June 7 – September 14, 2019
Lydia Ricci is an artist and graphic designer based in Philadelphia. Her tiny sculptures of everyday objects made from the ephemera of everyday life— “from scraps”— simultaneously evoke a sense of wonder and a hazy nostalgia. As we sat down to talk about memory, messiness, and meaning, she handed me a blue typewriter that was about the size of my fist.
Jimmy Stamp: You mentioned this typewriter was prompted by another interview you did?
Lydia Ricci: Well to me it represents a lot of what’s going on today. Everyone is talking about logistics and the technical things and this and that. So many people ask you to write responses, email interviews, to post things in words — and it’s like, can’t I just tell you? Can’t we just talk?
JS: It has a surprising weight. They’re all surprisingly solid pieces.
LR: They are. They’re not precious; they’re not delicate works. This one’s made from old floppy disks.
JS: So the floppy disk and the typewriter are kind of related concepts. Is that something you consciously try to do? Relate the scraps to the object?
LR: Yes, but in a weird way. Not in a way that can be clearly articulated. It has to feel right. It’s not just the color and the texture and the subject matter. The motorcycle, for instance, is partly made from album covers, which feels right. But I don’t think I would use an album by Air Supply. Other times, I feel it’s completely serendipitous.
JS: What do you mean?
LR: These scraps come into my world at the time I need them. I recently found these little yellow metal pieces. I don’t know what they are or why I wanted them, but they became part of a bicycle — my bicycle. I didn’t have any idea I’d use them to make a bike, but I got the idea four days later. And the coating on the seat was made from this little game I bought in Chinatown when I lived in San Francisco. I don’t want to spell out all the details, but to me, that game was the moment of the bike seat.
JS: What made you think of that when you were working on the bike?
LR: That bike in particular, when I was a kid, I used to just ride around in circles. That’s what free time was as a kid. You went around in circles. As an adult, I had a friend who I would just go around Chinatown with and look for stuff. That was our adult free time. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, until this moment really, but those two acts feel similar to me.
JS: Do you plan out each piece before you make it?
LR: Not really. I start with some moment; some aspect of it. I’m always figuring it out as I work. I cannot see in three dimensions — like, at all. I once had a professor tell me I can’t see the z-axis. That’s why graphic design was good for me. I simplify things for people. When I made this typewriter, I was fucking up over and over again. There’s a part of the typewriter I could not figure out — the space [between the type bars and the ribbon]. It was insanity how many times I did things wrong. I just do it wrong until it’s right. But it looks like it, right?
JS: It does. It feels like it.
LR: It feels like it, exactly. I don’t want to make replicas. I’m very leery of making dollhouse furniture. Each piece has its own scale. There’s no relationship to each other. You can see how messy it is. Your eyes connect everything.
JS: The keyboard is just the idea of a keyboard. It’s not an exact recreation.
LR: Right. They can’t be the actual letters. It’s not a replica; it’s a collage. I really do think of them as collages. It’s about giving just enough for people to fill in the blanks. There are parts of that typewriter that don’t make sense but no one notices. Sometimes I even marvel at how something looks like what it does when so much is missing. It’s like a person. No one is looking at your eyes, then your lips, then your nose. You’re looking at a person. That’s how I want these pieces to be perceived.
JS: All at once.
LR: Give someone the whole piece and let them take it in and enjoy the whole thing. But also, I want them to enjoy, not the messiness of it, but trying to figure out why it still looks like the thing it does.
JS: There’s something to that messiness that makes it seem more emotional or raw or…
LR: You do the work. The viewer does the work. I’m only giving you a little.
JS: Dollhouses aside, miniatures are often tied to memory. I was just reading about a famous eighteenth-century painter known for creating miniature portraits that sailors and soldiers would keep to remind them of their loved ones. Then there are souvenirs—which literally means “to remember”—that are often little representations of a place.
LR: There’s something about being able to hold these little things in your hand and connect with a time and place. But I don’t want you to marvel at the size, I want you to marvel at the fact that you find ways to connect with it. When you give things a new sense of scale, you think about them in a different way. Taking a photograph of it is also very important to me. Putting them through a lens is a way to neaten them up and give them some context.
JS: Speaking of, seeing your work in a gallery is a very different experience than seeing it on Instagram or your website. It gives the piece a different resonance. Online, some of the photos were animated, some had backgrounds or related object for scale —like the vacuum cleaner and the Legos. There’s often a playful aspect to it. But if you see the same piece against a white wall, there’s a sort of…sadness, maybe…to it?
LR: A formality, I’d say. I’m always trying to figure out where these things belong. When you put them together with other objects that reveal their scale, they’re not as lonely. But it changes their meaning.
JS: Is there any meaning or feeling that you’re trying to evoke?
LR: That’s a good question. I enjoy the joyfulness that you feel when you see them with a background environment. But I’m filling in a lot of blanks there. I’m creating a narrative. For me, it’s a personal narrative.There’s this empty tank I made like the one I used to keep my gerbil in as a kid. We now put our fish in it. When our fish Fang died no one even noticed. When my gerbil died no one noticed either. So there are distant memories of the past colliding with more recent ones. In a gallery setting, you bring your own story. You create the narrative.
JS: I think the most successful art is really specifically related to the creator’s life, rather than some general sentiment. When someone shares a personal experience, a lot of people will say “hey, I’ve felt just like that before.” I think this is true of your work. You have these very specific memories or ideas for each piece, but when you look at the comments online, people are relating to these objects and sharing their own memories about roller rinks or toys or pets.
LR: It’s like a roadmap for memory for a lot of people. I’m trying to not be so verbose with the captions. I’ll write something and then I cut out a few words.
JS: They read like fragments of memories. Are the captions from diary or journal pages?
LR: No. I walk at night and figure out what these things are and what they mean to me. I used to think just the object was enough. Now, I see that the object in motion, with just a snippet of text, can capture an instant, a moment.
JS: Are you worried that people will try to figure them out? What they’re made of or what they mean? Does looking too closely take away some of their magic?
LR: I don’t want it to be about the craft. It’s not about how its done necessarily. It is a fascinating process to me — it’s not planned, there’s no set process, it’s additive. But if someone is trying to figure it out, I don’t think that’s a failure. I just don’t want that to be the main takeaway. You know, I just went through some old photo albums and I realized, we take all these pictures of ourselves and other people but the objects are always right there in the frame with us. And they aren’t getting the credit they deserve. They’re a part of our story. These things were here all the time.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Image Credits: Etienne Frossard