Anthropomorphic art to make you question the human condition
Eye of needle, leg of chair; a tooth of comb to smooth the hair. That isn’t some magical incantation — sorry to disappoint — but a short regalement made up of words which describe very particular parts of objects. Interestingly, though, you won’t be able to find an alternative name; there is no other word which can be used to describe the eye, leg or tooth in question.
You could, of course, describe them — the hole in the top of the needle, or the long supporting member of the seat — but there are no other nouns. These are catachreses: things for which there is simply no other name, so we misappropriate nouns from elsewhere so we have something to call them. Look around you, and you’ll find there’s no shortage; our everyday lives are full of them.
Many of these words are peculiarly anthropomorphized: the elbow of a pipe, neck of a bottle, join the three name-checked in my little rhyme. This curiosity is something that Argentinean-born, London-based artist Amalia Pica takes and runs with in her Catachresis series, which is currently on show at Modern Art Oxford.
The works sit together in tension, the collection as a whole simultaneously reinforcing and undermining the logic behind the concept of catachresis. #20 (teeth of the comb, legs of the table, tongue of the shoe), for instance, uses those very objects to depict crude body parts, naturalizing the urge we have to view the objects around us as an extension of our own form.
Amalia Pica challenges a fundamental process by which we understand the world”
Other pieces, such as #8 (head of the nail, teeth of the comb, eye of the needle, head of the screw), are far more abstracted. In turn, these examples force the viewer to question that urge we have. This work points to the realisation that we might not be merely viewing the world through our own form, but rather imposing our bodies onto it.
Pica is forcing us to question our world view. Not a minority view, nor a populist one; rather, a fundamental process through which we all make sense of the world around us. Viewing the world through a foil of our own body image is as integral as narrative is in our drive to understand the sensory information we must process throughout our lives.
There’s little good reason, after all, for the tongue of a shoe to be so-called, other than the fact it feels natural — and that’s the crux of Pica’s Catachresis series. Throw all our mental faculties at challenging the status quo as we might, the fact remains that we are simple creatures that rely on similarity and difference to make sense of the world. It’s not that such a process is convenient, though obviously it is. It runs much deeper: we are hardwired to view the world as an extension of ourselves, and centuries of evolution have done little to change it. While that remains the case — and it’s difficult to imagine it changing any time — we ought embrace the catachresis. Pica’s work is a fine place to begin that process.
Image by Amalia Pica