Otto Berchem & Amalia Pica

Instituto de Visión, Bogotá, Colombia

A ream of multi-coloured office paper cast from the roof of a non-descript building at Bogotá’s National University of Colombia is the orienting gesture of ‘Mobilize’, Instituto de Visión’s two-person exhibition featuring Otto Berchem and Amalia Pica. Filmed in 2013 and presented in the gallery space as a looped video installation projected on a translucent plastic screen, Berchem’s Revolver focuses on the movement of these traffic-cone-orange, lime-green, black and white sheets as they float slowly to the ground. Contained within this work’s surface poeticism – at first glance, the project appears beholden to Francis Alÿs’s landmark 2005 performance, The Green Line (Sometimes doing something poetic can become political and sometimes doing something political can become poetic) – is a deeply-rooted cynicism regarding the collapse of political meaning and the cyclical futility of collective protest. 

mobilize_04.jpg

Otto Berchem & Amalia Pica, 'Mobilize', installation view, Instituto de Visión, Bogota. Courtesy: Instituto de Visión, Bogota

The exhibition’s three central sculptures, collaborations between Berchem and Pica, articulate this breakdown in the disjuncture between language and object. Using thermoformed acrylic, the artists render fluid paper sheets as stagnant structures: 102 moulded forms in all have been suspended from the ceiling, draped flaccidly over a corner shelf and dashed against an overturned, blue metal office chair. Each of these related works is titled with some variant of the action verb ‘mobilize’, a term that summons dynamic resistance. When transposed to the immobile sculptures, the artists’ invitation feels impotent – the often ineffectual nature of political organization emphasized by the works’ use of corporate aesthetics. The bright paper hues in Revolver are rendered even more anodyne when filtered through the installation’s colour field of robin-egg blue, baby pink and canary yellow (the palette of post-it notes and office-wide memos). Berchem’s 2013 performance at the National University of Colombia encompassed the conflicting ideologies of public education – as a conduit for radical thought and social cohesion on the one hand, and as preparation for success in a banal, corporate system of capitalism on the other. Surrounded by this limpidly pretty and deliberately inoffensive work that explicitly takes political mobilization as its subject, we realize that these two polarities are in fact not so distinct. 

mobilize_15.jpg

Otto Berchem & Amalia Pica, Mobilized (Chair), 2017 and Amalia Pica, Procession of Eight, 2017. Courtesy: Instituto de Visión, Bogota

A handful of solo works by Berchem and Pica surround this joint installation; a selection that foregrounds their practices’ sharp differences despite ostensible formal similarities and shared references to Pictures Generation artist Annette Lemieux. Pica’s Inventario de (in)escuchados (Inventory of the [Un]heard, 2017), the exhibition’s standout work, is composed of white plaster casts of noisemaking objects used in protest marches. Hanging from thread in a standardized formal ordering, these shoes, megaphones, pots, sticks and machetes are categorized by the thing of which they are stripped (noise). In doing so, Pica produces a monochrome reminiscent of Louise Nevelson’s abstract expressionist assemblages, recasting the most basic mechanisms through which people seek to be heard into a frieze designed to be seen. In doing so, she speaks directly to processes of strangulation by bureaucratic ordering. But where Pica’s astute interventions dive further into the intricacies of bureaucratic confinement – examining the many forms of silencing via banal regulation patterns – the individual works by Berchem prioritize beauty before insight, enacting what they aim to critique. In Rehearse (2017) his series of ‘photo paintings’, the artist reproduces a selection of black and white documentary photographs sourced from global protest movements on high-grade uncoated cotton paper. He then intervenes on these images by covering signs or banners with abstract shapes in gouache and pencil – an erasure of shared meaning in favour of the artist’s private language of synesthetic colour. Rather than articulate universal visual codes for collective mobilization, these works reduce the specific lives and experiences of those represented in the images to a pictorial field for the artist to play upon; the fetishized beauty of documented protest rendered even more beautiful, and even less capable of stimulating social change, by its sublimation through the commercially-viable language of abstract painting. 

Main image: Otto Berchem and Amalia Pica, `Mobilize´, installation view, Instituto de Vision Bogota. Courtesy: Instituto de Visión, Bogota

 

Issue 190

First published in Issue 190

October 2017

Most Read

Ignoring its faux-dissident title, this year's edition at the New Museum displays a repertoire that is folky, angry,...
An insight into royal aesthetics's double nature: Charles I’s tastes and habits emerge as never before at London’s...
In other news: Artforum responds to #NotSurprised call for boycott of the magazine; Maria Balshaw apologizes for...
At transmediale in Berlin, contesting exclusionary language from the alt-right to offshore finance
From Shanghai to Dubai, a new history charts the frontiers where underground scenes battle big business for electronic...
Hauser & Wirth Somerset, Bruton, UK
Zihan Karim, Various Way of Departure, 2017, video still. Courtesy: Samdani Art Foundation
Can an alternative arts network, unmediated by the West's commercial capitals and burgeoning arts economies of China...
‘That moment, that smile’: collaborators of the filmmaker pay tribute to a force in California's film and music scenes...
In further news: We Are Not Surprised collective calls for boycott of Artforum, accuses it of 'empty politics'; Frida...
We Are Not Surprised group calls for the magazine to remove Knight Landesman as co-owner and withdraw move to dismiss...
Paul Thomas Anderson's latest film is both gorgeous and troubling in equal measure
With Zona Maco opening in the city today, a guide to the best exhibitions across the Mexican capital
The question at the heart of Manchester Art Gallery’s artwork removal: what are the risks when cultural programming...
In further news: Sonia Boyce explains removal of Manchester Art Gallery’s nude nymphs; Creative Scotland responds to...
Ahead of the India Art Fair running this weekend in the capital, a guide to the best shows to see around town
The gallery argues that the funding body is no longer supportive of institutions that maintain a principled refusal of...
The Dutch museum’s decision to remove a bust of its namesake is part of a wider reconsideration of colonial histories,...
At New York’s Metrograph, a diverse film programme addresses a ‘central problem’ of feminist filmmaking
Ronald Jones pays tribute to a rare critic, art historian, teacher and friend who coined the term Post-Minimalism
In further news: curators rally behind Laura Raicovich; Glasgow's Transmission Gallery responds to loss of Creative...
Nottingham Contemporary, UK
‘An artist in a proud and profound sense, whether he liked it or not’ – a tribute by Michael Bracewell
Ahead of a show at Amsterdam’s EYE Filmmuseum, how the documentarian’s wandering gaze takes in China’s landscapes of...
In further news: Stedelijk explains why it cancelled Ettore Sottsass retrospective; US National Gallery of Art cancels...
With 11 of her works on show at the Musée d'Orsay, one of the most underrated artists in modern European history is...
Reopening after a two-year hiatus, London’s brutalist landmark is more than a match for the photographer’s blockbuster...
What the Google Arts & Culture app tells us about our selfie obsession
At a time of #metoo fearlessness, a collection of female critics interrogate their own fandom for music’s most...
A rare, in-depth interview with fashion designer Jil Sander

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

October 2017

frieze magazine

November - December 2017

frieze magazine

January - February 2018