A Little Talk About Reproduction
By J.R. Carpenter
From Vol. 3 No. 1, 2004
I have called myself an installation artist. I have called myself a writer. I have dabbled in photography. I have messed around with collage. But a computer programmer? Has it really come to this? I had always considered myself to be relatively “low-tech” or, at the very least, firmly rooted in physicality with a healthy distrust of all things digital. What was it then, that led me into the tangled web of hypertextuality? Was it a theoretical shift? Did substance slip away from the dis-engendered subject, the post industrial, non-traditional, site-specific, time-based performance space? Or did the lure of the non-linear and the tangential simply become too much for me?
In his essay, “What’s a critic to do?: Critical Theory in the Age of Hypertext” George P. Landow observes, “The very idea of hypertextuality seems to have taken form at approximately the same time that poststructuralism developed, but their points of convergence have a closer relation than that of mere contingency, for both grow out of a dissatisfaction with the related phenomena of the printed book and hierarchical thought.”1 Indeed, at the juncture of my visual and textual works, the bookwork was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. I found myself with dozens of book works– all too fragile to be shown in a gallery (insidiously provided white gloves notwithstanding), too visual to be published in a regular magazine, too full of text for anyone to read, too physically unique to sit properly on any shelf. Many artists have faced this problem before me and many more will again. I have been accused of being a fatalist in the face of hierarchy and perhaps it’s true. Rather than compromise on ephemerality, I cut my losses and ran.
And so it was that the bookwork drove me into the arms of the machine. Here is my story: I can’t say that I woke up one morning and found myself in bed with the computer. My love affair with art was a youthful thing, impractical and highly idyllic. But my tryst with the photocopier was fully sordid and adult. We met at the office. The photocopier made itself invaluable to me by enlarging, reducing and reproducing endlessly. I would tell my friends that I had to work late. I would stay for hours after closing, making collages seemingly out of nothing, liberated in no uncertain terms, or so I thought, from physicality and from preciousness. Guilty of white lies, laziness and copyright infringement, I would scrub my toner-stained hands before leaving the office. In her book, Enfleshings, the late (great) British artist Helen Chadwick spoke of mutability in her work with photocopied images:
“Out of the copier, no longer separate from other things, I am now limitless. The essential elementary self is gone, evaporated into a vigorous plurality of interactions. I discharge myself, time and time again, in a discontinuous flow, a passage of impossible state leaping into successive configurations. These are dynamic allegories for events to be; a spectrum of desires and impulses, willed, personalized then freely rescinded to corrupt into fresh fictions. Within each event the position of things is given, but the emotive momentum is left hanging. It may be perceived literally as an outwardly manifest reality, a mirror, or experienced by the eye alone, but will only become palpably real if felt deep within the reflexive domain of introspection.”2
More than anything, it was the fear of loosing my job that drove me from the illicit love of the photocopier into the scanner flatbed of my mistress the computer. The rush and relief of instantaneous reproduction was multiplied now tenfold. I felt the soothing balm of deliverance, salvation from the weighty responsibility of the historical density of objects in space and the possibility at last, of colour. At first my work on the computer was clumsy and, predictably, destined for print. As always, memory quickly became a problem. Forgetting how to use the machine almost as quickly as I learned, forgetting where I’d stored things and running out of disc space like nobody’s business. I would print out everything three of four times– just in case I lost something, just in case I wanted to cut something up. Ultimately, stacks of piles of folders of papers sprouted up around the house– inadequately out-put and much less luscious than collage.
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