Judy Malloy:
Thoughts on the Publication of
Pairing of Polarities: The Life and Art of Sonya Rapoport

Edited by Terri Cohn, Pairing of Polarities: The Life and Art of Sonya Rapoport, Berkeley, CA: Heyday, July 2012, is a collection of images and words that look at the life of Sonya Rapoport.

T he book is particularly notable for the way in which Terri, Sonya, and Heyday worked to display -- with extraordinary clarity and depth -- many fine images of Rapoport's beautiful, conceptual work. As if it were a catalog for an exhibition, (indeed its genesis was Rapoport's retrospectives at Kala and Mills College) the book begins with over 25 plates, many of which are in color. Among many other examples, they include images of her drawings on continuous feed computer paper, such as "Charlie Simonds: Microcosm/Macrocosim", (1976) and plots and documentation for interactive installations, such as "Pictorial Linguistics" (1979, from Objects on My Dresser) and Shoefield. (1982-1988)

With an excellent introduction by Terri Cohn, essays and interviews by Richard Candida Smith; Anna Couey and Judy Malloy; Ernestine Daubner; Walter H. Moos, Susan M Miller, & Sarah R. Moos; Hava Rapoport; Meredith Tremble; Anuradha Vikram; and John Zarobell; and an Afterword by Roger Malina, Pairing of Polarities explores Rapoport's work in terms of influences, continuum, information, detail, innovation, and interaction -- against a background of Jewish family and art community.

Having known Sonya for 32 years, I know that the role of home and family in her art and life, which is emphasized in the book, was very important in the development of her work. At the same time, Sonya was always interested in new work and in fellow artists and was very much a part of the vibrant Bay area art conceptual, performance, installation, and new media art scene. Often we would meet or show new work at 80 Langton St, SITE, Capp Street, SFAI, at art spaces, such as David Mott and Terry Ellis' WINDOW, or the exhibitions that Helen Holt and Tom Patrick and others curated on the Berkeley campus in the 1980's. Afterwards we would often talk on the telephone, deconstructing the work, sharing ideas and opinions.

Pairing of Polarities: The Life and Art of Sonya Rapoport includes a chapter -- Anna Couey and Judy Malloy, "A Conversation with Sonya Rapoport (on the Interactive Conference on Arts Wire)" --- that was created from an online interview with Sonya in 1995. Arts Wire, a program of the New York Foundation for the Arts, was a computer network that brought artists and arts organizations together to talk, work, and share information and news. The Interactive Art Conference on Arts Wire was founded by Anna Couey and Judy Malloy in 1993. Created as a conversation among artists, our discussion provides an online studio look at Sonya's work.

L ooking at the notes for my March 2012 informal talk at the Mills College pre-book launch of Pairing of Polarities: The Life and Art of Sonya Rapoport, a few things about our artist's friendship stand out:

I first met Sonya Rapoport at 80 Langton St when I went to the opening of her Objects on my Dresser installation. I was particularly interested in her work because the way she clarified extensive amounts of information was something I was also working on, although in a different way. We both used drawing and text, continuous feed computer paper, and Xerox images, and we both used artists books and large amounts of interesting information in installation situations. Later our paths diverged somewhat as I focused on computer-mediated literature. But over the 32 years in which I have known Sonya, we have talked many times and shared approaches to art making.

The way our different but tangential work converged and diverged but had certain sometimes intangible things in common is illustrated by Objective Connections, the work we created together for the Generations Exhibition at the Richmond Art Center that is also on exhibition here at Mills. The creation of this work in which Sonya set forth a visual image from her work, and I responded with text from my work was surprisingly seamless. I don't recall a single exchange in which it was difficult to do this. Thus, it was a pleasure to create the "Conversation with Sonya Rapoport" that Anna Couey and I contributed to Pairing of Polarities.

About Sonya Rapoport's role as a catalyst in computer-mediated art:

A s computer-mediated work took root in the Bay Area in the mid 1980's and beyond, Sonya's work was what I would call "in the air". I mean by this that ideas that she had been working with for many years seeped into new media art making. Rapoport was one of the pioneers of this way of working and even just the idea of using a computer in installation situations was important.

In particular, she was one of the pioneers of the idea of participatory artworks in which the artist conceived of a work and invited participants to respond and then the responses were input into a computer and became a part of the work.

"So what led you to involve viewers as participants? It was certainly a radical idea for that time." I asked her on the Interactive Art Conference on Arts Wire, and she responded:

"Judy, I'm trying to reconstruct what happened to trigger me into audience involvement. I think the answer is also pertinent to Anna's question of intent and awareness of making an interactive artwork. The dialogue between psychologist and myself contributed to the evolving form of the work; mainly, to its structure for interactivity."

She continued by noting that

"I originally had intended to enhance the art in some two-dimensional way through a deeper understanding of the objects; but the vitality in the exchange between us catalyzed further three dimensional expression,"

and she added that when the visual components of the work were resolved,

"the unmistakable excitement of discovery through verbal interaction caused me to extend this method of self inquiry into use by others." [1]

1. Sonya Rapoport was one of the first people to use computer-mediated participatory interaction in her work, and the ideas she used are now pervasive in new media art practice. In addition to the information in the book, Rapoport's process is discussed in an Authoring Software Interview with Sonya Rapoport.

About our informal interview on Arts Wire:

Historically, in my case, the idea of interviews with artists in online communities was influenced by Crown Point Press' print series of interviews with artists. As a young artist, what I liked about these interviews was the feeling of being in the studio, the informal views of the artists' lives. And I have remembered this approach since the first online interview I did: "Keeping the Art Faith" an interview with Carl Loeffler on Artcom Electronic Network on the Well in 1987.

So, the Conversation with Sonya Rapoport is important both in its informal look at Sonya's computer-mediated art and in the historical use of online interviews in early social networking situations.

P airing of Polarities is a fine book, and I very much appreciate Terri Cohn's excellent work in putting together this important look at the life and art of Sonya Rapoport.

Curated by Terri Cohn and Anuradha Vikram, the exhibitions that informed the book were Spaces of Life: The Art of Sonya Rapoport, Mills College Art Museum, January 18 - March 11, 2012 and Sonya Rapoport: Pairings of Polarities, Kala, March 4 - April 9, 2011

last updated, April, 2013