As the saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and no one embodies this sentiment more acutely than sculptor and filmmaker Lydia Ricci. From a pile of scraps and everyday detritus accumulated over the last 30 years, Ricci makes imperfectly perfect replicas of quotidian moments and objects.
“I have been collecting my family’s scraps for over 25 years,” wrote the artist in a confessional essay on her website, “but I have to admit, I also steal some too.” These purloined scraps include a reusable BINGO card from a family function at the local elementary school (“fancy … with red plastic windows that cover the numbers”), dusty electrical tape (“nobody needs three rolls”), a lightbulb 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 considers your paper clips fair game.
“I treasure an electric bill from 1984 like others would covet their family jewels,” Ricci told Hyperallergic by email.
The results are mementos that do not so much mirror their real-world counterparts as deeply evoke a sense of life as it is remembered — a little wonky, a little irregular, very detailed in places but highly abstract in others. Ricci poses and photographs her tiny sculptures in tableaux in which the objects are often out of proportion, giving them the surreal quality of dreams and memory. A tiny aquarium makes tight quarters for a peeled cocktail shrimp. A ramshackle miniature couch struggles to conceal life-sized keys and Cheerios and hairballs. A teensy dishwasher is slowly buried in a drift of life-sized detergent flakes.
As if creating these scenes out of multiple media isn’t enough, Ricci then recasts them in multimedia productions, adding single-sentence text snippets that seem to voice over the images or serve as narration to short films. Her three-minute film I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU (2021) made the rounds this past 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 diner booth, the politics of toothbrush-sharing, the request (or lack thereof) for help reaching a high shelf, the need (or not) for company on a grocery run.
“There is absolutely nothing precious or precise about what I am constructing,” Ricci added. “The sculptures are messy and imperfect just like our memories.” And yet, the artist has a knack for constructing small monuments to big experiences, as subjective as the memories they represent.
Ricci was part of a four-person show that ran through April at James Oliver Gallery in Philadelphia, with another show slated to open on August 23 at the Kohler Art Museum in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. She’s also hoping to publish a book of her images, titled Don’t You Forget About Me. As the name suggests, Ricci’s attachment to detritus is not a question of waste or reuse, but of its power to transmute memory — however scrappy and conditional it may be.