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Not just a Photocopier: Exploring CopyArt through Rita Keegan’s practice

Visit Photocopying Yourself into History, an exhibition which gives insight into the organisation, Community CopyArt, and Rita Keegan’s practice. You’ll find the exhibition in Buchi Emecheta Space at Goldsmiths Library Second Floor, 20th July – 8th October 2021.

While exploring the Women’s Art Library, particularly the Women of Colour Index Group Art Shows, I came across a folder on “Community CopyArt.” Looking through the pamphlets and posters, I learnt that Community CopyArt was founded in 1983 with a grant from the Greater London Council (GLC), as an arts collective located in Kings Cross. The organisation used photocopying or “CopyArt” as a new medium of communication which combined elements of photography, collage and graphic arts with the technology of photocopiers. This is exactly what I had been embodying in the decolonising project that I undertook at Special Collections and Archives – photocopying material from: books, zines, archives within the existing collections or from outside, which is brought together in new folders by themes. This method of duplicating, deconstructing and reconstructing through photocopying, allowed me to bring together a community-based archive by arranging material thematically which challenges the conventional way of organising and collecting.

Community Copy Art Poster, Women’s Art Library, Women of Colour Index, Group Shows, ‘Through Our Black Eyes’, 1988

Here’s why CopyArt has caught my deep interest – it’s the versatility of and scope of using the photocopier as a tool for anything ranging from: publications, posters, art to liberation movements. Turns out, Rita Keegan, founder of the Women of Colour Index at the Women’s Artist Slide Library (later the Women’s Art Library) was an important part of Community CopyArt. According to her, the organisation had two main aspects. One was to work with community organisations in creating their own publicity, making an affordable resource center. The other, was helping artists use the photocopier as a printmaking medium. What is more astounding is her art practice which features experimentation with lens-based media, using the photocopier and computer in both 2D and installation work. Naomi Pierce explains how Rita utilised the photocopier as an affordable and transportable tool, one that would enable her to pursue her art practice without a studio or a permanent apartment. Furthermore, her initiatives bifurcated into understanding the challenges affiliated to Black Women’s art practice and the importance of enabling visibility. In the 1985 Black Visual Arts conference she says “Black women have always been active in the arts. It’s just we have never been recorded.” So, Rita’s involvement in records and her passion for recording comes alive in her use of the photocopier, connecting these concerns to her work within organisations such as Community CopyArt. Naomi Pierce appropriately articulates Rita’s use of the machine as using a time travelling device. Through cutting, applying heat and light, she inserts herself into the past, putting an old photo with a new one, making composite connections, giving a new life to the images to make them your own, and in Rita’s words, “photocopying yourself into history.” Through our Black Eyes was a photocopy exhibition organised in 1988, which explored the theme of Black Women’s experiences of living in Britain. Exhibition workshops were held by Rita Keegan and Marlene Smith for the community.

Through Our Black Eyes, Women’s Art Library, Women of Colour Index, Group Shows, ‘Through Our Black Eyes’, 1988

Thus, long before computer programmes and design apps made digital design and manipulation a common occurrence, the photocopy machine offered varied ways to transform images. Artists started making use of innovative techniques in a genre which became known as photocopy art or Xerox art. Experimenting with montage, distortion and transformation became an attraction for many artists. This resulted in engaging visual results. Similar to the Community CopyArt workshops, artists used techniques of reducing or enlarging images, making changes to the hue and tone of the original colour and moving the original to achieve variations in visual imagery. In 1981, American artist, Louise Neaderland founded a non-profit group called the International Society of Copier Artists, intended to promote the work of Xerox artists who used the above methods to make art using photocopy. Most importantly, the ISCA advocated for the recognition of copier art as a legitimate art form. Below is an image of a Photocopy Art zine made by ‘The Rapid Publisher’ accessed from Sherwood Forest Zine Library.

Photocopy Art zine made by ‘The Rapid Publisher’ accessed from Sherwood Forest Zine Library.

The photocopier also had a high democratic potential. Changing the political landscape, the machine provided minority groups and smaller political parties a chance to be heard by the mass public. Important messages were able to be copied in thousands and distributed across regions. Community CopyArt initially provided access to four photocopying machines, an image library as well as equipment such as typewriter and badge maker. It ran workshops for activist and community groups which produced photocopied materials for events such as the 1986 Anti-Apartheid Demonstration. The organisation was committed to political and social issues while reiterating that the machines were open access, to be used as a resource and not simply a cheap alternative to a high street print shop.

