with Amie Dicke
Whether she’s cutting and altering fashion magazines or powdering vintage books with layers of make-up, Amie Dicke says her role as an artist is to “point” at the magic that’s hiding in plain sight, revealing associations and resonances that might otherwise go unnoticed. As the following collection of objects from her studio demonstrates, Dicke finds herself increasingly captivated by the peculiar effects that intangible forces, such as light, chance, time and error, can exercise on our material world.
The eye has to travel upon entering the studio of Amie Dicke, the Dutch artist who rose to prominence by literally defacing fashion magazines, taking sandpaper and nails to their glossy versions of perfection. The question is, where exactly should the eye go first?
Her studio, set over two floors in the sacristy of De Duif, a neoclassical Catholic church in central Amsterdam, is a perfumed Wunderkammer of sign and symbol. It starts at street level, with a handwritten note, taped to the window, that reads MEET ME AT THE ALTAR. “The WiFi is really strong there,” she whispers by way of explanation, opening the door of her kitchen so that we can peer reverentially at the altar table, with its gilded replica of the tomb of St Willibrord.
Dicke, it seems, is drawn towards historical spaces, where the present intrudes on the past, and vice versa. In 2012 she was invited to stage an artistic intervention at Castrum Peregrini – a canalside building that had served as secret safe house* for Jewish youths and others fleeing persecution during the Second World War.
After much contemplation, Dicke decided to make a feature of the building’s fractures and holes by meticulously inlaying them with shiny gold fabric hewn from emergency blankets of the kind given to the survivors of floods and refugees. The painstaking act pointed not only to the effects of time on a structure; in using a material that’s typically used to preserve life, Dicke was referencing the building’s fragile legacy of shelter.
To Dicke’s delight, Castrum Peregrini – with its enormous collection of books left there by its former occupant, the late aristocratic artist Gisèle d’Ailly van Waterschoot van der Gracht – also enabled her to reprise an idea that had first presented itself back in 2008. “I’d moved to Berlin to prepare for a show there,” she recalls. “One day, rifling through books at a flea market I found the linen-covered case for a missing book. It had been bleached by sun light after years of being kept on a shelf. It was like a mini Rothko.” Dicke was captivated by the object’s colourful, coincidental beauty. “Here was something that nobody intended to create. No one person could claim authorship of it. I hadn’t made it, but I was the one who had recognised it.”
The tomes at Castrum Peregrini, having been packed together under extraordinary circumstances, were especially exciting to Dicke. “What I saw in their colours was a two-way vision of time,” she says. “In the part of a book that’s been hidden, you’re looking at a vision of the past, yet it’s fresh and vibrant because of the relationship that it had with another book, one that’s now the missing element.” Dicke displayed the books as part of her project Important Souvnirs, which took its title from a misspelt handwritten note that Gisèle had left on a pile of unsorted matter: “do not touch, I’m searching for important souvnirs.”
Liaisons, associations and coincidences have a way of stacking up in Dicke’s presence. She giggles as I scrabble around in my bag looking for a pen with which to make notes. In my disarray I haven’t noticed that I’m standing in front of a large Curver box full to the brim with BIC rollerballs. For some years, Dicke has been emptying the pens’ reservoirs and letting the ink bleed down the surface of enormous Perspex sheets. “Messing about,” she calls it. But the result – an oleaginous slick that glistens like a bluebottle – is tremendously beautiful.
Let’s say Dicke sits down next to a chatty passenger on an aeroplane who asks what it is that she does for a living. Beyond “I’m an artist,” how does she categorise her practice for the uninitiated? “I try to explain that I work with objects and images,” says Dicke, “and that often those objects and images will only reveal their meaning, or their interconnectedness, once I’ve given them my full attention. I kind of believe that it’s all just there for me, waiting to be discovered.”
*) Each of the safe houses of wartime Amsterdam was known to the Dutch Resistance by a different code name, to avoid inadvertently exposing the address. The code for Herengracht 401 means “fortress of the pilgrims” in Latin. Nowadays the building is run as a cultural centre, and groups of up to twelve can visit for an hour-long guided tour.