"There are so many interesting things in the world, and you think, 'How am I ever going to compete with that?' " Amalia Pica said at an opening-night talk for her exhibition at MIT's List Visual Art Center.
Often her sculptures serve to point you to interesting stories. Reconstruction of an antenna (As seen on TV) is a makeshift, rooftop-style antenna rigged up from a shovel, metal brackets, pipes, and what looks like a mop handle. Pica's typed statement on the wall explains it was inspired by a documentary she saw that noted the gear Afghans cobbled together to watch the television show Afghan Star, a sort of American Idol.
"We tend to think of these shows as not great television," she said. "But in Afghanistan, after all the years of the Taliban, people were allowed to sing in public and they were allowed to vote, things they hadn't been allowed to do for a very long time."
At the heart of Pica's emo art are missed connections, homespun solutions, bittersweet failures, and humble delights. The London-based, Argentina-raised artist spells out "babble, chatter, gibber, jabber" with semaphore flags in the Argentine desert — "a place," she says, "where no one would be ready to receive it." She Scotch-tapes a spray of confetti to the floor, seemingly trying to preserve a fleeting moment of joy. She taps out the code for "nostalgia" on the historic, obsolete telegraph in Iceland that was the first to link America and Europe.
Endymion's Journey is a copy of poet John Keats's 1818 book Endymion lying at the bottom of a photo backdrop depicting a desert. It's accompanied by a typed statement explaining that Keats asked the explorer Joseph Ritchie to "throw [a copy of Endymion] into the heart of the Sahara desert." It was meant as a heroic, romantic gesture expressing the futility of art. Ritchie apparently wrote to Keats from near Cairo in 1818 saying he was soon leaving for the desert. "After this," Pica writes, "there was silence. Joseph Ritchie never returned."
Much concept-driven art expects us to read artists' minds (or rely on curatorial statements) to divine what they're referencing. Pica solves this problem by simply writing it out herself. Her approach is bloggy. Her objects operate like computer icons linking you to cool anecdotes she's turned up. It's endearing wallflower, eavesdropper, bookworm art.
AMALIA PICA :: MIT List Visual Arts Center, 20 Ames St, Cambridge :: Through April 7 :: 617.253.4680 :: listart.mit.edu