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Writing > Essays

Singular Multiples: Artists’ Books from the Copy Machine

The introduction of new technologies in the art world has been greeted by our societal misgivings since the beginning of the Industrial Age: the fear of a de-emphasis of the human, questions of individuality, thought and creativity. These doubts concerning loss of control and mass production are quickly dashed by the highly individual bookworks produced with copy machines by the eight artists in the Copier Books at MCBA exhibition. The copy machine allows for endless variations on how a particular page can be printed. As in any medium, the artist must develop a working relationship with the copier as a tool. Control comes with familiarity, which in turn encourages the artist to let go, to be open to surprise and incorporate it. Limitations can be pushed for an effect, and effects can be exaggerated. As with any tool, it is the combination of its inherent possibilities with the skill and vision of the person using it that produces art rather than just a product. It is in both selection and execution that these artists produce idiosyncratic, personal work. These books stretch beyond our narrow assumptions about technology to reveal a broad range of human emotions, concerns and stories.

The limitations of the black and white copier are used to an aesthetic advantage by Betsy Davids. When an image is copied, then the copy is repeatedly copied, the image loses its definition as it breaks down. This degenerative process is integrated with the concept of Davids’ Dreaming Aloud, Book One. A photo of a sleeping woman, striated into the short, curvy lines that are indicative of the process, softly punctuates the frame of the text block on each page. The recurring picture tosses and turns along the margins, a patterned visualization of falling into sleep and dreams. The dream sequences are retold as non-fictionalized vignettes. Comparing the inner life to clouds reflected on a lake in the north woods, Davids writes that they are “perfectly clear, perfect illusions, and on their own terms perfectly real. I’d like my dream writing to be like that.” The clarity of her writing is appropriately complemented by the shadowy dreamer.

Published as the exhibition catalog for Copier Books, curated by Betty Bright for Minnesota Center for Book Arts, September 8-November 3, 1990