Sonya Rapoport “Force Fields” at Casemore Gallery, SF

Force Fields
Early Computer Art & Works on Paper by Sonya Rapoport

April 1st – May 13th, 2023
Opening Reception: 5 – 7pm, Saturday, April 1st, 2023

Casemore Gallery
1275 Minnesota Street, San Francisco
Tuesday – Saturday, 12 – 5pm

Sonya Rapoport, A 20th Century Portrait (Unknown), 1979. Plotter print, Prismacolor, and pencil on vellum, 31 x 40 inches.

Casemore Gallery presents an exhibition of works on paper by Sonya Rapoport (1923-2015), recognized as a pioneer of computer art. The exhibition explores the evolution of her engagement with the computer, from her earliest drawings on printout paper in the late 1970s, through her computer-mediated “audience participation performances” in the 1980s.

Rapoport–whose work is currently on view in the exhibition Coded: Art Enters the Computer Age, 1952-1982 at Los Angeles County Museum of Art–began using the computer in 1976, when she found discarded continuous-feed computer printout paper in a bin in the basement of the UC Berkeley mathematics building. Drawn to the futuristic aesthetic of sprocket holes, grid lines, and carbon-black, dot-matrix printed code, she drew into the existing patterns with graphite, colored pencil, and ink stamps, and stitched the construction together with colorful yarn to create drawings such as Right-On (1976).

Sonya Rapoport, Right-On, 1976.

In 1977 Rapoport wrote, “my work is an aesthetic response triggered by scientific data. The format is computer print-out, a ritualistic symbol of our technological society.”

By the early 1980s, Rapoport had learned to code and was using the computer to analyze and visualize data. At a time when computers were primarily used for business, science, and military applications, Rapoport was gathering and processing data about what she called “soft material,” including her biorhythms, her shoe collection, her home, and the objects on her dresser, an approach she characterized as a feminist use of new technology.

In A 20th Century Portrait (Unknown) (1979), part of Rapoport’s Objects On my Dresser series, she represents her subject as a multidimensional “netweb” plot, perhaps referring to the analytical, quantitative perceptions of the computer. But behind this enigmatic image is a social interaction where Rapoport discussed the objects on her dresser with an unknown subject – an idiosyncratic personality test of sorts. The related large-scale drawing Surface (1981) features photocopied images and appropriated text on computer paper that reveals the complex, interconnected psychological relationships that Rapoport had with the objects on her dresser.

Sonya Rapoport, Surface (detail), 1981. Prismacolor, pencil, ink stamp, acetate collage, and photocopy on paper, 24 x 202 inches.

Shoe-Field (1982-1989) began with a performance at a home computer store in Berkeley, where participants were asked how they felt about their shoes. Their answers were analyzed by a computer and they were given a printed Shoe-Psyche Plot that represented their feelings as an electromagnetic force field printed in ASCII characters. Rapoport’s artistic process–which she described as “quantifying qualitative information–can be seen in a video that documents the interactive performance of Shoe-Field at Media Gallery, San Francisco in 1986.

“Rapoport’s use of technology should not blind us to the fact that she is working out a structure of human interactions, even if they are based on their relationships with inanimate objects, their shoes.”

Richard Cándida-Smith, A Throw of the Dice: Between Structure and Indeterminacy, 2012

Sonya Rapoport, Shoe-Field Map (detail), 1982-85. Dot-matrix print on continuous feed computer printout paper.

Please join us for an opening reception, 5 – 7pm, Saturday, April 1st, 2023!