Art / by Jack Ruttan

Copy Cats

Copy art is low budget, but high tech.

Artistes de la Releve en Technologie
at the Centre Copie Art in Montreal.

In back at the sheet-metal-lined space housing the Centre Copie Art on Ontario Street is a technological antique. It's the Xerox 6500, one of the first colour copiers ever marketed. Built 25 years ago, it has basically two controls: a dial to set the colour intensity and a button to start copying. Huge and slow, the 6500 has an interesting but frightening quirk: it's the only copier that might set your copies on fire before they got to you.

So what is a dinosaur like this doing taking up room in a centre devoted to technological art? According to Clement Demers, the technician who's tended the 6500 for eight years and fixes its breakdowns, it's a machine meant for artists.

Like video and computers, photocopy machines are a technology artists have adopted which is still developing. They find these gadgets as interesting for their faults as much as for the new processes they offer. As with the 6500, rather than producing a totally slick, seamless image, parts of the making show through.

Jean-Francois Coté's enlargements of a video newscast (though produced on a Canon machine) are an example. The grainy, frozen image lets us look at the details of the newscaster's phony smile. We see now plainly that his eyes are focussed on the teleprompter rather than the viewer. These aspects which are latent in the video but brought out by the photocopier, tell us that this is an electronic fake, not real as it seems while it's happening.

Eduardo Aquino takes photocopy out onto the street, its natural environment considering all the flyers and posters on the walls. In the narrow glass frames set up on lampposts for transit propaganda, he's put mysterious purple faces. These are also video images, taken from soap operas. Unexplained, they make people walking by them feel uneasy. Perhaps it's an advertisement for some hip new product everybody knows about except us. Or is could be a Big Brother kind of warning: you're being watched.

In the small pictures exhibited in the gallery the whole intention becomes clear: The faces are mirrors of the real faces walking by. Put up on the wall, the people in the street have become images to be looked at, broken down into basics by the photocopier.

Louis Lapointe creates images assembled out of computer drawings and line illustrations from text books. His works are like scholarly lectures put down in pictures. They are completely made up of graphic information, rather than images trying to represent something else. The colours in them aren't from nature. They simply exist because he turned up the 'red' dial on the machine.

Working with broken glass and bits of transparent tape, Daniel-Jean Primeau also makes colours which don't exist except in the machine. He takes advantage of the fact the copiers work with four basic transparent inks (actually powders), laying them down on top of each other to create different hues. Where other photocopy pictures are harsh, because the colours come in dots or cover solid areas, Primeau's shades are more delicate, closer to watercolours.

 .   .   .

J.W. Stewart, at Waddington & Gorce in Montreal.

The up-market version of photocopy art can be seen in J.W. Stewart's pictures, on display at a group show at the Waddington & Gorce gallery downtown.

Photocopy has trouble getting big. That's because it's limited by the size of the glass plate the copying is done on. So most large works have to be pieced together. But collage is a technique well suited to photocopy, which picks up so many little bits of visual media.

Sometimes the limitations of the medium make this kind of work seem forced. It's as if its appearance is less a product of a vision than a desperate cry of "what do I do with this?" The elegance of Stewart's wall-sized work is a tribute to his talent.

Thanks to machines like the 6500 and different kinds of papers to copy on, there is a photocopy "look" with a particular faded charm. Rather than the sharp-focussed look of most photos, it's more like old newspapers or faded photographs. The uneven blacks are kind of endearing, where slick plasticized surfaces produced by the new machines might seem less so. Stewart's pictures are like huge, flat scrapbooks. Everything gets thrown into the pot.

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