It’s hard not to compare Pia Camil’s first solo museum show, ‘A Pot for a Latch’, to the excesses of social media. Today, concepts such as sharing or community are inextricably linked to the frenetic, over-stimulating pace of online platforms. We share so much of ourselves, so often, that much of it loses its potency in the process. Camil’s exhibition, which opened mid-January in the New Museum’s Lobby Gallery emphasizes a form of community that fosters a deeper engagement with what is shared.
A stuffed toy rodent with a rubber old man mask and a C-clamp clasped to its head, a reflective torso with a Cinco De Mayo mask - upon entering the gallery these are only a couple of the objects, or combination of objects, that one could discover hanging from a series of red metal grid walls within the space. They wouldn’t necessarily be the same ones seen by other visitors, depending on which week they attend the show. That is because the items included are traded in by visitors to the gallery during open exchange days.
During the first week of the exhibition, participants were given limited edition sweaters in exchange for their trades. Each subsequent week on exchange days, participants were allowed to trade their objects for those hanging in the Lobby Gallery. Visitors can’t trade in just anything, however. The artist and volunteers sit at a table and ask each person what their personal attachment is to their chosen object. They then must sign a contract explaining this story.
Many of the objects, like bad paintings or a book on Amish cooking, feel like nothing more than random tchotchkes. They are the kinds of things one would find at a garage sale, that are otherwise elevated through their presentation within the exhibition.
Reasons for an exchange are never made explicitly clear to visitors. Only the objects are present. So while the meaningfulness of each offering is not immediately apparent, their inclusion in the display at all is suggestive of a history or narrative. We don’t assume the objects are being discarded since their purpose has run its course, but that there is a desire to share their importance with other people. There is a tension, then, between the willingness to let go and how much that object means to the person giving it up.
Their arrangement is up to the artist, who playfully combines offerings such as a Mickey Mouse head-shaped lunch box with a naked body suit; a record sleeve placed behind a Keith Haring art book that, when looked at from the front, looks like it says, “The Association of Powerful Babies”; and a net oranges bag with a stuffed banana inside of it (which calls to mind the joke, “orange you glad I said banana?”).
In an era of sharing where intent is extensively premeditated and we output so much of ourselves into the wider world, a show that invokes suggestive, over-explicit meaning is refreshing. On a Facebook timeline, for instance, everything is contextualized within the projection of a life lived. With this in mind, Camil’s red grids function contra their digital analog as a proto- or folk-network. Also, in the same way a social media timeline results in unintentional juxtapositions between mosaic representations of people’s lives, new meanings are created through this exhibition of disparate objects.
As opposed to an online network, where users superficially scroll through other people’s lives as they are being presented to them, Camil’s objects network encourages further engagement. Participants are required to imagine their own reasons for the objects being chosen for the show rather than it being made clear why they were included. It is an Internet of ‘things’ predicated upon community and storytelling instead of explicit information.
According to New Museum’s press release, Pia Camil often collaborates with local artisans using “laborious fabrication processes,” to “deaccelerate the frenetic pace of mass commodification through the handcrafted production and intimate quality of her works.” In this case visitors to the museum stand in for the artisans through their contribution of meaningful objects, but the result is largely the same. Through ‘Pot For a Latch’, Camil creates a decelerated social network that cultivates meaning creation.