Read The Public newspaper review: “Do Copiers Dream of Electrostatic Sheep?”
Fast, Cheap & Easy: The Copy Art Revolution is an international survey featuring over 100 artists from the 1960s to the present who have explored the neglected and underserved role of the copy machine as a quick, affordable, and innovative method to express their ideas and to inexpensively produce and circulate them to a larger audience.
The photocopier was the first tool in the history of photography that allowed the rapid creation and the remixing of any kind of visual information. It did not take long for artists to tap into the unique imagemaking possibilities these machines offered. These pioneers, often women and other underrepresented artists, found that it was a highly democratic and pluralistic process. It allowed people to make and disseminate economical, permanent, photographic-like prints without the need of an expensive chemical darkroom or specialized training. Conceptually, the process questioned the authenticity of photographic images by making it clear that photographs are not wild things waiting to be found, but rather constructed by the maker. Makers courted chance in a manner similar to John Cage who said: “I don’t know why people are frightened by new ideas. I’m frightened of old ones.”
Copy machines meant that imagemakers had to reverse how they made pictures. Instead of taking their camera to a subject they now would bring their subject matter to the camera at a copy center where a trained operator ran the color machine or would use black-and-white copiers available in the public places such as libraries, post offices, and supermarkets. Initially this resulted in converting a solitary activity into one of artistic collaboration and information sharing. The copy machine created a new photographic realm that fostered an artistic community capable of bypassing the conventional means of production, censorship, and circulation. This sort of collaboration played off of the notions of artist collectives that continue through today that bypassed the traditional gatekeepers. As Marshall McLuhan observed “Whereas Gutenberg made everybody a reader, Xerox makes everybody a publisher.”
The low-cost simplicity of making copies encouraged people to experiment and take chances, allowing one to think it and make it. Experimentation and a kismet sensibility were at the fore as there was no established aesthetic. Prior influences, Dada, Surrealism, Fluxus artists, and others such as László Moholy Nagy, Hannah Hoch, and Ray Johnson along with contemporary graphic design trends with text, irreverent and raucous punk rock art and music, affected the maker’s psyche. Many of the individuals involved in copy art movement, especially on the West Coast, did not have traditional academic arts education. Instead, they were ingenious types whose goal was to get the counterculture concepts informing their work into circulation.
Numerous artists assumed a separate identity, acting as a forerunner of contemporary social media where people on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter may be known by a nom de plume/pseudonym (a visual double, much like a copy), generating a social identity. This also led to the founding of groups of like-minded people such as Louise Odes Neaderland’s International Society of Copier Artists and multiple maker projects, such as Barbara Cushman’s annual Xerox Calendars. However, most of the people who pioneered this new working method, such as Joan Lyons and Sonia Sheridan, have gone largely unrecognized by the art establishment.
Western New York Book Arts Collaborative (WNYBAC) will collaborate with CEPA by presenting the copy art books segment of the exhibition. Artists, including Brian Dettmer and Caitlin Cass, have made new book works for the exhibition. Book art and electro-photography portrait workshops will be offered in conjunction with the show.
A catalog is planned in conjunction with the exhibition. It will include essays by Dr. Kate Eichhorn (New School, New York), Dr. Herbert Lachmayer (curator, Vienna, Austria), and Dr. Beate Reese (Director of Kunstmuseum, Mülheim an der Ruhr, Germany).
As part of a series of activities celebrating the 80th anniversary of the invention of the first photocopier and image, this exhibition is scheduled to travel to the Kunstmuseum Mülheim an der Ruhr, Germany, and Galerie UQAM, Montreal, Canada.
Robert Hirsch is an artist, curator, and author of Seizing the Light: A Social & Artistic History of Photography; Light and Lens: Photography in the Digital Age; Photographic Possibilities; Exploring Color Photography; and Transformational Imagemaking: Handmade Photography Since 1960.
Kitty Hubbard is Fulbright Scholar and Associate Professor of Art at the College at Brockport, State University of New York. Her alternative photo-based work has been internationally exhibited and published.
Klaus Urbons is artist, curator, researcher, and writer. Urbons began learning about the arts in the “Age of Gutenberg” and discovered the copier as an artist’ instrument in 1977. In 1985 he founded the Museum für Fotokopie, an international forum for copier art and technology.
Tom Carpenter is a foremost practitioner of electrophotography who has exhibited and taught internationally. Carpenter is regarded as a leading practitioner of Electrophotography who has contributed his knowledge and work to Photographic Possibilities: The Expressive Use of Concepts, Ideas, Materials, and Processes, Fourth Edition. Most recently he taught workshops at the Whitney Museum of American Art.