The Secret Role That Copy Machines Have Played In Modern Art

The copy machines of today get a lot of action from office temps and owners of lost dogs, but did you know that the xerox machine has played a small—but crucial—role in modern art? Xerography, a new exhibition at a UK gallery called FirstSite, explored how this 75-year-old technology has been leveraged in the most unlikely of ways.

The first greyscale xerographic image was made in 1938 by Queens-based inventor Chester Carlton, who used electrostatic charges and dry toners instead of liquid chemicals to make a print. The technique was developed by the Haloid Photographic Company, later renamed Xerox after the success of its first commercial photocopier that used the concept in 1959. The 1960s and 70s saw a boom in conceptual experimentation with this new, unexpectedly creative tool, and the introduction of full-color into the mix in the early 70s further expanded the possibilities.

Xerography’s got over 125 works on display, collecting everything from the punk stylings of Raymond Pettibon to the Xerox Book, a 1968 group show/publication that featured 25 consecutive black-and-white pages by seven artists including Sol Lewitt and Lawrence Wiener.

Part of the appeal is the seemingly scrappy, DIY nature of the art, which allows for customization in what is ostensibly a pretty impersonal format, meant for quick’n’easy mass-production. In some ways, xerox art served as a kind of predecessor to glitch art. In any event, maybe the next time your copier goes rogue you can chalk it up to its own attempt at making a creative statement. [Eye Magazine]


Xerografia originale by Bruno Munari, 1968

The Secret Role That Copy Machines Have Played In Modern Art


Xerografia originale by Bruno Munari, 1968

The Secret Role That Copy Machines Have Played In Modern Art


Banana Rag Issue #9 by Anna Banana, June 1973

The Secret Role That Copy Machines Have Played In Modern Art


Untitled by Robert Morris for the Xerox Book, 1968

The Secret Role That Copy Machines Have Played In Modern Art


Title page for the Xerox Book, 1968

The Secret Role That Copy Machines Have Played In Modern Art


Untitled (Cat Calendar) by Laurie-Rae Chamberlain, undated

The Secret Role That Copy Machines Have Played In Modern Art


Untitled by JD Williams, 2008

The Secret Role That Copy Machines Have Played In Modern Art


Untitled (Colour Xerox #30) by Jim Shaw, 1976

The Secret Role That Copy Machines Have Played In Modern Art