As I learn more about Rita’s photocopy art practice and Community CopyArt, while embodying this method in my own archive project, I am beginning to realise the resourcefulness of the photocopier. I have been able to achieve the power of creating new archives by pulling aspects from existing collections through photocopying and create learning resources by bringing together ephemera in a theme-wise collection. This method has become a way to reinterpret and revise histories; change narratives in a certain way which favours the communities.

Adya Jalan, Decolonising Projects 2021

 

Bibliography  

Women’s Art Library, WOCI, group shows.                                               

Pierce, Naomi. “Remember me?” In Mirror Reflecting Darkly: The Rita Keegan Archive. London: Goldsmiths Press, 2021. https://www.gold.ac.uk/goldsmiths-press/publications/-mirror-reflecting-darkly-the-rita-keegan-archive/   

https://www.metamute.org/editorial/articles/rita-keegan-digital-diversity-and-colour-computers 

https://asl-group.co.uk/how-photocopiers-changed-the-way-we-work/ 

Creative Conversations: Black Women Artists Making & Doing Symposium

Creative Conversations: Black Women Artists Making & Doing Symposium, was held at the University of Central Lancashire, 16-17 January 2020. The Symposium was organised in celebration of the many achievements of Prof. Lubaina Himid, CBE, RA.

In January, a lifetime ago it seems, I visited the University of Central Lancashire to attend a symposium dedicated to Black women’s creativity organized by the university’s Institute of Black Atlantic Research. Titled Creative Conversations: Black women artists making doing, the event was inspired by Professor Lubaina Himid, not only as an acclaimed academic, but as an internationally recognized artist, mentor and activist archivist. The conference began with Professor Himid taking her place at the lectern with a stack of well-read books, and from there initiating a rich and varied conversation on creativity, influences, phases of activity, reflection and resistance. For me she launched the conference in a way that made the rest of the event feel like a once-in-lifetime conversation. The photographer Ingrid Pollard, instead of visual work, recreated her creative world through a playlist of spoken word and music, ranging from Kathryn Tickell’s Northumberland Voices to Ayanna Witter-Johnson, Gertrude Stein, Shakespeare, Ust Folk music and Nona Hendryx. Contributors to the first day’s proceedings were an intergenerational pantheon of black cultural practitioners and academics working in the UK including Marlene Smith, Christine Eyene, Jade Montserrat and Evan Ifekoya ending with an evening event featuring a conversation between Lubaina Himid and Jackie Kay, led by Zoe Whitley.

The second day featured presentations by academics and researchers including Zoe Whitley, Ella S. Mills, Anna Arabindan-Kesson, Alan Rice, Griselda Pollock, Catherine Grant and to end the day with an extraordinarily moving presentation that summed up the event’s resonance with the audience, Ego Ahaiwe Sowinski.

Before returning to London, we managed a quick visit to the Making Histories Visible archive based on a collection project instigated by Lubaina Himid who gave a tour. I was thrilled to see original artwork by Maud Sulter in the study space.

What is additionally inspiring is how the archive is linked to the printmaking workshop as part of the Centre for Contemporary Art at UCLAN providing the means to support practice inspired by the archive.

https://makinghistoriesvisible.com/

New books brought back for the Women’s Art Library (WAL) in Special Collections include three publications on the work of Lubaina Himid including the newly launched Inside the Invisible, an anthology Memorialising Slavery and Freedom in the Life and Works of Lubaina Himid. Also featured in this photo is the excellent zine ROOT-ed produced by Liverpool-based Amber Akaunu and Fauziya Johnson. I was fortunate to also pick up a copy of work by Jade Montserrat commissioned for Art on the Underground. As part of her practice of taking provocative intimate messages into public spaces, Montserrat explained that the leaflet contained an appeal related to her search for her father. The leaflets distributed throughout the London Underground. https://www.thefourdrinier.com/art-on-the-underground

Video recordings of presentations are now accessible online if you visit the Institute for Black Atlantic Research (IBAR) website at https://ibaruclan.com/ using Internet Explorer or Google Chrome.

Written by Althea Greenan, The Women’s Art Library, Curator

Spotlight on the Women’s Art Library

Spotlight on the Women’s Art Library

The Women’s Art Library collection was established in the 1970s to enhance public knowledge of the practice, impact and achievement of women artists. Gifted to Goldsmiths in 2003, it has become the principal collection relating to visual arts in Special Collections.

Dr Althea Greenan, Special Collections & Archives Curator, tells us more about the collection and her work here.

What is the history of the Women’s Art Library (WAL)?

“It was set up by a collective of women artists as the Women Artists’ Slide Library to raise the visibility of women’s art practice. Self-identified artists sent in their slides while artists and scholars documented exhibitions and the presence of women artists in historical collections such as the Imperial War Museum.

