Feel overly connected to your iPhone? Question how the media shapes your understanding of current events? Worry that social networking is becoming your social life? Join the club—the intersection of virtual and physical is a timely topic. But Patrick Lichty was exploring these questions well before you ever had a Macbook Air or a Twitter account. For 25 years, the Milwaukee-based conceptual artist has been working with themes of networked society and the shifting post-internet world; today, he’s considered an influential figure on the early internet and progressive new media art movements of the late 20th century. His most recent body of work, “Sensible Concepts: Mediation as a Way of Being,” is now on view at IFAC Arts in New York.
Lichty’s interests are broad—his work spans photography, video, sculpture, music, performance art, and experimental installations—but he is perhaps best known as the animator for The Yes Men, an off-the-wall artist/activist group. This penchant for illustration is on fine display in “Sensible Concepts,” a show that prominently features his “robotically-fabricated drawings of Random Internet Cats.” It’s a series that’s exactly what it sounds like: whimsical, tech-forward ink renderings of house cats on heavy watercolor paper. Some of the subjects could be lifted from your grandmother’s photo album, or found on a Google image search for “cats”—like the graceful Siamese in RIC: Random Internet Cat #4 or the curious cat head, seemingly peeking up over the edge of a table, sofa, or bed in RIC: Random Internet Cat #7 (2014). Other pieces from the series are less conventional in style, like the bear-like cat, pictured in a head-on angle, in RIC: Random Internet Cat #2, or slightly less realistic, like the cat gazing contentedly at a nearby hummingbird in RIC: Random Internet Cat #3 (both 2014).
His choice to feature “random cats from the internet” is indeed an interesting one. A précis for Lichty’s show states, “We are always in partnership with someone or something. The issue is what we are explicit about; who, what we collaborate with.” The process for this collaboration, and for his laser-engraved photographs and “Digital Tapestries in 8 Bits or Less,” also featured in the show, is unique. Lichty uses tools and machines, some that he built himself—examples include drawing robots and Jacquard looms—to mediate images shown on a screen. His innovative techniques, and the subtle but powerful messages underlying the work, have earned Lichty various honors: he’s both a CalArts/Herb Alpert Fellow and was featured in the 2000 Whitney Biennial.
“Sensible Concepts: Mediation as a Way of Being” is on view at IFAC Arts, New York, Dec. 11, 2014–Feb. 11, 2015.