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Issue 234

Amalia Pica Displaces the Beach

At Brighton CCA, the artist’s latest participatory installation invites audiences to comb for gold in tonnes of stones transported from the nearby coast

BY Salena Barry in Exhibition Reviews , UK Reviews | 17 JAN 23

‘Look what I found!’ A smiling child peeks through an opening into the reading room where Amalia Pica and I are discussing Rock Comb (2022), her latest commission. The girl proudly holds up a hand to show what looks like a nugget of gold. The object, which is actually a pebble covered in gold leaf, is one of a handful hidden within two tonnes of stones transported from nearby Brighton Beach to Brighton CCA for Pica’s commission. About a fifth of the floor, spreading out from one wall toward the centre of the gallery, is covered with pebbles.

Amalia Pica
Amalia Pica, ‘Souvenir’, 2017, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Brighton CCA

Laid out in lines tracing the length of the room and organized by colour, the rocks form a gradient that ranges from charcoal grey to faded red to a dusty white. On the opposite wall is a mantle on which artworks from Pica’s earlier series, ‘Souvenir’ (2017), are displayed. These consist of gold-coated seashells glued together to create forms that edge toward figuration but stop just short of it. Although similarly inanimate, the igneous tapestry has a certain liveliness, particularly at its border – an uneven line of stones in varying sizes which pulses toward and away from the mass behind it.

At the entrance of the show, pebbles are piled on the floor, punctuated by shiny metal buckets and shovels. Above the mound are instructions inviting visitors to take some rocks and organize them on the gallery floor according to colour. If you happen to find a gold rock, the text reads, you can either place it on the mantle or take it away with you.

Amalia Pica
Amalia Pice, Rock Comb, 2022, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Brighton CCA 

The premise of Pica’s invitation to sort pebbles seems simple enough. However, I found myself having to make thoughtful determinations with each stone I placed. Examining each one, I realized that it could fit in a number of places. Would the red specks in an otherwise grey pebble fit better at the beginning of the gradient among the grey stones, or were they prominent enough to justify their placement with the red ones? There is a tension between an individual’s perception and its implications for the communal understanding of a larger experience. It brings forth a self-awareness buttressed by a sense of ever-present interconnectedness and mutual responsibility – things we may forget in other contexts. 

Participating in this artwork is as much about forming a bond with those who have come before as it is about mapping out a method for those who come after. It is an ongoing lesson, but one about more than the practice of categorization. Pica challenges and re-creates systems of knowledge by bringing the outside in. This is not done to destroy, but to amplify reciprocally. Rock Comb broadens the function of the gallery space from solely informative to collaborative, while recontextualizing the objects it presents. Here, the pebbles can become symbols for community, representatives of a larger, albeit fragile physical environment, or a metaphor for our individual impact in supporting and influencing a whole.

Amalia Pica
Amalia Pica, ‘Souvenir’, 2017, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Brighton CCA

Further, being able to touch Pica’s work inspires a childlike joy which undergirds this knowledge-exchange. Each pebble in Rock Comb has been held by someone else, perhaps as each stone on Brighton Beach, where these stones will be returned after the show closes, has felt the underside of a sandal, boot or bare foot. Contributing to the assembly on the gallery floor, I sense myself melding into a collective, intertwined presence as I learn from and teach visitors past, present and future.

Amalia Pica’s ‘Rock Comb’ is on view at Brighton CCA until 4 February 

Main image: Amalia Pice, Rock Comb, 2022, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Brighton CCA

Salena Barry is a writer and digital communications professional living in London, UK. She is a 2022 Jerwood Writer in Residence.