“The organization became an educational charity in 1983 and received arts funding over the next 18 years, developing the slide library into a research collection and publishing a newsletter that evolved into the internationally distributed Make, the magazine of women’s art.”

What’s in the collection?

“In addition to the 35mm slides, there are photographs, posters, videotapes, audiotapes, press cuttings, periodicals, ephemera and books and catalogues which you can find in the Library catalogue.

“There are different forms of artists’ archives – from the artistic work journals of Helen Ganly to the performance scripts of Clare Gasson’s ‘The River’. Nina Hoechtl’s artistic research is represented by a gold lamé costume, while the box marked ‘Food Art’ includes Paula Roush’s SOS biscuit, still uneaten, made with former employees at Bermondsey’s Peek Freen biscuit factory in 2004.

“One of the most critically important sections of the collection is the Women of Colour Index, built up by the artist, activist archivist Rita Keegan from the mid-1980s. It captures the emergence of UK black women artists at the time as curators and artists. The Women’s International Art Club archive is the oldest sub-collection and dates from 1900-1974. There is much more.”

Can it be viewed online?

“The WAL is catalogued like an archive in the Library’s Archive and Textiles Catalogue, and some collections, like the Mail Art box, have been photographed and can be viewed online, item by item. But there is no digitized version of the WAL that I consider a surrogate for the real thing.

“However, there is a gem of a pilot digital project that introduces seven artists represented in the WAL called the WAL App, downloadable from the Apple store. It was developed by alumna Dr Ana-Maria Herman as a platform for women artists to become more visible to each other and make the WAL archive travel. Ana is working on taking this project further to combine technology with advocacy for parity for women artists.”

What does your work involve?

“Facilitating researchers’ interaction with the materials includes teaching and listening, and a constant exploration of the WAL collection.

“I develop the collection by working with artists creating new work and oversee low budget publications like postcards and posters that will give a project an afterlife that becomes part of the WAL story.

“I oversee an exhibition programme that has connected the Kingsway Corridor space with Special Collections. It’s seen wonderful exhibitions by women artists in photography, print, installation and film as individuals or in small collectives.

“I work to make the WAL and Special Collections available to local art collectives needing support, and recently facilitated a podcasting day for the group Desperate Artwives.

“Items from the WAL are often out on loan as critical exhibitions looking at feminist art histories flourish around the country and there are items from the WAL’s Fanny Adams collection currently on show at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill.

“The WAL contributed to the excellent Alexis Hunter show here at Goldsmiths CCA. I was delighted to contribute to the show’s catalogue, adding to other articles and chapters that I have written that introduce the WAL collection to scholarly discourse.

“I’m also asked to talk in many different settings, from self-storage units to Somerset House, and see this as an important aspect of my work of advocating for the WAL and Special Collections. I’ll be speaking on feminist archives and how cultural institutions represent women’s art practice at the Royal Academy next.”

What upcoming exhibitions will the WAL be hosting?

Narratives of Protest will be in Special Collections during the month of March, featuring textile work by Connie Flynn commemorating the Suffragettes, a slide show of the activist Thalia Campbell’s protest banners, and selections from the Goldsmiths Textile Collection that include Catherine Walton’s triptych, ‘The Demo’.

“The exhibition will be an interesting backdrop to the screening on March 15 that is part of Advancing Women Artists around the Globe.

“The WAL is also featuring in an exhibition ‘Dark Energy: Feminist Organizing, Working Collectively’ at the Fine Art Academy in Vienna (29 Mar – 25 May) at the invitation of Dr Nina Hoechtl, a Goldsmiths alumna.

“There will be two installations: one featuring the project Empowered Printwork by the collaborative Sisters in Print (Ego Ahaiwe Sowinski and Aida Wilde) who worked with the WAL poster collection as part of the Goldsmiths project Radical New Cross.

“The second installation will feature a collection of films, screen-recording, art writing and prints titled Slidewalking into the Disoeuvre, which is a long-term collaborative project between myself and the artist-educator Dr Felicity Allen. The installation looks at how the WAL epitomises the idea of the archive as a dark energy that questions whose ‘knowledge can be practiced, produced, and disseminated when, where, and how?’”

How can staff keep up-to-date with what’s happening at the WAL?

“We put all our college exhibitions and events on the Goldsmiths calendar. I also have an email list to update on the wider range of activities. Just email me at a.greenan@gold.ac.uk or people can sign up to a Special Collections mailing list. Scroll down to the bottom of the page of https://www.gold.ac.uk/library/special-collections/

Special Collections is open Monday – Friday, 10am-6pm.”

