Amalia Pica (b. 1978) sees the possibility of playfulness in the most unlikely of places. The London-based Argentinean artist is celebrated for her wide-ranging, multimedia practice that delves into weighty subject matters, such as how childhood, language, and government quietly shape our everyday lives. But Pica’s brightly colored, even joyful creations, approach such rigorous and complex concepts with her signature mix of delight, wonder, and humor.
Now, the artist, who is represented by Tanya Bonkadar Gallery in New York, will open a new exhibition, “¡Que viva el papeleo!” at Mexico City’s Museo Jumex (July 26–October 8).
This exhibition explores the potential for pleasure and play within the often dreary and stultifying confines of office life. or paperwork, becomes the foundational element of an array of artworks that cleverly engage and subvert the mundane formalities and processes of a workplace bureaucracy. For instance, to enter the exhibition, visitors are required to fill out an entry form, one without a purpose, in an exercise that parodies our societal participation in often arbitrary rituals, before guiding visitors into a maze of cubicles. In these ways, Pica’s works point toward the social realities and systems we inhabit, but with a sense of unerring freedom, wit, and winking provocation that is uniquely enlivening.
The artist creates her multifaceted works—which span sculpture, drawing, photography, performance, video, and installation—in the London studio she’s occupied for a decade. Recently, Pica offered us a peek—a real pleasure as she rarely has visitors—into what she likes most about the space, what’s next on her agenda, and why she has a no-food studio policy.
Tell us about your studio. Where is it, how did you find it, what kind of space is it, etc.?
I have a studio with Space Studios, a charity that takes over buildings and rents them to artists at a more affordable rate. This doesn’t mean London studios are actually affordable, but sort of possible thanks to them. It is a self-contained large room, is quiet and leafy but also run down. The best thing about the studio is that it has central heating. This shouldn’t be a rare thing, but most London studios don’t have any heating. It took me a decade to find this gem.
What made you choose this particular studio over others?
Besides the temperature, what I love about this studio is how close it is to my flat. I can walk here through a nice park in 15 minutes, though most days I cycle.
Do you have studio assistants or other team members working with you? What do they do?
I have a wonderful part-time assistant, Rebeca, who is also an artist in her own right. And even when we need more help for a specific project, I try to have others come in the same days she is here so I still get days to myself in the studio. Working with another artist often means being flexible when they have an exhibition coming up or need to travel for their own work, but I find the dialogue in the studio richer so I think it is worth it. I don’t have a kind of practice that is always the same so Rebeca’s job changes too. She mostly deals with logistics, emails, couriers, receipts, but also sometimes work is more hands-on like making a digital model for an upcoming exhibition, or doing some gluing, cutting, or testing of new materials.
How many hours do you typically spend in the studio, what time of day do you feel most productive, and what activities fill the majority of that time?
My days are never the same. Some weeks I have long days at the studio and some days I come for just four or five hours. I try to do emails at home and hands-on work at the studio, but when I have assistance we often and mostly deal with emails and communicating with institutions about future shows. Previous works also generate a permanent flow of logistics. People might think that you make an artwork and move on, but older work requires a lot of babysitting. Transport, relocation, storage, re-installation, conservation, and questions from others keep arising, even when I have moved on from a work or series.
What is the first thing you do when you walk into your studio (after turning on the lights)?
I often have to tidy my desk from the previous session as I always work until the last minute I am here and never allow time to clean up. In a sense, I much rather walk into a messy studio. An empty and ordered studio is too daunting, and a rare sight in my case. Even when I finish working towards something and need to travel to install it, I try to make sure to leave something halfway to meet me and ease my way into the studio the next time I am in.
What is a studio task on your agenda this week that you are most looking forward to?
I need to choose some colors for a labyrinth I am making out of office partitions for my coming show at Jumex in Mexico City. I often get decision fatigue, so I try to make these kinds of choices at the start of the day.
What are you working on right now?
I never have just one work on the go, but several. I am working on some sculptures with found objects that I then send to a foundry to be poured into bronze. The series is called paperweights and they are about all the different types of objects that meet at my table when I am working at home. I don’t just work at the studio, and so sometimes domestic and work material culture meet at my table, creating absurd encounters that are actually quite realistic representations of what life as an artist, a parent, and just a person is like. I think this definitely got exacerbated during the pandemic.
I am also working on collages from the series called “Catachresis” and I have been making experiments at home using shredded confidential waste as a play element.
I am also experimenting with clickers used by museum guards to monitor audience numbers. I want to make an installation with them, so I am doing some tests in the studio.
What tool or art supply do you enjoy working with the most, and why?
Paper and scissors. I just love cutting things. I have loved scissors since I was a kid.
What kind of atmosphere do you prefer when you work? Is there anything you like to listen to/watch/read/look at etc. while in the studio for inspiration or as ambient culture?
I like silence and I don’t have any finished work around or hanging on the walls.
How do you know when an artwork you are working on is clicking? How do you know when an artwork you are working on is a dud?
Every artwork is different so “knowing” always takes a different form as well. It is an anxious process, constantly questioning an artwork for its right to exist. But as I have been making work for several decades now, I have learned to better manage that uncertainty and to know, that at some point, I will know.
When you feel stuck while preparing for a show, what do you do to get unstuck?
Anything but sitting in the studio. I use distraction a lot. If I need to be at the studio, I call a friend.
Where do you get your food from, or what do you eat when you get hungry in the studio?
I bring things from home that I eat on the day. Generally speaking, I don’t like having food at the studio. It is distracting and I don’t like the idea of inviting mice to share the space.
Is there anything in your studio that a visitor might find surprising?
The level of mess, the clutter. I don’t love people coming over. Already making an artwork feels very exposed, so I feel like the studio is a safe intimate space that I don’t like sharing. Mostly, I don’t like cleaning up for visitors.
What is the fanciest item in your studio? The most humble?
A pair of fabric scissors that are a lot more expensive than they seem.
My desk is just an old desk someone left behind at a previous studio. My main worktable is made of a large plank of wood that I use to stretch paper on when making large watercolors and two legs that allow for its height to be adjusted.
How does your studio environment influence the way you work?
I would probably make bigger work if I had more space. Not sure this would necessarily be a good thing as I often like small artwork.
Describe the space in three adjectives.
Messy, bright, busy.
What’s the last thing you do before you leave the studio at the end of the day (besides turning off the lights)?
I always just run off to do the nursery pick-up, but I always make sure no organic trash is left behind.
What do you like to do right after that?
I hop on my bike and this clears my head before I go anywhere else.