What Has Been Seen, 2017

Eva & Franco Mattes
What Has Been Seen, 2017
Taxidermy cat, microwave oven, hard drives; 50 x 40 x 120 cm
Installation view: Art in the Age of Anxiety, Sharjah Art Foundation, 2020
Courtesy of the artists
Photo: Danko Stjepanovic

Overview

Artist duo Eva & Franco Mattes have been making art together since they met in Berlin in 1994. Their work analyses and responds to contemporary digital life, approaching its ethics and politics with dark humour. Considered pioneers of the Net Art movement, they describe themselves as pranksters and hacktivists, and their work inhabits the web, often as argumentative and semi-legal interventions. Their first online appearance was under the pseudonym 0100101110101101.org.

The three sculptures in Art in the Age of Anxiety are based on the LOLCat memes. Catt (2010) features a canary perched on top of a birdcage with a peeved-looking cat inside, while Ceiling Cat (2016) is a tiny sculpture of a cat peeking through a hole in the ceiling, a direct interpretation of the meme ‘Ceiling Cat’, which surged in popularity from 2006 onwards as part of the #lolcat phenomenon. As an internet meme, the all-seeing feline has had many online lives, but here the image assumes a life of its own—a copy of a copy that reifies themes of surveillance and control in a form that is equal parts cute and creepy. What the sculpture hints at, with disquieting absurdity, is the relationship between source, double and an emergent third phase, whose origin is a thicket of copies. In What Has Been Seen (2017), a cat sits atop three microwaves that contain erased hard drives. The work asks whether data can really be deleted from our hard drives, or our memories. The axiomatic adage ‘What has been seen, cannot be unseen’, which appears frequently on the internet, commonly relates to viewers’ reactions to disturbing content and, more precisely, to mental images they cannot efface after witnessing a startling or shocking video or photograph.