REMARKS ON PAT LAY’S TECHNOLOGICAL METAPHORS
Robert C. Morgan
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.
Lay has given considerable attention to her collaged digital images over the past couple of years. In that her intention is to represent up-to-date aspects of “man and technology,” these printed works are designed by repeating sections from motherboard patterns. In everyday use, these constitute the system of internal wiring within a computer that activates terminals in the exchange of electronic signals. In BA-E-VO-A #6, images taken from these internal wiring devices have been collaged into a grid format. The digital images, printed in blue, orange, and yellow inks, have been assembled on archival museum board into a symmetrical design. A spherical shape resembling an astronomical star chart appears just above center within the yellow field. Another work from this series, SFL 40 VO #17 may suggest a red Persian carpet, also symmetrical and based on the motherboard pattern. One may discern a tendency to read these collages in terms of a quasi-mystical guide to consciousness taken from the hidden chambers within a computer. In that this technology is temporary -- at least, for the present –it is difficult to know exactly where the design of communication technologies will take us in the future. Will they become bio-implants within the body or forms of external atomization? As the architect/writer Witold Rybczynski has made clear: “Any attempt to control technology must take into account not only its mechanical nature, but its human nature as well.” It is, perhaps, this human nature that Pat Lay is attempting to bring into the foreground of our visual sensibility, whether in her deeply insightful systemic collage prints or her intellectually confounding mutant sculptures. They tend to complement one another as two aspects of the technologies we are all trying to comprehend. (2010)