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March 23, 2010
According to an industry report for Photocopying and Duplicating Services assembled by a research and IT data analysis firm called The Gale Group, over the course of the last decade "the number of quick-printing establishments was dwindling." At the turn of this new century consolidation in the reproduction industry had growth in copy shops at negative 5.2 percent from the previous year, while "the volume of shipments in the quick-printing industry was on the rise... up nearly 13 percent from the previous year." While the corner QuikCopy--the place to cut-and-paste garage sale fliers or print out resumes--was becoming a rarer sight, sales in the copy industry as a whole had been on a double-digit increase since as far back as 1994.

One of the reasons for both growth and consolidation in decades past was Kinko's, the chain of 24-hour copy centers that was to paper what Starbucks was to coffee in post-grunge America. But with the proliferation of home computing and the accelleration of digital media and portable printing devices, the toner-rich tape-and-glue Xerox collages of yore might be going the way of Polaroid film. At its peak of success Kinko's was consumed in an elaborate merger with FedEx, but the days since that corporate union haven't been so sunny. A recent New York Times article, the snarkily titled "Paper Jam at FedEx Kinko's," says that in the past decades "profit margins at Kinko's have fallen, revenue has barely grown and employee turnover, which was 42 percent in 2005, was still a daunting 27 percent last year." Across the way at Xerox, one of Kinko's major vendors, profits were up across the same period, but it was hardware diversification and commercial acquisitions, not the hard-slapping grindcore bassist running off reams of Rocket Red show fliers or the cute granola girl from the food co-op printing Goldenrod cardstock invitations for weekly vegan potlucks, stoking their stock prices.

Though it may seem as if a darkness looms like a cloud of toner dust over the copier industry, there are a few points of light for fans of warm, crisp photographic reproductions. Odd as it may seem on the one hand and perfectly logical on the other, a statistically inconsequential but spiritually rousing push for the copy industry is shaping up in the form of community art projects. Though it won't likely keep Paul Orfalea's curly hair from falling out on its own, one of those festive photocopying events is the upcoming Copy Jam! at Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, the art collective, store, performance and exhibition space championing "high quality work marked by fine craft and intellectual rigor" on North Third Street in Philadelphia.

The gathering, taking place from 6-9pm on Thursday, March 25th, is a one-night-only "interactive print event" sponsored by Printeresting, the blog collective behind "the thinking person's favorite online resource for interesting printmaking miscellany," a group of guys and gals who probably find in Gary Hustwit's film Helvetica the kind of encapsulating inspiration a Kevin Alfoldy finds in Transworld's The Reason or Tiltmode Army's Man Down.

Since the Copy Jam! is a one-off event, it is as much party as it is art show. During the evening "fifty works by fifty artists will be displayed in a grid on the wall" of the venue. The art of the more than four dozen artists participating in the show runs alphabetically from the letterpress prints of American to Icelandic television subtitle translator Abra Ancliffe to the toner lithographs of Kevin Haas to the silkscreen candy of Little Friends of Printmaking to the twisted chaos of Michaela Colette Zacchilli's drawings.

The point of the evening is that the event is free, and "upon arrival, each guest will be handed a complimentary ticket that can be exchanged for one black & white photocopy of any work the guest chooses." Copy Jam! comes on the heels of the similarly spirited Assembled Picture Library of New York City event at Esopus Space in New York that we wrote about last week, where for two weeks visitors participated in free-flowing collage workshops that churned out paper art from paper scraps via a set of rubber rollers and an overworked toner cartridge. While the photocopy reproduction was part of the creative process at that show, in the City of Brotherly Love the Printeresting crew will be moving the copier from the production floor to the finishing line.

Copy Jam! is affiliated with the Southern Graphics Council, the American Print Alliance member hosting the Mark Remarque conference from March 24-27. The Printeresting exhibition is part of the conference's examination of the "traditional and digital print processes (marks) [and] critical discourse important to the field (remarks)" of printmaking. With a series of museum open houses, exhibition receptions and gatherings like Copy Jam! the conference aims to "consider the concepts associated with the historical print term remarque: rarity, testing, concept amplification, and boundary extension."

That idea of rarity and individuality is what Copy Jam! hopes to foster. "There will be no sales," the event's announcement flatly states of the fifty pieces of art on display. "One ticket equals one copy," and the copies are made ready-to-order in the gallery, Kinko's style, for the three hours only. The act of making images may be "a paradigmatic artmaking process with the potential of recording all stages of the creative process" (those at the Assembled Picture Library can surely attest to the latter point), but it is also a means of creating tangible objects from fleeting moments.

Short-lived as it is individually, Copy Jam! is part of the larger Philagrafika 2010, the inaugural edition of a new annual international festival "celebrating the role of print in contemporary artistic practice." A massive undertaking, the city-wide festival began on January 29th and continues until April 11th, during which time it will involve "more than 300 artists at more than 80 venues throughout the city of Philadelphia.

Philagrafika has been mounted as an "opportunity to see contemporary art that references printmaking in dynamic, unexpected ways," and Copy Jam! certainly furthers the festival's cause to try something out of the ordinary. Afterwards there will be $4 beverages during the Root Down Happy Hour next door at Charlie's Pub.

SEE ALSO: www.printeresting.org
SEE ALSO: www.artintheage.com
SEE ALSO: www.philagrafika2010.org

--
Eric J Herboth
Eric J. Herboth is the founder, publisher and Managing Editor of LAS magazine. He is a magazine editor, freelance writer, bike mechanic, commercial pilot, graphic designer, International Scout enthusiast and giver of the benefit of the doubt. He currently lives in rural central Germany with his two best friends, dog Awahni and cat Scout.

See other articles by Eric J Herboth.

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