Walking into ‘Private & Confidential’ the viewer is first overwhelmed by masses of laminated A4 sheets, covering every wall of the gallery. This is the first time that ‘Joy in Paperwork, The Archive’ (2016) has been exhibited in its entirety in the UK. Created whilst Amalia Pica, an Argentian artist based in London, was applying for UK citizenship in 2016, the archive consists of sheets sprawling with authoritarian stamps that become abstracted and subverted – no longer (de)legitimising paperwork but adorning it. This lengthy and time-consuming process, seen as a small act of resistance or a way of escaping the situation, also mirrors the struggle of applying for citizenship, which resulted in a year-long travel ban for the artist.
The formality and familiarity of administrative work continues in the other galleries that spiral from the first but offer refuge from the stacks of paper work. Two of the galleries are minimal, in keeping with the stripped back concrete and glossy new build of the gallery itself. Pica has configured conference tables, ‘Meeting room table configurations’ (2019), of varying shapes and sizes to create constellations or islands that the viewer weaves their way around. The formality of the office furniture, too familiar and banal, becomes interrupted in these reconfigurations, offering yet more possibilities for subverting the institution. A table top in one of the configurations is flipped up – rejecting being completely complicit in the work of institutions and bureaucratic systems. The other configurations, tables made to form a circle, are too reminiscent of institutions such as galleries, schools and offices, attempting to change the behaviour of those who use the buildings by rearranging the furniture.
Contrasting these found desks, Pica has collected shredded paper from her gallery’s offices, ‘Private & Confidential’ (2019), demonstrating that art institutions also suffer from mundane office work and endless paper trails. These shreddings disrupt the harsh desks and gallery spaces, forming large sculptures they take on the appearance of ears or unusual seating arrangements, appearing irresistibly soft and comforting in contrast to the harsh surroundings. Spots of colour also interrupt the materiality of the sculptures, as Pica has taken yet another small act of resistance to the work, a sprinkling of confetti into the recycled paper mix. If you can’t find the joy in paperwork you can certainly add some.
The motif of ears and the paranoia of such systems continue into the final gallery, where the installation ‘Insider’ surrounds and envelops the viewer. ‘Insider’ utilises the motif from confidential envelopes, designed to keep the contents of the letter secure. These motifs have been transformed from functional to aesthetic. Patterned wallpaper fills the gallery, at once oppressive and yet providing relief from the pure white walls elsewhere. The familiar patterns of the installation create a sense of being inside a giant envelope. Several of the motifs have been picked out and transformed into sculptures, further turning the functional pattern into embellishment.
Pica shows that we can find beauty within what may at first appear as rigid, formulaic structures if we look hard enough, and accordingly, she offers ways to subvert and interrupt bureaucratic systems, however small these may be.