As the saying goes, a man’s garbage is another man’s treasure, and no one embodies this feeling more acutely than the sculptor and filmmaker Lydia Ricci. Based on a pile of garbage and everyday garbage that has accumulated over the past 30 years, Ricci makes imperfectly perfect replicas of quotidian moments and objects.
“I have been collecting my family’s pieces for over 25 years,” the artist wrote in a confessing essay on his website, “but I must admit that I also steal some.” These rounded pieces include a recyclable BINGO card from a family party at the local elementary school (“fancy … with red plastic windows covering the numbers”), dusty electrical tape (“no one needs three rolls”), a light bulb box from a neighbor’s garage (“The bulb probably didn’t even work”), and a very worn bible from a (“not-so-fancy”) hotel room. If you leave Ricci alone in a waiting room, she will consider your paper clips a fair game.
“I appreciate a 1984 electric bill, just as others would covet their family jewelry,” Ricci told Hyperallergic via email.
The results are souvenirs that do not so much reflect their counterparts in the real world, so deeply evoke a sense of life as it is remembered – a little crooked, a little irregular, very detailed places, but very abstract elsewhere. Ricci poses and photographs his small sculptures in tableaux, where the objects are often out of proportion, giving them the surreal quality of dreams and memory. A tiny aquarium provides cramped spaces for a peeled cocktail shrimp. A dilapidated miniature sofa struggles to hide life-size keys and Cheerios and hairballs. A teensy dishwasher is slowly buried in a life-size operation of detergent flakes.
As if creating these scenes from multiple media is not enough, Ricci then transforms them into multimedia productions and adds single-sentence text excerpts that seem to tune over the images or serve as narration for short films. Her three minute long film I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU (2021) went round in the spring at film festivals in Arizona and Washington, DC and tells the story of an evolving relationship through its everyday dramas: the wait for a dining room, the toothbrush sharing policy, the request (or lack thereof) for help reaching a high shelf, the need (or not) for company on a grocery trip.
“There is absolutely nothing valuable or precise about what I construct,” Ricci added. “The sculptures are messy and imperfect just like our memories.” And yet the artist has the ability to construct small monuments over great experiences, as subjective as the memories they represent.
Ricci was part of a four-person show that ran through April at the James Oliver Gallery in Philadelphia, with another show set to open on August 23 at the Kohler Art Museum in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. She also hopes to publish a book with her pictures titled Do not forget me. As the name suggests, Ricci’s attachment to detritus is not a matter of waste or recycling, but of its ability to transform memory – however scratched and conditioned it may be.