Witness the wonders of the Women’s Art Library:

The Women’s Art Library at Goldsmiths is brimming with amazing material. I have been fortunate enough to browse through the archive material on several occasions. Moreover, the library has been involved with a host of prestigious events. Take for instance the PILLOWTALK exhibition at Tate Modern. The exhibition focused around pillows, engraved with images that reflected the experiences and histories of women in South London. The main aim of the exhibition was to celebrate the historic milestone of women (only those over 30 and who met a property qualification) getting the vote in February 1918, as well as the achievements of women artists. To be able to host an exhibit at Tate Modern to me spells success. I felt a part of the exhibit, even if I did just shoddily place labels on some books used in the event.

The Women’s Art Library is a place where you can get lost for hours in the pages of magazines and artists’ slides. I am particularly enamoured by magazines from the company Spare Rib. Why is it called that you ask? Don’t worry, you were not the only one to think that. At first, I thought why would a women’s magazine company name themselves after a Chinese dish? After a bit of digging, I realised the title is fitting for the magazine after all. It was originally used as a joke, referring to the Bible. Eve was formed from the rib of Adam, and so it would be assumed that women were inferior to men. The title stuck as it perfectly reflected what the magazine company was all about:Susie reversing this stereotype. You really have to read some of the magazines- they are beyond empowering. For more information about Spare Rib, please click on the link attached: https://www.bl.uk/spare-rib. Many of the topics broached are so relevant to today. One interview that really drew me in was called: Fat is a feminist issue by Susie Orbach. Susie, co-founder of the Women’s Therapy Centre in London, was a compulsive eater. She describes the unfair reality of being fat; being ordered to lose weight by going on every diet under the sun. She also links fat to power. I never would have thought that fat could represent strength, assertion and health until I read her interview. She also stated that you had to look beyond a person’s weight to uncover who they truly are. She argues that fat is commonly used by women as a means of bringing their intelligence to the forefront, instead of their beauty. Many people who lose weight said they felt like a doll, constantly drooled over by herds of men. Why must women try to hide away their physical attractiveness to be taken seriously in the work place? One has to wonder, can’t being self-indulgent be a way of showing you love your body? Restricting yourself to certain foods is just for an artificially constructed image.

SkinnyFeminism is about far more than just physical appearance. It is not as simple to define as many would like to believe. Does feminism mean equality between the sexes, or superiority of women over men? There are internal debates on every topic under the umbrella of feminism. What must a women do to be a feminist? Some would argue that having a family equals a bad feminist. They are letting their family take precedence over their career and life goals. What about if a women’s life goal is to have a family, and since when did having a family mean you were giving up your career? womanThe other side of the argument links infertility to being flawed as a woman. We need to see women as more than just mothers and objects, or feminism really is not for all women after all. The thought-provoking moments that I get every time I visit the Women’s Art Library are insane. It is true that we never really stop to think about topics unless we are exposed to them frequently.

Please visit the Women’s Art Library. Bury your head in the wealth of journals, smell the glorious aroma of history and make it a visit YOU won’t forget.

 

The blog above is written by Danielle, a history at work student, who completed a placement with Goldsmiths Special Collections.

Anne Krinsky

Krinsky

From Absorb to Zoom: An Alphabet of Actions in the Women’s Art Library is a site-specific collaborative print installation created by Anne Krinsky (supported by Arts Council England) that is on display in the Special Collections Study Space and the cabinets in the Kingsway Corridor. These are largescale digital prints, a first for Anne who is a traditional printmaker. She was inspired by archived slides, artists’ books, magazines, monographs and posters she found in the Women’s Art Library Collection.

In conjunction with her research Anne set up a blog featuring recent works by artists with documentation in the Women’s Art Library to virtually update the archive. www.annekrinskyfromabsorbtozoom.blogspot.co.uk

The show is up from 2-30 March 2015. There is an exhibition pamphlet featuring two commissioned essays and a design A4 poster featuring the Alphabet of Actions.

Women’s Arts Practices – Wikipedia Editing Event

Help the Women’s Art Library celebrate International Women’s Day by improving Wikipedia’s information on women’s arts practices.

Local Woman

We will be working with trainers kindly provided by Wikimedia UK, who will induct us into the mysteries of effective article-making for Wikipedia. With the resources of the Women’s Art Library we will be writing articles or improving on existing ones.

Bring your laptop if you have one, and the name of an individual, movement or project that deserves more attention on Wikipedia.

Places are limited. For more information please click here.

Or register directly on Eventbrite.

We hope to see you there!

Saturday 8th March, 11:00-16:00
Women’s Art Library
Special Collections
Library, Goldsmiths, University of London