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At King's Cross Amalia Pica’s ‘Semaphores’

Taws, R; (2019) At King's Cross Amalia Pica’s ‘Semaphores’. [Review]. London Review of Books , 41 (20) p. 16. Green open access

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Abstract

Amalia Pica’s installation Semaphores, currently on display behind King’s Cross Station, consists of three brightly coloured signalling devices, one on the ground, next to the Regent’s Canal, the other two on the rooftops of nearby buildings. Candy-striped and chequered in contrasting colours, they seem made for play and nostalgia, a kind of mechanical bunting. The device at ground level is operated by passers-by. Pulling on its cables causes differently shaped and patterned discs to flip from horizontal to vertical, composing a message. It looks like a giant toy, but it also pays homage to a more distant predecessor: George Murray’s shutter semaphore system, invented in 1795, which allowed information to be sent at great speed (London could contact Portsmouth in just seven and a half minutes). A panel next to Pica’s semaphore provides the code, so that messages can be spelled out, letter by letter, although I doubt many people bother; it’s surprisingly labour-intensive. I hope some do, however, because it’s at this point that Pica’s work departs from the cheery aesthetic that characterises the regeneration zone behind King’s Cross, with its astroturf and glossy shops. Whatever message we send won’t be returned. There are no further shutter signal posts to send it down the line or reply. The three pieces in Pica’s installation are based on two distinct historical semaphore systems, operating independently of each other. The paired rooftop works, which emulate a communication system developed in France in 1792 by Claude Chappe, a former priest, speak an entirely different language.

Type: Article
Title: At King's Cross Amalia Pica’s ‘Semaphores’
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Publisher version: https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v41/n20/richard-ta...
Language: English
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of History of Art
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10083971
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