow depth of field. In short, the artistic potential of the technology depends upon ways of exploiting it that tend to stretch its normal operations and commercial functions. (ibid)
I don’t think the photocopier as medium is my primary interest but clearly, I am interested in utilising it, pushing material through it, feeding it, receiving an object that it outputs, and yet: the copy art movement has made the potential of the commercial photocopier quite clear, explored it, appropriated it, and then moved on.
So, there remains something in the utility past an art form status, i.e., a redundant artistic movement? that resonates with some of the earlier discussions around the filing cabinet of Assignment 1.
The photocopiers under investigation are digital ones, they are Cannon (I know: as one always jams and needs frequent attention by the Cannon engineer), but I know still relatively little of the process of reproduction so far but also what remains as a potential for degradation. The interaction between object, glass plate, lens > as in dark shadows and shallow depth of field remain however and present a key characteristic, along the process of feeding empty paper as well as an object (paper or otherwise) to be copied.
Four projects and artists I looked at more closely:
Photocopy Cha Cha (Choreography for Photocopy Machine), Chel White, animation (1991)
This is quite possibly the most aestheticised of the four projects: it does copy art as medium to produce a highly visual and sensuous animation of objects and bodies placed on top of the photocopier. It reminds me of some of the early rhythm analysis choreography of Dada, such as Hans Richter’s films.
<< this is much less what interests me in the photocopier, and still: of course, this is very much how it has been used as a medium, so it would be silly to dismiss its aesthetic potential outright.
The Xerox Book
edited by Seth Siegelaub & John Wendler (1968); presenting an exhibition in book form (and thus also being book art). The artists contained in the book are Carl Andre, Robert Barry, Joseph Kosuth, Sol LeWitt, Douglas Huebler, Robert Morris and Lawrence Weiner.
There are single pages on the MoMA site here; there is a full scan of the book available here, and one of the authors, John Wendler, talks about it, and shows parts of it in this youtube clip:
Each artist provides 25 pages, the intent was initially to reproduce the book by xerox copy but this proved financially unviable and so the 450 copies are produced as offset print.
<< the projects are expansive, generative over the 25 pages each; e.g. Carl Andre kept adding a square object for each page.
<< Lawrence Weiner’s contribution intrigues me most when initially encountering the book: it is an instruction to the audience. Just a day before I had written out an instruction for the photocopier in my notebook, wondering if an instruction constitutes a piece of work, and under what conditions?
Wall Notes (1968-1982), Sonia Landy Sheridan.
This was the first I encountered and unfortunately found very little information on it, besides this reference in a brief article by David Liss (1995):
American Sonia Landy Sheridan is one of the most important and internationally recognized figures in the development of Copy Art. In l968 she was hired by the 3M Company as an artist-in- residence for the purpose of developing their colour-in-colourmachine for commercial, graphic and artistic flexibility. She began teaching the first course in the medium she refers to as “generative systems” at the Art Institute of Chicago. Sheridan’s work in this exhibition, Wall Notes (1968-82) is a large and complex four-panel document of various photocopy techniques, accompanied by detailed notes on the process. It reads like the personal pages of an artist’s sketchbook, revealing Sheridan’s techno-friendly approach to the creative proccess and its relationship to art, science and technology. Her extensive repertoire of technical innovations include experiments which involve the control of time and light exposures, resulting in the stretching and compressing of an image.
Her website provides some works of the period as well as an image but little more.
<< what intrigued me was the instructive nature of this project, its attention to process but also then how particular work processes move into an artistic register.
<< Generative systems as module on a teaching programme sounds great — this is about drawing machines (and I will keep a note for the later part of the course) but also about the question of what constitutes art – more of this in the next project.
Working Drawings and Other Visible Things on Paper Not Necessarily Meant to Be Viewed as Art (1966), Mel Bochner
Four identical folders each including 100 photocopied pages of studio notes, drawings, diagrams, on four plinths.
There is a fairly extensive documentation of the installation set up as well as the content on Bochner’s website here.
<< this as well as the Xerox book is a fairly considered ‘men in suits’ affair, as such is it just an extension of high form Modernism masculinity; evidence of particular circles and networks? Where are the counterpoints in feminist art for this?
<< the blurring between work and art in this is intriguing, and of course part of a much wider movement of the time >> the questions of appropriation and cooption are relevant
<< what is in here to move further away from drawing still? how about writing, an office work routine as a drawing? Bochner’s title is instructive for this, I feel.
David Liss (1995) Photocopy Art: who were its pioneers, Artfocus 56, https://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/eppp-archive/100/205/301/ic/cdc/waic/dissertation/daliss_copy.htm, accessed 1 March 2018
John Walker (2006/ 1989) Copy This! A historical perspective on the use of photocopier in art. Reprint in Plagiary, 1, http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.5240451.0001.003, accessed 1/March 2018