Amalia Pica at Chisenhale Gallery


Amalia Pica, 2012.  Chisenhale Gallery, London. Photo: Mark Blower.

There is a particular romance in miscommunication, wrought by difference and distance. The undelivered letter, the intercepted telegram, the voicemail message never played back are the chance minutiae which drive the action of the plot forward, or cause it to veer dramatically off-course. Mislaid memoranda and transposed missives are Greek Fates for the modern era, where rupture is a stronger organizing force than the continuity of a single thread. Still, it is strange to contemplate crossed-wires in a contemporary context, where a missed cue – the probable end-result of too many functional, thus distractible, multiple-channel communication devices – still engenders the ultimate social faux pas: You didn’t get the message?

Managers and technocrats determined to allay postmodern anxiety seek to reduce error in manifestations of human passion, from theaters of war to those of love, both on- and off-line. To a certain extent clinical psychology, too, helps condition us to distinguish signal from noise. Alain Badiou’s In Praise of Love laments the disappearance of social discomfiture via the easy connectivity peddled by Internet dating sites: 

After all, it’s not so very different to an arranged marriage. Not done in the name of family order and hierarchy by despotic parents, but in the name of safety for the individuals involved, through advance agreements that avoid randomness, chance encounters and in the end any existential poetry, due to the categorical absence of risks. 

Where are exhilaration and ecstasy without some amount of personal risk? This conundrum resonates throughout London-based artist Amalia Pica’s sculpture, installation, and performance works, which consider moments of potential for point-to-point communication – and by extension, human connection; togetherness. Using not especially technological materials, the invariable “failure” of Pica’s work to draw disparate subjectivities into dialogue is most always a result of the aesthetic formalism of mediation, a quality borne out in the quiet beauty of her installations. Exhibited in the New Museum’s second triennial this year, Pica’s pleasing post-Minimal projection Venn Diagram (Under the Spotlight) (2011) expanded upon an earlier preoccupation with the diagrams from the ink-on-paper series Untitled (2006). The mathematical illustrations were banned in 1970s Argentina, where Pica grew up, for the perceived danger in clear expressions of collectivity. 

Her interest in the visualization of interaction and exchange might seem to have pragmatic applications today, although significantly it is the symbolism of “the social” (in the above case a field of color rather than a cloud or network,) which is philosophically operative beyond the direct representation of raw data. In this sense, her body of work forms a critique of the individual’s pure egoism as much as particular barriers to communication (chance, timing, autocracy) – playing with language, symbol and signal to “talk about talking.” Barring an algorithm to calculate the compatibility of notional personality tics, favorite 90s slasher flicks or other equally ambiguous criteria, Pica’s most reliable device describing the relationship between two is a single line: forming a bond or being deflected.

Pica’s current solo exhibition at Chisenhale Gallery coincides with the culmination of a yearlong project undertaken in the East London borough local to the art space...