January 22, 2020

Georgia Dickie is interviewed for her exhibition at Emalin as part of Condo London.

Canadian artist Georgia Dickie keeps a bank of found objects in her studio, calling upon a chosen group for each project before they return to the collection and await their next deployment. Her work is in dialogue with the idea of affordance: the potential actions or uses contained in a material item. She stretches the possibilities ascribed to each object, allowing ladders to wear boxing gloves and magazine clippings to collect in satellite dishes in her 2019 installation Agouti Sky

In collaboration with Toronto gallery Cooper Cole, Georgia Dickie brings a new installation to Emalin for Condo London 2020, ede elop en, presented alongside work from Bjorn Copeland and Nicholas Cheveldave. Laura Henderson-Child spoke to the artist about impermanence, productive self-deception and whether the objects collected in her installations can be said to have a will of their own.

Can you tell us a bit about the work you’re showing this month at Condo?

The piece I’m showing for Condo is called ede elop en (2020). It’s an installation comprised of “stacks” of material information, arranged into a grid on the gallery floor. The work is being shown at Emalin, alongside wall works by Bjorn Copeland and Nicholas Cheveldave. I first tried working this way in 2014 with an installation called Awful Residues, which I exhibited at Halsey McKay gallery in East Hampton, New York. I was living in London at the time, but my studio was in Toronto, so I had to figure out how to make a show from far away. I’m still experimenting with this way of working. As is often the case with the work I make, the components are destined to be disassembled, re-entered into inventory and then discarded or reused following the exhibition. The work exists in its precise configuration temporarily, for the duration of the exhibition, further limited of course by the gallery’s operating hours. This is both a major problem area and the impetus for making the work. Because the work is never fixed in its finished state, it can never really be presented twice. Therefore continuity is central. The title of the work presents fragments of the word “redevelopment,” disguised as a Latin-sounding proverb.

You’re known for inventive installations using “found objects”. How do you come across these things – do you wait to stumble upon them or do you actively go looking?

A major part of how I’m able to make work relies on actively tricking myself into not doing anything. I’m trying to do a lot, in other words, unintentionally. I put a lot of focus on creating systems that keep intention at the periphery. For example, I may put a great deal of intention into cleaning my studio in the hopes that while I’m doing that, the art is happening somewhere else. Then I attempt to locate it.

The criteria for selecting objects depends on convenience, proximity, and formal potential. How might this object work with the other objects I have? I work from an inventory of objects that has been accumulating very gradually for over a decade. This accumulation has been slow enough that usually by the time I choose to engage with an object I only recognise it vaguely and I don’t remember where it came from. This adds a level of arbitrariness, though I can’t claim to feel totally indifferent. There is so much stuff around that I don’t often feel the need to actively acquire. Sure, I might pick something up off the street, but I also might use a greasy paper bag from my lunch just the same. Working this way removes a layer of decision-making so that I can just get on with it. I try to limit the number of decisions I make because I’m not great at making them, so whatever is at hand will do just fine. An interesting piece of rusty metal is just as good as some used earplugs. I try to push the boundaries of my inventory, broadening what can be considered usable material. Nothing is off limits and anything will do.

In Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things, Jane Bennett theorises “the capacity of things – edibles, commodities, storms, metals – not only to impede or block the will and designs of humans but also to act as quasi-agents or forces with trajectories, propensities, or tendencies of their own”. Do you see the objects with which you work having their own intention or agency?

This reminds me of a book I read recently, Francis Ponge’s Partisan of Things, which a friend gifted to me. In his writing everyday “things” are brilliantly, unexpectedly brought to life through prose, everything from mollusks to bread. The poems resonated with me because I think my work addresses a subconscious fear of not properly appreciating objects. I don’t think inanimate objects have their own agency, but if I view myself as a conduit through which objects can express themselves, which I do, they certainly have the ability to act as connectors, facilitating the flow of meaning between things. This meaning is a result of a trial and error process which depends entirely on a variety of systems that bring disparate objects together, a mixture of precise planning and unintentional outcomes. I have to maintain the belief that the simplicity of this gesture can produce wildly provocative results.

