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Sonya Rapoport: Pairings of Polarities

Kala Art Institute and Gallery is honored to present a selection of works by distinguished artist Sonya Rapoport. Guest curators Terri Cohn and Anuradha Vikram have thoughtfully organized Pairings of Polarities, retrospective exhibition that celebrates a fifty-year career with works on paper, paintings, interactive installations and digital works.

Rapoport’s approach to art-making is naturally diverse, underpinned by her pioneering use of scientific and social science research as the basis for a conceptual practice. This exhibition provides a valuable chance to appreciate the philosophical and psychological perspectives, humor, expression, and creativity Rapoport brings to such topical concerns as gender, religion, politics, and the role of technology in contemporary life, explored through interactive processes, systems and media.

Pairings of Polarities culls from over four decades of Sonya Rapoport’s artistic production. Active in the Bay Area art scene since the 1950s, Rapoport began exploring systems of information in the emerging age of new media during the early 1970s. Her drawings and collages from this period use the found printed detritus of early computer databases as a backdrop and represent her intuitive responses to the wealth of information about anthropology, natural sciences, chemistry, and other areas of research signified by the underlying code.

Since the 1950s, Rapoport has been exhibiting her work throughout the Bay Area and internationally. Her influence is deeply felt within the art and technology community, as she is considered one of the early innovators who helped establish the region as an international locus for these hybrid practices. Her work has been included in major art and technology exhibitions including Ars Electronica, Linz, Austria, and the 2009 Venice Biennale’s Internet Pavilion.

Until recently, Rapoport has been less well-known within the contemporary art mainstream, despite her work having been exhibited largely since the 1980s in that context at respected alternative spaces such as 80 Langton Street and Capp Street Project in San Francisco, Artists Space and Franklin Furnace in New York, and at international venues including Reina Sofia, Madrid, Kuopio Museum, Finland, the 1996 Whitney Biennial, and Documenta VIII in Kassel, Germany. Perhaps this oversight is because her early combination of computer software and computer aesthetics with traditional media techniques was so unorthodox.

Interactive installations and computer-based works from the 1980s—including Digital Mudra and Shoe Field– invite viewers to question their social relationship to technology, long before the advent of “web2.0.” Now in her 80s, Rapoport continues to reinvent her work, exploring new modes of expression such as blogs to apply her conceptual systems thinking to current political events.

Digital Mudra begins with a collection of photographs from Rapoport’s interactive performance entitled Biorhythm (1983). As means to test their own evaluations of their biorhythm conditions against a computer assessment of their emotional/physical states, participants were asked to express with words and a gesture “how they were feeling that evening.” Photographs of the Biorhythm gestures were correlated with drawings of similar gestures in the traditional Hindu-Buddhist Mudra vocabulary. The verbal expressions accompanying the participants’ gestures were compared with the meanings of their corresponding Mudra gestures. Rapoport’s continual awareness of topical issues is evident in the correlations of these gestures with slides of contemporary public and political personalities, documented as expressing the same hand gestures in recent news photos. Digital Mudra was presented in Kala Art Institute’s SEEING TIME series in 1987.

Now in her mid-80s, after sixty years of art-making, Rapoport continues to evolve as an artist. In recent webworks, she has applied the analytical systems of earlier works to contemporary subject matter. For example, in Make me a Superman (2009), she re-contextualizes her webwork Make Me A Man (1997) in the context of Barack Obama’s election in 2008. At Kala, she has created a new commissioned work, Adam Kadmon (2011), which addresses bioengineering and the exploration of the human genome with her characteristic metaphysical awareness and sharp sense of humor.