Real-Time Legend

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Image: Sonia Sheridan, Color-in-Color I, II/Sonia Sheridan, 1970

Let's admit it. Many of us have done it. You simply lift the lid on the photocopier, press your face (or other body part) against the glass, and hit "print." Sonia Sheridan has made an art out of this form of self-portraiture. The phenomenon of artists using the oft-overlooked tools around them is one with a long tradition. Think of Lillian Schwartz and the computers that surrounded her at Bell Labs, or Sadie Benning and the toy camera her father, James Benning, gave her. The list is long. And there's something about the convergence of play and experimentation that has made work like this a locus for forwarding new media. In Sheridan's case, it's partly a result of a deep attunement to the relationship between industrial methods and creative drives that has persisted for over sixty years. She was the beneficiary of a 3M residency program which allowed her to make work with equipment like their Thermo-Fax and Color-in-Color machines. In the legendary Jack Burnham-curated exhibition, "Software" (Jewish Museum, 1969), Sheridan allowed viewers to play with these machines, as well. The resultant work enabled her to comment on the compression of time in the conception-to-realization process, positioning her as an early theorist of "real time" art-making and communication. Meanwhile, her art projects helped establish the aesthetics of electronic graphics, while simultaneously pushing the formal boundaries (light, line, color) of seemingly simple systems and drawing these experiments into more and more complex generative systems. Like many artists of her generation opening up new tools, the body became a common site of investigation, and the images she continues to make reflect the metamorphosis of the body in relationship to machines. The Daniel Langois Foundation maintains an extensive archive on Sheridan, where perusing catalogues, essays, images, video interviews, and other research documents will catch you up to speed on one of the most important artists ever to make use of machines. There you'll also discover that Sheridan's contributions to the world are not limited to the production of thoughtful, beautiful pictures, but also include groundbreaking pedagogical innovations. In 1970, she founded the Generative Systems program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, which became an international model for new media education. The spirit of the program lied in a belief that science, art, and technology are inherently intertwined. Looking at her work provides sublime proof of this truism. - Marisa Olson