"2x3: A Generative Arts Project" - Art About Making Art

A fascinating project and exhibit opening at the APE Gallery on Sunday, August 7, aims to demystify the creation and meaning of contemporary art. 2x3: A Generative Art Project is the brainchild of local artists and curators Trevor Powers and Esther S. White, and features artists Sally Clegg and Leah Mackin, as well as work by the artist collective Loculus.

Outfitted with basic office supplies – paper, a photocopier, a paper cutter, and a stapler – each artist will enjoy a two-day “mini-residency,” which will include open artist hours when members of the public can observe them at work. The project will close on Saturday, August 13 with an artist reception, public viewing of installed artwork created during the week, and live performances from the artists.

Powers and White’s names may be familiar to Valley residents who follow not only their work as artists, but also as co-conspirators on Fugitive Arts. Part of Fugitive Arts mission, as Powers describes it, is to build “a positive community around art,” by connecting artists with venues, the public, and each other. 2x3’s programming is a prime example of this model. As the artists use their residencies to create art in the APE space and the public interacts with the artists at work, the project will foster important discourse, as Powers notes, “not just about art, but about the community, and living and being an artist in the community.”

Powers and White chose to focus their project on generative art, an ideal medium to create conversation about the nature and meaning of art. The term refers to any art practice that employs the use of an autonomous system, including a computer algorithm or a machine. As such, generative art upends many of our usual expectations of art. Generative artists focus on the process, rather than the result, and the artist’s role is to create a system that can generate art spontaneously over time. As White describes it, generative art, “doesn’t look a certain way, it’s not made with particular material. It’s more about an open-ended question: What happens when you give over part of the control to a system?”

As Powers notes, the entire framework of 2x3 could be seen as a generative arts project. Metaphorically, the exhibition itself is the “system” he and White are employing, with the control given to the artists, who have no restrictions or requirements imposed on their work. However, strictly speaking, the system at play in 2x3 is the photocopier and the artists will have an opportunity to explore and develop art using this system during the course of their mini-residencies. Artists involved in the generative art movement have been using photocopiers in their work since the movement’s inception, most notably Sonia Landy Sheridan, who founded the Generative Systems program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1970.

Outfitted with basic office supplies – paper, a photocopier, a paper cutter, and a stapler – each artist will enjoy a two-day “mini-residency,” which will include open artist hours when members of the public can observe them at work.

Leah Mackin, a Pittsburgh based artist who is participating in 2x3, has been working with photocopiers since 2011. She reports, “I was initially interested in using a machine designed to make multiples to create unique works and became fascinated with the ways in which the toner would build in layers or how the images could deceive the viewers.” Mackin’s work often includes bookbinding, an interest Powers and White share. Her recent project Untitled (Book Objects), was a primary inspiration for the 2x3 project. “Her work is so accessible,” Powers notes. “You don’t need to know a lot about art to enjoy it. It’s so process-driven. She’s making art about making art.”

Powers and White are equally excited by the contributions of local artist Sally Clegg and artist collective Loculus. Speaking of Clegg, White notes her interest in bookbinding, and adds: “I’ve worked with her on a number of different experimental projects that we’ve done and she’s just up for anything.” True to White’s impressions, Clegg reports, “my time at A.P.E. will – I hope – include a night spent inside the gallery creating a book and a performance at once (that maybe no one sees, we'll see)... with the photocopier provided. I'm curious to see how it unfolds!”

The artist collective Loculus is another natural fit for 2x3. The collective creates and produces movement based performances in western Massachusetts, and publishes a quarterly journal of essays, photographs, interviews, and creative writing. During their time at the APE, they will be holding open rehearsals as well as what they describe as a “sensation based” workshop involving writing, drawing, and movement.

Loculus by Jim Coleman

Loculus performing. Photo by Jim Coleman

The final day of the project, August 13, will provide an opportunity for Clegg, Loculus, and Mackin to bring their work together, and for the public to observe the dialogue between the artists, as well as the artists’ unique responses to the project.

During an open studio and artist reception, Loculus will perform their movement-based response, while Mackin will run the photocopier and bind books from the prints created, using the paper cutter to construct geometric forms with the finished products. Clegg’s work from the week will also be on display during the reception. The performance is sure to be fascinating and dynamic, as visitors take in the sound of the copier, stapler, and paper cutter with the sight of dancers and Clegg’s work on display.

Both Powers and White are quick to express gratitude to the APE for the opportunity to use the space for such an experimental project. Describing the difference between curating art shows in a place like Northampton versus a large city like New York or Los Angeles, Powers notes the freedom afforded by the relative lack of competition in Northampton art community. Says Powers, “We don’t have that pressure. It’s a totally different environment of collaboration here,” one that focuses on “advancing our dialogues as artists. We have room to experiment.” “We live in a generous place,” says White. Generous is also an appropriate word to describe Powers and White's curatorial practice, as 2x3 demonstrates. The project offers both the artists and the public an opportunity to explore and engage with art and each other, with no expectations except respect for the process.