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Today's episode has been sponsored by Squarespace. For more information, visit http://www.squarespace.com/artassignment

This week we meet D.C. based artist Molly Springfield. Molly's graphite drawings transform texts into images, and her assignment for you asks you to consider how repeating a process can turn a copy into an original. Here are your instructions:

1. Select a page from a book and make a photocopy of it
2. Make a photocopy of the photocopy and make changes, if you like, by enlarging, reducing, etc.
3. Repeat step #2 until the original has been transformed into a new image
4. Upload the final copy using #theartassignment (Extra credit if you make a work in a new medium)
5. Fame and flory (Your work might be in a future episode)

Learn more about Molly's work:
http://mollyspringfield.com/

And don't forget to subscribe for new episodes of The Art Assignment every Thursday!

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Sarah: : This episode of "The Art Assignment" is brought to you by Squarespace.

We are in Washington, DC today, and we're meeting up with the artist Molly Springfield. For the past 10 years, Molly has been making careful, laborious graphite drawings of photocopies of book pages. She draws from a wide range of texts. Among them, seminal books on conceptual art, Walter Benjamin's "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," and several translations of Proust's "In Search of Lost Time."

Her work encourages you to consider the materiality of text as not just something to be read, but as an image to be closely observed. She's interested in our individual relationships with text, and the notes, symbols, and annotations we add to chart that relationship. The marginalia archive is an ongoing work of Molly's that collects copies of inscribed pages from personal libraries and files them along with information about the participant.

Other recent works include "This Document," a book and 20-panel drawing that breaks apart and reassembles one underlined sentence from a Douglas Huebler quote as it was reprinted in Lucy Lippard's book "Six Years-- The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972." Challenging the idea of perfect reproduction, Molly's work transforms copies into originals, and shows us how books are not closed documents but could be raw material open to interpretation and translation.

Molly: Hi, I'm Molly Springfield, and this is your art assignment.

I started making my first drawings of photocopies immediately after grad school. When I first started making those, it was around 2005. I've made photocopies of books about the philosophy of language or language in arts and language in literature, and they were just basic 8 1/2 by 11, 11 by 17, straight up hand-drawn copy of the photocopy. And then it grew from there, and then things have evolved a little bit from that. But that's still a pretty solid foundation of my practice.

Even though I'm very familiar with making copies and I can make a good guess, you still never know what's going to come out. I like the parameters that a photocopier gives you. I'm not the kind of artist who responds well to having every option available. I like to have a set of parameters, and a photocopier, you could only enlarge to 400 percent at a given time,you can only darken an image so much, you can only print out on whatever paper you can load into the copier, so it has all of these built-in parameters, and you have to try to work within them, and I like that a lot.

The first step of this assignment is to pick a page from a book. It can be any kind of book, one that has personal significance for you or one that you maybe just pull at random from the bookshelf at home or in the library. Next, you're going to make a photocopy of a page from that book. And this first photocopy should be a standard 8 and 1/2 by 11 or 11 by 17 photocopy, depending on the size of your book. Then you're going to make a photocopy of your photocopy. And this time, try manipulating the settings on the copier to change the image. So you could increase or decrease the image size, you could play around with the density or sharpness settings on the copier, you could even experiment with the mirror image or positive to negative functions if you're a photocopier has those. Then, you're going to make a copy of the photocopy of your original photocopy, again playing around with the settings on the copier to change the image. And you'll continue that process until your final photocopy is a transformed image, something that looks very much removed from your original photocopy.

John: So Sarah, I often think about how important copying is to the history of the world, because is if people hadn't meticulously copied texts over millennia, we wouldn't have knowledge about, for instance, Ancient Rome.

Sarah: Mm-hm. Well, and what Molly's work does so effectively is show and sort of glorify the value in that copying, and meditating on something that is existing and that you can sit there and mull on for an extended period of time and not just copy and paste.

John: Yeah, and it does change by the act of copying it, as we're going to see in this process of photocopying a photocopy, a photocopy, a photocopy.

Sarah: Right. The kind of loss that happens over time when something is copied and copied isn't always visible, especially digitally now. But I believe whether or not you can see that kind of lost from copy to copy, it's there. And this assignment makes it visible.

John: So Sarah, now I'm interested in how photocopying has been used in art in the past. And I assume that's what today's animation is about?

Sarah: You're correct.

The dawn of the photocopier in the 1960s coincided with that of conceptual art. It found use beyond the office by artists like Mel Bochner who, in 1966, curated a show by asking his friends to submit works on paper that didn't even have to be art. The gallerist wasn't thrilled with the work and refuse to have it framed, so Bochner used a photocopier to make four sets of the drawings and presented them in binders on pedestals.

Remember, a hallmark of conceptual art is letting the idea come before the physical object, so it should come as no surprise that along came a show in 1968 that took up no space at all, existing only as a book. For their Xeroxed books, Seth Siegelaub and Jack Wendler invited seven artists to create a 25-page work to be copied and included.

Also in 1968, Ian Burn looked closely into this new means of reproduction. He began with a blank sheet of white paper, ran it through the copier, and then used that copy to produce a hard copy, and so on and so forth 100 times. Scratches and static came and went with each pass, getting darker and lighter again. Burn let the idea ruled the process. Molly is asking you to let the process be your guide, starting with a page of text and ending up who knows where.

Molly: The actual photocopies have material qualities as well, and depending on the photocopier they're going to be varying quality. If you use a photo copier in your school library that gets lot of use, that's going to make a very different photocopy then a photocopier at your dad's office that is really fancy. It's going to produce a better-quality image. So negotiating those things, as well, I think, can be really interesting. You know, what is a bad photocopy? Generally you try to avoid them, but here I'm kind of asking you to purposefully make a bad photocopy.

So we're going to leave the studio and head over to American University where I teach, and borrow the art department's photocopier to make some copies. And I'm going to bring a copy of "Six Years," which is a book I've used a lot in my work, and also a couple other novels that have text and image. I think it'll be fun to experiment with those, too.

I think you could pick a book that has personal significance. Or because the final copy isn't meant to resemble that original, you could just kind of pick a book at random. I think you could share the whole process. You could have every step that you did. Or if you would rather it be a more mysterious image, you could just have that final photocopy or final drawing or painting or whatever you ended up making.

When an image is reproduced-- and I consider text to be an image-- when something is reproduced, I think normally information is lost. And I'm interested in what happens when new technologies are adopted and what gets lost in the process of going from analog to digital. And so when I'm at the photocopier, I'm not standing there thinking about that. But it's part of what is driving the work. I want to kind of strike a relationship between the act of making a physical analog version of something that could have been done digitally. It's not 1966 anymore, we don't have to do that, but the technology is still there, and we can still use it in a way to say something about new technology now.

Sarah: This episode of "The Art Assignment" is brought to you by Squarespace.

John: Squarespace is an easy way to create a website, blog, or online store for you and your ideas.

Sarah: Squarespace features a user-friendly interface, custom templates, and 24/7 customer support. Try Squarespace at Squarespace.com/ArtAssignment for a special offer.

John: Squarespace, build it beautiful.

Molly: Maybe don't photocopy your butt.

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