Do you feel that you’re reacting against large-scale systems of factory labour in your work?

I’m constantly thinking about what it means to make the work I make, but I wouldn’t describe the way I work as a reaction against anything, except maybe the delusion of permanence. But I don’t think that’s what you’re asking. Logistically speaking, my work is a nightmare, so on a fundamental level it contradicts the idea of efficiency, the lifeblood of factory labour. It’s only me in my studio, thinking about how to get the work to make itself. And in this instance, once I’ve “made” the work, what follows is a series of back and forth journeys for the individual objects, destined to be reassembled or reintegrated back into my inventory. The borders of the work can only be temporarily defined, so the artwork’s existence itself is tenuous, just barely hanging on as anything at all. In ede elop en, a strong gust of wind could easily render this piece no more.

As artists, we call what we do work. And of course it is work, but this labour can feel kind of embarrassing because it doesn’t comply to the notion of work in a productive sense. Much of my studio time is spent just thinking about the accumulation of garbage objects around me, for hours on end, in complete solitude. By today’s standards, this is a radical act. I’m not spending or making money or getting things done or engaging with other humans. I’m trying to solve problems that don’t need to be solved. But I also participate in and voluntarily submit the work I do to a commercial art market whose MO is to value and consume. What I do is a job in the sense that I have tasks, a sense of responsibility, and ultimately a goal to sell things that I produce. In my recent solo show, Agouti Sky, I mounted my studio couch to the gallery wall. The couch is a symbol of labour in that it signifies laziness and not doing anything, so I decided to literally lift the couch up and make it monumental, a thing of worship. That piece, titled Horizon (Darryl’s Paris Apartment) (2019), framed the exhibition.

Can you tell me about the relationship between freedom and rigidity in your work? There’s an interesting visual tension between some objects scattered in heaps, and others laid out in orderly lines and grids.

Those two words are interesting to think about in reference to my work. I employ chaos so that I can employ order somewhere else. For me, it’s a formal approach to achieving balance and affirming intention. Similarly, I’ll go big and small or polished and crude. I’m always trying to find structure in material objects, even if that structure appears as a pile of debris. The grid format in particular still feels really new for me. There are so many variables in how I make my work, it can be useful to implement arbitrary constants, such as a grid.

Your 2019 installation Agouti Sky creates the sensation of walking into an empty house when all the lights are still on: the boiler suits on the high-up sofa look like two people have just slipped out of them and vacated the room. Do you imagine your installation spaces as occupied by unseen inhabitants?

Normally I’m bringing found objects into the gallery and configuring them in different ways. With Agouti Sky, I introduced a narrative to the work by incorporating figurative elements, which haven’t featured as strongly in my past work. The show was sort of a banal apocalypse vibe. A stylised but recognisable landscape, a reflection on where we’re at. I’m glad to hear the space felt activated in that way. To me, the exhibition felt vacant, previously occupied, abandoned. Bimbo Hamper (2019) became the “getaway cart,” complete with insufficient and inappropriate survival supplies, including two rolls of paper towel, a case of plastic water bottles, and a studded belt.

Has your process and relationship to your art changed since you started working, especially in creating bigger installations?

It changes constantly. The biggest change has been that I try not to look too closely at my relationship to the work I make. I used to fixate on the meaning of my personal relationship to my practice, but now I’m more comfortable remaining a stranger to it. There are more important things to figure out and the work I make is very different from the person I am, so who cares. Recently, I went big with my installations to get it out of my system. Subsequently, I’m out of space in my studio, so I guess I make small work starting… now. Ha!

What happens to the prior contexts and connotations of each object when you repurpose it for art? Are they erased as the objects take on a new significance, or do the items retain the possibilities they held before?

People often assume that I know what the prior context or function of the objects are, but I’m usually finding or engaging with them at a recontextualised stage far from their place of origin. The very idea of context is put into question in my work. Ideally, the objects are eternally subject to reinterpretation. Besides, I don’t see how it would be possible to freeze them as they are in their current state forever. That’s really the question my work is dealing with.


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