Amalia Pica, (Quasi) Catachresis #10, 2022, chair legs, wooden spheres, glass bottle, 44 1⁄8 × 29 1⁄2 × 18 1⁄8".

Amalia Pica, (Quasi) Catachresis #10, 2022, chair legs, wooden spheres, glass bottle, 44 1⁄8 × 29 1⁄2 × 18 1⁄8".

Amalia Pica

Amalia Pica’s work has always been about relationships—how people communicate, what is lost or misunderstood—and about art as a way to give meaning where it is seemingly lacking. In 2008, for instance, Pica staged Strangers at Tate Modern in London: Two performers were asked to hold the opposite ends of a cord of colorful bunting, just so it would not touch the ground. The previously unacquainted performers were too far apart to engage in meaningful conversation but had to be attuned to each other’s body language in order to keep the thin fabric elevated. Suggestive of celebrations, the festively decorated link between them connected the strangers despite their distance and seeming isolation.

In her latest exhibition of new works, “Quasi,” Pica’s quirky sculptures made of everyday objects are installed on the floor, walls, and ceiling of the Fondazione Memmo. Imagine a theater of the absurd in which bottles, rakes, combs, and hammers take the place of human performers. Strange figures of speech inscribed on the outside of the foundation’s French windows offer clues as to what lies ahead: phrases such as HEAD OF THE HAMMER, TEETH OF THE RAKE, and EYE OF THE POTATO—dead metaphors that treat inanimate things as living beings. Likewise, greeting the viewer at eye level at the entrance to the space is (Quasi) Catachresis #1 (all works 2022), a sculpture consisting of a hammer, the glass arm of a chandelier, and the head of a mop. The tassels of the last droop like the hair of a moody teenager. In a side room, (Quasi) Catachresis #5 comprises a red chair resting on the ground, straddled by a medley of table legs and sawteeth and punctuated by funky bright-blue Superga sneakers; the checklist gives the materials of this work as “legs of the table, teeth of the saw, back of the chair, tongue of the shoe.”

Pica’s playful sculptures frequently embody balancing acts facilitated by ingenious mechanisms, as in (Quasi) Catachresis #10. With its four U-shaped chair legs positioned precariously on top of one another, a single wooden sphere acting as the joint between each appendage, and a Peroni beer bottle perched upside down at the top, the sculpture gives the sense of a juggler caught with objects midair.

Throughout the show, the artist nods to Italy, and specifically to Rome, where Pica, hosted by Fondazione Memmo, stayed over several extended visits and worked with local artisans, including the Accettella family, who specialize in string puppets for their Teatro Mongiovino. The most tongue-in-cheek of Pica’s sly allusions comes in (Quasi) Catachresis #13, with its head of Romanesco broccoli on top of a table leg, and a saw positioned ominously close by.

Pica employs absurdity as a tool to elicit a unifying complicity, like the bonding laughter of a shared joke. She also taps into the joy happening upon unexpected beauty evokes: The show’s most striking pieces are also its smallest, often at first overshadowed by their larger and more commanding counterparts, and installed in out-of-the-way spots. For me, discovering them prompted a kind of childish pleasure. (Quasi) Catachresis #9, comprising rays of taut string emanating from a wooden comb and pinned down by small nails, resembles the Eye of Providence—the triangular symbol of the divine as seen, for instance, on the verso of the US dollar bill—while (Quasi) Catachresis #12, positioned at the bottom of a wall, is like a cryptic constellation of flower-shaped crystals joined together by yellow thread. Pica’s playful and quasi-human characters ask us to question how meaning is constructed—with what kind of language, assumptions, or attention. By focusing on absurdity and joy in a dark time when many others have turned to deeply introspective, almost tormented work, Pica shows how art can help us shine, armed with fortitude, through moments of crisis.