Despite facing skyward with its radial arms outstretched, the large satellite dish on the floor near the entrance to Georgia Dickie’s exhibition ‘Agouti Sky’ seems unlikely to transmit a signal. The cables trailing from it plug into nothing; instead, it lies beside a worn baseball cap and other detritus. Nevertheless, it conveys a message, almost a warning: this show is a hermeneutic short-circuit. Take it on its own terms or not at all. The work’s title, Wendell Spinney (rainmaker) (2019), offers little help; that Dickie borrowed it from a character in Midnight Touch (2006), a Harlequin romance novel by Karen Kendall, gives little insight as to its meaning.
Instead, the show dwells on – which is to say, enacts – failure and stymied expectations. Although its supporting literature identifies twelve discrete works, the show resembles a sequence of accumulating objects that snakes around the gallery’s bisected rectangle like a serpentine Fischli and Weiss installation. (One notable exception – in both medium and placement – is Interior 4 (London Sketches) (2014), a watercolour and collage work whose hovering red sofas foreshadow the beaten-down couch improbably mounted high on the wall for Horizon (Darryl’s Paris apartment) (2019).) The effect imparts the sense that Dickie unloaded a dumpster of metal scrap and urban detritus into the gallery, piled it against the walls, pulled out two or three objects that, on a whim, she found interesting and left the rest as it was, naming things here and there in similarly aleatory fashion. Consider the exhibition title, ‘Agouti Sky’ – which could be drawn from a San Franciscan neo-psychedelic band, a Middle American guinea pig-like rodent, the gene controlling melanin allocation in mammals, or a Moroccan region revered by trekkers for its isolated, time-worn landscape’s vast, blue firmament, but which has no obvious link to the show.
Some of this ethos is familiar territory for Dickie, a long-time fan of stumbled-upon scraps and accidental juxtapositions. Until now, however, she generally deployed that ethos with a light touch that offered the viewer ready access, as exemplified by Smile (2013), probably Dickie’s best-known work. (It gained notoriety this past summer when the couture house Celine acquired it for their boutique on Paris’s fashionable Rue Duphot.) A simple, wall-mounted sculpture fashioned from found wood and crowd-control cordons, its form (and title) recall a goofy grin.
By contrast, this show’s bricolage foregrounds chance’s interplay with choice. From an industrial handcart to a baby chair, boxing gloves and wooden beams, the range of items and titles is so random as to create the illusion of the artist’s total absence. And didn’t Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault expose that presence as illusory anyway? On the other hand, perhaps absence only signifies if someone curates the impression of non-curation. If chance creates the illusion of choice, the reverse might also be true. Playing with this opposition, ‘Agouti Sky’ is a symphony of indecision that, at a time when exhibitions claim to confront our expectations, actually accomplishes this increasingly difficult task.
‘Georgia Dickie: Agouti Sky’ continues at Oakville Galleries, Oakville, Canada, until 5 January 2020.
First published in Issue 208