A peek at Pica

Art & Lit

A gripping (and free) exhibition at MOA.

She’s Sorry for the Metaphor. But you really had to be there. Indeed, the vibrant, eclectic and electric work of Amalia Pica is hard to describe without analogy. Even in person her playful objects keep the viewer, teasingly, at a distance.

As you enter Modern Art Oxford a colossal mosaic stretches before you, a grainy sea of photocopied bits of photograph featuring Strangers in a Common Land, a pair in a field joined, but distanced, by multi-coloured bunting – a nonsense sentence bridging the gulf of grey.

Inside, we feel like one of those strangers, in a surreal tug of war with meaning as we try to make words out of things and things out of words. Downstairs, a statue has gone, leaving its residue on the plinth that made it a monument. Upstairs, a room is dedicated to memorialising a placemat, Pododsky’s Mat to be precise, at which he penned his first opus – but both the text and the author have left the building, and we leave as little trace of ourselves on the beermats that swarm around floor.

Yet more rainbow bunting runs away from us into a wall, smearing itself into a spectrum of dyes splashed on paper. It feels like being in a game of cat and mouse with signs and symbols.

Her Catachresis series plays to win. A jumble, a cacophony of objects – it seems to mock the seriousness of Constructivist sculpture. The Constructivists attempted an honest art, one where things were what they were – wood declared itself in chunks, metal bent itself into angles, and glass symbolised nothing but the transparency of glass. Against an art which thought the world could be broken down into its basic material truths, Pica erects constructs without name, monstrosities that lurch out of the wall on legs and necks. Every piece of them is a piece of something else – a thing without its own name: the tooth of a comb, the leg of a chair, the neck of a bottle. The world, she shows us, has no meaning on its own, but moreover, it escapes language at every turn. How do we approach objects that we ourselves can’t articulate?

A red carpet takes us the short distance from playfulness to melancholy. The path to fame is squint and made of duct-tape and cardboard – it doesn’t feel like carpet, but at least it can bear our weight. Next to it a stage of boxes illuminates with a spotlight as we approach, but looks as if it would collapse beneath us. Shower Singer dangles tantalisingly, a microphone, but of soap – it gently mocks our attempts to sing pop songs in the shower. The carpet, stage and mic all ring hollow – empty, useless objects we are still invited to use. Our aspirations to fame, our love of iconic celebrity are so much cardboard. What bears more meaning in our world than celebrity, and yet what also rings so hollow?

And when we want the whole world to listen, the microphone melts into suds in our hands.

Sorry for the Metaphor, says the artist in a final piece, another monumental layering of copies of copies. She turns away from the camera, holds a sign we can never read. Sorry, but we can’t speak to the world as it is, can’t know it directly, can’t hear it or see it – only toy with it at a distance. Still, what fun that can be.