Authored by Rebecca Meng
The web presence for Experiments in Electrostatics: Photocopy Art from the Whitney’s Collection, 1966–1986 is a seamless experience tied to the physical presentation of the exhibit. The wall text introducing the exhibition is the same as the online overview and the information about featured artists on the website is the same information given on labels accompanying their work in the museum. This creates a sense of uniformity and authority—a cohesive narrative crafted by curators. A central theme in the narrative for this exhibit is how the technology of the photocopier was manipulated as a tool of expression (Whitney Museum of American Art, 2018). In order to highlight this narrative theme, an interactive tool to show the process of manipulation could help audiences understand the creative process.
While a series of on-site events related to the exhibition does explore the technology and artistic practice further, an interactive online component would allow for a broader reach. One web-based tool that could be effective in demonstrating the transformative power of the photocopier as a technological device to manipulate an image is Juxtapose, created by Knight Lab at Northwestern University. This tool essentially layers two images, allowing a user to toggle between them to see the difference (Northwestern University Knight Lab, 2018). The comparison between two versions of a collage differentiated by machine-induced effects would show the capacity for expression available in these utilitarian machines, especially for younger viewers who might not be familiar with old-school photocopiers. In addition, the toggle bar in Juxtapose mimics the light bar of a photocopy machine, giving online users a simulated experience of using the original technology. The Juxtapose tool is particularly useful in telling stories that involve clear states of before and after since its essence is direct comparison. Applying this tool to works from Experiments in Electrostatics underscores the curator’s message from the informational wall text and online overview: the photocopier as a mode of transformation and expression. Allowing online users to experience this transformation enhances understanding into what photocopy art is and how it was tied to the specific technology available.
In order to implement this interactive feature, cooperation and participation from artists in the exhibition would be essential. The “before” images would have to be alternate versions of pieces in the exhibit or photos of some of the objects used in the photocopy collages so that a viewer could see how the object was transformed by the photocopier. It is not likely that all of the artists would participate, but artists like Lesley Schiff who still live and work in New York City would be perfect candidates for collaboration. Schiff describes using the photocopier in her work as like painting and has incorporated newer printing technologies in recent years (Schiff, n.d.). Audiences interested in her artistic practice (or the practice of other photocopy artists) would benefit from the interactive Juxtapose tool by seeing the process of creation via image manipulation. Juxtapose would also interest audiences who study the particular technology of the photocopier and its effect on creation and distribution of materials.
Northwestern University Knight Lab. (2018). JuxtaposeJS. Retrieved May 6, 2018, from https://juxtapose.knightlab.com/#overview
Schiff, Lesley. (n.d.). About. Retrieved from http://lesleyschiff.com/
Whitney Museum of American Art. (2018). Experiments in Electrostatics: Photocopy Art from the Whitney’s Collection, 1966–1986. Retrieved from https://whitney.org/Exhibitions/ExperimentsInElectrostatics#exhibition-about