Georgia Dickie, Maquette for Dream Home, 2021, cardboard box, found objects, glue, hi-hat cymbals and stand, found metal base, dimensions variable.

Georgia Dickie, Maquette for Dream Home, 2021, cardboard box, found objects, glue, hi-hat cymbals and stand, found metal base, dimensions variable.

Georgia Dickie

With characteristic insight, Roland Barthes once expounded on Gustave Flaubert’s treatment of a room belonging to a certain Madame Aubain, going all in when descriptively dwelling upon the sort of inconsequential qualities normally deemed extraneous to the exposition of plot. Such minutiae may possess an incomparable importance if one takes the time to savor them. Resolutely avoiding precious materials, Georgia Dickie has produced a process-oriented project that is, in part, a reflection on how to relate to these disposable details—the filler, as it were—as a means to embrace authentic experience within a surprising range of contexts: consumerist conformity, ecological awareness, and social pathologies associated with the behaviors of collecting and discarding.

Dickie’s show at Cooper Cole featured collages and assemblages the artist made during the pandemic from the scores of unwanted items she gathered during strolls between her studio and her home. Stemming from a flower-shaped coffee-table base composed of metallic rings, the sculpture Maquette for Dream Home, 2021, is topped by a big cardboard box—cut open to serve as a platform for the playful planning of “dream” interiors—which is populated in part by other containers, such as a kitschy cat-shaped candleholder, a gold plastic receptacle for candy, and an upended Kleenex carton. These items share space with a propped-up jerky wrapper, torn bits of magazines and textiles, pottery shards, and wooden scraps of the kind found frequently in a dustpan. A little staircase made from plywood ascends to a mini monument: a glue stick—capped with sticky steel screws and a few hairlike plastic strands—signifying a means of production and a shrine-like context, maybe meant to invoke the gods of cohesion and coherence during our uncertain times. A handwritten note states, NEED / WANT FREE INSPIRATION, while a bit of box label offers, ASK FOR BREAST PUMPS. While the works strike some absurdist and satirical notes, an unmistakable devotional ethos is at work here, suggesting a sacred setting, more akin to Kurt Schwitters’s Merz constructions than to other Dadaist modes of mocking or insult.

Dickie is adept at crafting works on an intimate scale as well: Maintenance, 2020, consists of a paper shopping bag with baggage: Inside are painstakingly layered pieces of wrapping paper, magazine ads, cardboard, and irregular snippets of pages rendered in solid colors—all held in place with glue to the extent that the work is portable, despite its precarious appearance. While the sculpture’s exterior has been repaired repeatedly, the artist’s vigilant devotion to adornment—along with a certain preservationist zeal—contributes to her own “trademark” approach to careful, chromatic, and cumulative activity that can be seen in much of her recent art. That such a disposable thing should receive this ritualized attention may indicate semantic shifts between an ethos of responsible reuse, a street-based subjectivity of homeless desperation, an irrational obsession with discarded detritus, and a sense of the mobile talisman or fetish.

For the wall-based collage A bit like the lesion, 2020, Dickie composed cumulative strata of a different order. Upon a cardboard-and-wood support, she has layered several motifs: Expanses of scrawled drawing and fragments of floral wallpaper are set in uneasy dialogue with bits of tissue paper that have been stretched, glued, and damaged to the extent that they register as slightly slimy residues. One central region of cardboard has been subject to incision, revealing an architectural drawing beneath, spray-painted green. Such signs of defacement are balanced by a pair of serene square cardboard pieces, with gray- and red-paper adornments, respectively, suggesting figures with outstretched or curled-up arms. These pseudo-personages seem like degraded relatives of Henri Matisse’s cutouts from the late 1940s or Willem de Kooning’s collaged works such as Attic, 1949, with its melding of references to body fragments and material process. And yet, despite a palpable sense of refinement in Dickie’s collages, a feeling of corruption of the ideals associated with ego-laden avant-garde ambition or arrogance prevails. While offering a counterpoint to the rise of rampant online cultures of narcissism and consumerist novelty, Dickie concentrates on what matters most: maintaining an analog form of hands-on dedication to the humblest materials. Often testing their tensile strengths, she offers these cast-offs a new life while striving to understand how they might be an extension of our past and present selves.