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Kathryn Farley, Generative Systems


During her tenure as a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sonia Landy Sheridan participated in two artist residencies that introduced her to advanced commercial imaging systems. Residency opportunities afforded her the ability to examine industrial technologies, experiment with manufacturing processes and interact with research scientists and engineers in a laboratory environment. As an artist resident on two separate occasions at the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company (3M), Professor Sheridan acquired a new set of skills related to commercial production and first-hand knowledge of cutting-edge industrial practices. Recently, she spoke about the long-term implications of collaborating with 3M scientists and engineers to explore the creative potential of emergent communications technologies. (a)

In 1971, Professor Sheridan was invited to become the first Artist-in-Residence at 3M’s Color Research Laboratory where she worked with Dr. Douglas Dybvig, inventor of the Color-in-Color photocopier, and other members of the lab who had contributed to the development of the machine. (1) During her residency, she produced many series of prints that drew inspiration from a wide array of genres, ranging from self-portraiture to still life. To vary the color content and texture of a single print, Professor Sheridan ran tests using different types of powders and paper sources.

In 1976, Professor Sheridan was awarded a “Public Media” grant by the National Endowment for the Arts, allowing her to return to 3M and take up residency at the Central Research Laboratory. The opportunity allowed her to expand on her interest in photocopy imaging systems and resulted in sophisticated depictions of natural phenomena. To document her experiences in the lab, she compiled a report containing detailed descriptions of her findings and methods of creation. (c) In addition, after completing both residencies at 3M, Professor Sheridan composed an artist book that displayed the creative applications of her research. (d)

Even after retiring from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1980, Professor Sheridan continued to pursue residency opportunities as a way to gain exposure to innovative commercial techniques and to hone new skills. For example, in 1981 she participated in a residency at Xerox Corporation’s Computer 350CS Lab, followed by a stint in 1983 in the Photo Preparations department at 3M. That same year, Professor Sheridan studied computer graphics at Via Video, a technology services corporation. All three endeavors focused on exploring advancements in digital image processing.

Residency opportunities reinforced the connections between Professor Sheridan’s approach to teaching and her ideas about art-making. In the end, learning to master commercial instruments and production techniques in a laboratory setting enriched her artistry and insured that students in Generative Systems classes had access not only to cutting-edge equipment, but to the skills and training needed to take advantage of the creative possibilities afforded by mechanical tools or processes.

Kathryn Farley © 2007 FDL