The Secret Role That Copy Machines Have Played In Modern Art

Illustration for article titled 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.

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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.

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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

Illustration for article titled The Secret Role That Copy Machines Have Played In Modern Art
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Xerografia originale by Bruno Munari, 1968

Illustration for article titled The Secret Role That Copy Machines Have Played In Modern Art
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Banana Rag Issue #9 by Anna Banana, June 1973

Illustration for article titled The Secret Role That Copy Machines Have Played In Modern Art
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Untitled by Robert Morris for the Xerox Book, 1968

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Title page for the Xerox Book, 1968

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

Illustration for article titled The Secret Role That Copy Machines Have Played In Modern Art
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Untitled by JD Williams, 2008

Illustration for article titled The Secret Role That Copy Machines Have Played In Modern Art
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Untitled (Colour Xerox #30) by Jim Shaw, 1976

Illustration for article titled The Secret Role That Copy Machines Have Played In Modern Art
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DISCUSSION

robshapiro002
robshapiro002

I'm surprised that the article failed to mention Xerox's contribution to cartoon animation. Prior to 1961, animation cels were hand inked - in that the ink & paint department traced the drawings onto the cels by hand using india ink. This was an incredibly time consuming process. When Disney got hold of a xerox machine, they were able to essentially 'photocopy' the drawings directly to the cels. This not only sped up production, but enabled the animator's exact artwork to be shown. It also enabled what would have been the impossible - multiple upon multiple characters with infinite details could be reproduced. The perfect example of this was the first animated feature to use Xeroxed cels, 101 Dalmatians. It would have been virtually impossible to hand ink all those dogs - plus all their spots! - without the Xerox process.