Amalia Pica, If These Walls Could Talk (with door) (detail), 2011, wood, tin cans, screws, paint, glue, string. Installation view.

Amalia Pica, If These Walls Could Talk (with door) (detail), 2011, wood, tin cans, screws, paint, glue, string. Installation view.

Amalia Pica

MIT List Visual Arts Center

Amalia Pica, If These Walls Could Talk (with door) (detail), 2011, wood, tin cans, screws, paint, glue, string. Installation view.

In her first major museum exhibition in the United States, Amalia Pica considers the urgency of communication and our continual experience of its failure. Honing this discussion, the London-based Argentinean deliberates on the relationship between the one and the many and on the ways in which singular speech acts simultaneously contain the possibility and hopelessness of collective enunciation. Pica’s conceptual practice at large is highly attentive to images and forms, broaching “the political” in the broadest possible terms—a distinct strategy among a generation of artists represented to conspicuous effect at the New Museum in New York during the institution’s 2012 triennial, “The Ungovernables” (in which Pica also participated). Emerging from the premise that social relationships and political realities are at once ingrained in the material and form of an artwork but are also highly contingent and performative, this aesthetic typology has dramatically proliferated over the past decade. But Pica’s work ventures beyond de rigueur reflections on the systems of transmission, exchange, and reception of information that construct the public sphere. At the heart of her practice lies the question, What kind of individuation (and, by extension, what kind of universality) does this aesthetic engender?

At MIT List, the installations Eavesdropper and If These Walls Could Talk (with door) (both 2011) incorporate amateur listening and communication devices invented, one might suppose, to satisfy an individual’s desire to be part of a network of social exchange from which he or she is excluded. In Eavesdropper, Pica appears to address this seemingly universal impulse by affixing a drinking glass to the gallery wall (at average ear-level), thereby suggesting the ad hoc and variably successful efforts made by wallflowers who wish to be in on the game. In If These Walls Could Talk, tin-can telephones fabricated from a panoply of empty commercial food containers (for garbanzo beans, tuna fish, soup) are attached to opposing walls and connected by a network of tautly drawn strings. As the lines crisscross the space, it is difficult to parse which cans are linked to which. Further, the open, receiving/transmitting side of the can is inaccessible to the viewer, oriented not out into the space, but the reverse, toward the wall. Though versions of this piece have been constructed in various ways depending on the site, here Pica employed two freestanding walls, positioned parallel to each other about half a foot apart. Though it is possible to stand either within this corridor (by passing through the wooden threshold via an architectural opening) or outside it, the acoustics are blocked all the same, making it impossible to communicate with anyone on the other side. Pica thus insinuates a wider political dimension, one in which the production and consumption of canned goods contribute to linkages and divisions on a global scale. Indeed, if these walls could talk, what material conditions of labor would they reveal? What discussions between the so-called developing and modernized countries would they divulge? Who would be included in these conversations? Who left out?

The imperative to participate in the manufacturing of the public sphere—whether or not an immediate audience is present and often in the face of severe political repercussions—is evident elsewhere in this show, in works such as Reconstruction of an antenna (as seen on TV), 2010, and Venn Diagrams (under the spotlight), 2011. In each instance, the artist provides contextual information that discursively animates the formal structure: in the former, a makeshift antenna, created in the hopes of catching the signal for the broadcast of a popular music competition in Afghanistan, and in the latter, a graphic device that, during the period of dictatorship in Argentina, had been made illegal with the paranoiac aim of eliminating the very possibility of seditious thought. Pica’s argument is that the particular political frameworks in which these sculptural and visual forms become legible can be extrapolated to wider fields and forces of power encountered by all subjects regardless of nationality. All forms are political, therefore, and all politics become form; this open-ended proposition would be callow sloganeering were it not for its allusion to a symbolic community of speakers and listeners—an imaginary selection of subjects called forth to materialize, in their own languages, the proximities and distances between and within complex geopolitical configurations.

Nuit Banai