REMARKS ON PAT LAY’S TECHNOLOGICAL METAPHORS
Robert C. Morgan, 2010
Sideshow Gallery, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY
Technology is an ambiguous term, not only in reference to its current social and global applications, but also in the practice of art. This does not mean that art should be removed from an activist involvement. In recent years — depending on the work one chooses to think about — it has become rather difficult to separate these concerns. Some artists will take a critical or ironic position in relation to digital forms and processes, while others may choose to discover the virtue of working in relation to their transformative aesthetic potential. The recent works of Pat Lay are looking in two directions: She engages in the aesthetic potential of digital media. This is for certain. At the same time, she projects social concerns – often on a quiet level, beneath the surface of a first encounter. Her works implicitly offer both a testimony and a critique as a challenge to the cynic. Her collaged digital images (2008-10) imply that technology is a medium in which artists are free to work and to transform into a catalyst for beauty and empowerment. In observing Lay’s recent works on paper, I am inclined to reflect on the Thankas, or Tibetan Buddhist scrolls used in meditation. At the same time, her sculpture elicits a more incisive, confrontational, and activist point of view.
In Transhuman Personae #3 (2005), Lay pays homage to The Spirit of our Times (1919), an early assemblage by Berlin Dadaist, Raoul Hausmann. In contrast to the generic industrial male prototype envisioned by Hausmann, Lay’s sculpture represents a neofuturist feminine beauty. The clay head has been fired, glazed and painted, with various polychrome wires and computer parts inserted into the forehead, the nose, the left frontal lobe, the ears, and various other parts of the head. It is shown on a high pedestal. While the Dadaist head appears a year after the Great War (as it was then called), Lay’s contemporary metaphor shows a more buoyant, optimistic vision of the cybernetic future in which wiring and electrical paraphernalia function as a positive, more ornamental alteration of the body. In an obtuse way, these attributes tend to adorn rather than subtract from the heroic presence of this interracial iconic feminine icon. Much the same could be said of a later permutation, titled Transhuman Personae #11 (2010). While it confronts the spectator with an intensified expressionist variation on a theme, the fired clay head reveals an exorbitant mass of electrical cable and wire. Instead of appearing on a high pedestal, the head is mounted on a camera tripod as if to suggest a mechanized theme resembling traditional tribal masks subjected to cargo cults from Zimbabwe or New Guinea.