Often, modern art can find itself all too knowing: a snobbish affair, inaccessible and serious, as much an attempt to celebrate the intelligence of the artist as their creativity. That argument can't be levelled at Argentinean-born, London-based artist Amalia Pica, though. Certainly there's an intelligence and social awareness in her work — but there's a playful streak running through much of it, too.
That's never more evident than in her Catachresis series, which is currently on show at Modern Art Oxford as part of the For Shower Singers exhibition. Taking inspiration from our — perhaps understandable but occasionally surprising — desire to anthropomorphise everyday items, she works together discarded objects into sculptures, riffing on our use of language. In particular, she studies those things for which there is no other name, such as the leg of a table or the elbow of a pipe. Catachresis #20 (teeth of the comb, legs of the table, tongue of the shoe), then, uses those very objects to depict a crude lower body of a human, while other pieces, such as Catachresis #8 (head of the nail, teeth of the comb, eye of the needle, head of the screw), force the viewer to question whether such use of language really make sense.
Elsewhere, Pica's playful streak occasionally breaks into the celebratory. Perhaps the standout exhibit Some of That Colour #2 (pictured), is a bright and vivid affair, which evokes childhood memories with its colourful bunting, while its associated canvas, daubed in water-leached ink from the very same bunting, prompts one to consider its impermanence. Echoing that theme of celebration and reflection, new commission Strangers on Common Ground uses the bunting motif once more, this time carefully picked out in bright colours on a gigantic wall of photocopy. The effect is one of greater contrast, hinting at the associated emotional lows that invariably follow the highs.
Taken as a whole, the exhibition — which includes a number of other new commissions spread across several rooms — does a wonderful job of exploring our social concerns and how they relate to our daily lives. For Shower Singers runs at Modern Art Oxford until 10 February 2012. Entrance is free.