AA: The Aleph
has a lot of meanings for me. Whenever I am asked to lecture on my work, I always tell that story. There are a lot of things about the story. It’s about Borges comparing himself to Dante. You have all these historical figures who have come before you- how do you live up to them, or beat them at their game? It is also about being young and hot and then not hot anymore, because he gets done in by this other artist/writer. And it’s about being in love. I think the reason artists are so unstable in their relationships is that making love and making art are similar: there is this wonderful kind of flow you get between the two. It’s about the Muse or the new Muse- being in love with this woman who is his muse, as Dante was in love with Beatrice, and then losing her. About how unrequited love can make great art too (laughs)…all of that. The notion of that “tear” in the universe where he is really confronting the fact, in my
mind that he will never be as brilliant as Dante (I’d have to ask Borges for sure, and I can’t anymore). Dante did
make a quantum leap- he made that “tear” in the universe- that wasn’t there before- where there is a new worldview, and you are peeking in. Dante tears the curtain open, and says there is another
world. I think Borges was saying to himself- “Am I ever going to be able to do that?” It is not just about the historical “filling in the blanks”, but also- “I’m just going somewhere else completely.” That finally is the thing about The Aleph
that keeps bringing me back. It keeps bringing me back. The story has so many ramifications for me. The notion-“Can you do something that has “liftoff”, that doesn’t even need all of its historical buttresses?” It is just there
and you go “Whoa
is a whole other thing. A new paradigm. I also think about this along with the notion of unstable, unrequited love and the way desire and art work together, and have throughout history. That whole myth of the “mad artist”. Probably artists are
a little “out there”. Otherwise they would be accountants. When you just let your imagination go, it takes you all kinds of places. I’m not just talking about visual artists. I mean how can a really good writer construct…how could Dostoyevsky, or Norman Mailer, get inside the mind of a criminal or a murderer- unless they projected themselves into those states of mind? Not just in a superficial way. You have
the capacity to project yourself in an imaginative way. You know
that. And to cross boundaries, to cross moral boundaries in your imagination in the real free-floating way that Dada and Surrealism can totally make associations that are completely
Alice Aycock, Waterworks Sculpture Proposal for the Central Broward Regional Park, Broward County, Florida, 2004-8.
Aluminum and acrylic, approximately 20’ wide x 34’ long x 20’ high at highest point., Photo: Grace Kewl, courtesy the artist
TB: Another thread Hobbs follows is the influence on you of statements made by a diagnosed schizophrenic named N.N. His poignant and compelling narratives were collected by Geza Roheim, a worker in a mental institution in Massachusetts in the late 30’s. Reading about it in Hobbs book it seems that N.N.’s language is striking in the same way Borges writes…and in the way that your language is equally striking when you apply it to the titles for your work, and the way in which you wrote about it. The power of language impresses…
Duchamp could do that too- he did that with language. The way a word can kind of “flutter”- it is in transition, transformation even, so in one context it means one thing, and then when you begin to unhinge it, it dislocates itself. I was really interested in that for a while. I refer to it as transformational grammar. Maybe I still am. Maybe I am a little more…
TB: grounded, or visual, or…?
Well, I think there’s “crazy” and then there’s “crazy”
. You need to know when to pull back. There are lots of crazy people. But very few of them were like “N.N.” He was a poet, it was obvious. He may have been at the mercy of his disease, but he was gifted. Unless Roheim changed his words. His dreams and fantasies came from somebody who had tremendous poetic thought. I don’t want to over-romanticize it because for every one like N.N. or all the gifted artists who we know, there are many people who are irrevocably crazy- they are not poets, they are not artists, they just suffer. You have to be careful, or you can go over to the other side. And I don’t want to do that.
TB: Hobbs has you “consciously (using) poststructuralist theory” in your work. Can you comment on this?
I feel like, although we didn’t mean to, we opened this Pandora’s box, which has given us what we have now. (laughs) I don’t know if I would have…you know I teach, and when I ask my students- “What is this work about?”- I get them saying all the time- “Whatever you want it to be about.”
TB: Total relativism.
