Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
27 April - 11 August 2013
Review by Una Dimitrijevic
Originally published by Brave New Art World, a website dedicated to art practice in Chicago.
Amalia Pica’s first major solo museum show in the United States is a survey of the Argentine artist’s work over the last decade and includes several new commissions. Using simple materials such as photocopies, light bulbs, drinking glasses, beer bottles, bunting, cardboard, and other found materials, Pica seeks to address fundamental ideas surrounding communication - civic participation, education, transmission and reception of messages both verbal and non-verbal, censorship and human misunderstandings. She is particularly interested in the artist’s role in conveying messages through the translation of thought and idea into action and object, and by employing this parallel between art and communication, she highlights the necessity of miscommunication in art.
Pica persistently questions the role that understanding plays in the interaction between a work and its audience, and between the artist’s original idea and the final reception of the artwork. She claims that much of her work stems from a child-like desire to be understood, yet her pieces deliberately leave a large room for mis- or re-interpretation. Like the subtleties of language from which the possibility of poetry arises, Pica’s work plays with visual metaphors, symbols and rhythms. She invites us to converse with the pieces, sometimes by literally placing our ears up against them and listening, and creates an interaction in the installation of her work through which her pieces also converse with each other.
In the Catachresis series, the artist combines various found objects whose features are referred to metaphorically as parts of the body. Here Pica plays with the idea of ‘catachresis’, a term used to denote many different types of figure of speech which all have in common that they are using words “wrongly”: a mingling of metaphors, the use of a term in the wrong context or to reappropriate a word for something which lacks a name. This abstract idea is embodied in the series of sculptures which work both as individual pieces and as a group whose meanings and references bounce off each other. ‘Catachresis 35 (legs of the chair, teeth of the rake, eye of the potato, eye of the needle)’ is a mysterious balancing piece in which half a chair (two legs) intertwine with a rake, which itself protrudes from a potato, possibly held in place by the needle in the title. In ‘Catachresis 33 (legs of the table, tongue of the shoe)’, we discover two table legs leaning against a wall, one of which wears a white tennis shoe on its tiptoes. Unrelated objects are brought together, each representing parts of the body which are equally distanced from one another (tongues and legs, elbows and necks) and whose proximate juxtaposition creates equally bemusing sculptures and bodily visualisations.
Multiple means of communication are surveyed and addressed through Pica’s work. ‘Nostalgia’, a framed telegraphic message, is the work’s title translated into code and typed on the very first telegraph machine in Iceland which connected Europe to America by relaying signals. Satellite communication is represented in the form of a reconstructed Afghan home-made television antenna (‘Reconstruction of an Antenna (as seen on TV)’), a comment perhaps not only on the struggle for entertainment and the desire to receive communication, but on a need to engage in public discourse even when inadequate infrastructure creates multiple barriers. ‘Babble, Blabber, Chatter, Gibber, Jabber, Patter, Prattle, Rattle, Yammer, Yada, Yada, Yada’ is a carousel of slides showing the artist spelling the work’s title with semaphore flags, literally a form of visual communication, while ‘Switchboard (pavilion)’ is a room-sized box of criss-crossed, impenetrable strings, all linking two cans which are embedded in opposing walls. Direct communication is possible, but complicated by the fact that you’re never quite sure which can you should be talking into.
Wordless moments of human interaction are also explored in ‘Strangers’, consisting of a string of bunting on the gallery wall, which is periodically transformed into a performance piece when two people, strangers to one another, stand and hold either end for hours at a time. Despite being linked by this festive object, they cannot speak and are forced to keep a distance, an action which surely creates palpable tensions, awkward moments and nevertheless a certain relationship stemming from a unique shared experience.
In what is perhaps the most visually appealing piece in the show, ‘Eavesdropping (version 2)’, the artist references this childlike action of placing one’s ear against a glass in order to hear what is being said in another space. Drinking glasses of different shapes and colours hover delicately above ground, mysteriously attached to the wall, echoing the fragility of distant speech and the frequent misunderstandings between adults and children.
A final exhibition piece is not to be found in the museum but is migrating through different Chicago homes. ‘I am Chicagou, as I am in Chicagou, just like a lot of other people are’ is a hand-carved granite sculpture of an echeveria plant. The piece originated in London and changes name in each city it visits, always incorporating an unusual spelling into its title. Through this nomadic sculpture, Pica explores an unconventional means of displaying art, distancing the artwork from the exhibition space and encouraging active interaction and participation from the public.
Extremely diverse in its examination of the topic of communication, the exhibition includes various installation pieces, a performance, photographs, sculptures, drawings, a slide-show and videos: a demonstration of how, just as linguistic communication comes in many forms, so too the artistic media used to transmit an idea can be multifaceted. Pica shows us that it is up to the artist to be resourceful and ingenious in their dialogue between contemplation and creation, and hopes to make her public feel more comfortable by helping them ‘understand that you don’t need to understand’.