Right, and I say “No, NO!” That doesn’t work! There is a problem there. When I was talking earlier about the way language can sort of “flutter” I wasn’t meaning it could flutter everywhere!
(laughs). There is an area of meaning, or intentionality, and an artist has to be responsible, in certain degrees, to their intentionality, to what they’re doing. We have now unleashed this monster
. What this has led to is the “Hallmark Card” quality of art. I actually think Hallmark cards does it better…(smiles)
Alice Aycock, Three-fold Manifestation II, 1987, Three elliptical steel bowl forms, each containing a skewed step formation supported by three vertical steel poles; 32' high x 12' wide x 14' deep. Permanent Collection - Storm King Art Center, Mountainville, New York. Photo: Jerry L. Thompson, courtesy the Artist and Storm King Art Center, NY
TB: Yeah, but Hallmark Cards with irony, right?
Yes but you know damn well the people who are buying it are not buying it because they love the irony, they’re buying it because they understand it, it looks good. They can have it and know what they have got. Back in the day, when I was making stuff, my mother went to a museum. She wouldn’t know what the hell she was looking at…it was kind of like-“oh, they think this is art?” We were all called elitists- I would have had to give her endless art history lectures for her to understand it. Now
she could go to a museum and look at stuff and she would get it immediately. Or to the galleries, and it would be clear. “Oh yeah, I get it.”
TB: Except for the irony, that’s a big deal, no?
Yeah, but you can pass off anything as ironic, but the point of the matter is that a lot of the people who are buying this stuff are buying it because- “well, it looks like a horse, and it looks like a girl, it looks like whatever, and hey, that looks like art, and I want it.” They are not buying it because it is ironic. I am a little concerned about the Pandora’s box that we opened and whether it can be closed. It’s like that famous statement- “I don’t know what pornography is, but I know it when I see it.” I don’t know what good art is, but I know when I see it, despite all the stuff that is out there that you really have to wade through in order to get the true ironic statement, the one that really does “bite back”. I would hate to say- “Let’s regulate everything again, but at the same time there’s a lot of stuff to wade through in order to get that kernel of true formal interest and also real perversity.
TB: The way a piece of art can hold things in contradiction.
Yeah, and a lot of stuff just doesn’t do it, it is just there. There’s nothing one can do about it. Nor would I really try. It’s our condition. I think opening it up to everybody- once the old boys club died, it’s a free-for-all.
TB: So, what starting with Pop Art, or Duchamp, or who?
No I would say starting with the ‘70’s. Before that you could see the irony, the irony in Pop Art, for example. But also America loves Pop Art. Its true affinity was not to abstraction, that’s a European thing, really. That is for those elitists, but we
really love Campbell’s Soup. And that is the prevailing paradigm, really. Pop Art.
Alice Aycock, A Simple Network of Underground Wells and Tunnels, 1975, Merriewold West, Far Hills, New Jersey,(destroyed), Concrete, wood, earth, Approx. 28’ x 50’ x 9’ deep. Photo: Artist, courtesy the artist
TB: But because of the anti-institutional stance you all had, the art of the ‘70’s doesn’t seem to have the same collusion with the mainstream, starting out. Hobbs describes Post-Structuralism as “unlimited semiosis”- which I take as unlimited reference. What your students mean when they say- “it can mean whatever you think it means”. But the anti-institutional aspect- working outdoors in the middle of a field like you did, without tying it to an institution seems very open, but also not in collusion, not even the way Warhol was.
No, it wasn’t. You had Carl Andre, and Haacke, talking about the status object nature of art. I agree. But I remember thinking- “Don Judd can say 1+1 equals two, and he doesn’t want to deal with any references, but when I walk down the street, I am constantly assailed by signs and meaning. Therefore I don’t want to have a
meaning, which stands for all time. But at the same time, I have to introduce content, it is a constantly shifting situation. You are always being assailed by language, and memory. All the people who agreed with that opened up that Pandora’s box for all of the dog paintings, cat paintings (laughter) whatever…young girl paintings, you know who I mean…
(laughs again). I would love to do a show of 112 Greene St.
TB: Oh yeah?
I have the catalog that somebody did a couple of years ago. This would be a great time too because a lot of that work was so cheap- you know what I mean? Now would be a good time to look at that and look at the artists- and what they did later. There were so many artists and performers, and so much video made. I have been thinking about that. Picking stuff from the early years- there is a lot of work that is very
relevant to what is happening now.
TB: Anyone come to mind? Certainly Matta-Clark has gotten a large amount of exposure.
AA: Yeah he has, so it would be nice to see some of the other people…some of them are current: Chris Burden did some early pieces there. Some would be people whose names you would really recognize- and the genesis of their work would be in some of the things they did then. There are some really great pieces done, and I don’t know where the artists who made them are. One of the people I admire, and admired then, is George Trakas. He did great work. He is still making art. Some of his early work would be just great. Of course I would want to have complete control. (laughs)
Alice Aycock, A Salutation to the Wonderful Pig of Knowledge (Oh! Great Jellyfish, Great Waterspouter… There’s a Hole in the Bucket,
and There’s a Hole in My Head..), 1984, Steel, copper, brass, aluminum, Formica, wood, plexiglass, L.E.D.s, motorized parts,
6’9” high x 9’3” wide x 11’6” deep. Collection of the artist. Photo: Fred Scruton, courtesy the artist and Michael Klein Arts, NY
TB: Why wouldn’t you, if you curated it?
Well, with some other people. We would say- “That one, no, that one.” But not show some of the idiotic stuff. Because we did a lot of idiotic stuff. (laughs) You can complain about what is going on today but then you think- “God, did we do some dumb
stuff!” Really dumb. Gordon has
gotten a lot of attention. I loved Gordon, and he deserves it. But then it is that “die young” thing. Some of us had to live
TB: Hobbs states that “(your) overriding goal appears to be privileging openness to the point that it serves as a central theme and subject of (your) work.” Thoughts on this?
I’m not quite sure what that means, because I really do think my work is about a cluster of certain kinds of obsessions. It is not just about anything. If you were start with Sand/ Fans
and go up to the Waterworks Sculpture Proposal for the Central Broward Regional Park
-the notion of the whirlpool image has continued. I’m not just
open. There are a lot of things I would not
TB: He does say you have “closure” in terms of your openness. He does say your pieces are complete. I thought of “de-centered” because it seems like that is like a tear- it de-centers you. How do you like that?
Maybe. I believe my best work-work that happened every couple of years, without me “forcing it”- is about creating a sense of disequilibrium, and a moment of (she gasps)-ahh!
It is closer to terror, and also the pleasure in terror. Which is hard to do for many reasons- even insurance reasons (laughs). When the work is really good, that’s what I am able to do. Along with something visual and beautiful, I hope. Something like (the piece at) Storm King- which I like a lot. It does all those things. You get that sense of (breathes in quickly)- it isn’t scary, but it’s like- whoa
! You ask yourself-“Where would I be in that thing?”- as you approach it. That whirling motion, it is pretty neat to look at. I also want you to feel that moment when the wave comes in and takes you under. Or you step out into empty space. I had it even today driving into the city- I almost got sideswiped. You gasp. That’s what obsesses me, that’s what I can’t ignore. That near miss, that glance- what Neitchze called the “glance of eternity”. I think art can do that, the art I have always liked does that. It just keeps you in the moment of saying “yes” and saying “no” – the approach/withdraw syndrome. That’s what we like about some African art, it is sheer terror- a little bit of it. The art we keep going back to over and over does that. Architecture can do that.
Alice Aycock, The Thousand and One Nights in the Mansion of Bliss, 1983, Steel, aluminum, lights, sheet metal, Plexiglas, motorized parts, and steel mesh; approximately 30’ high x 22’ wide x 80’ deep. Installed at Protetch-McNeil Gallery, New York. Collection of the artist. Photo: Wolfgang Staehle, courtesy Protetch-McNeil Gallery, NY and the artist
TB: What are your ambitions for your work in the future?
I have a lot of stuff I want to do with industrial plastics. I have a bunch of ideas of things I would like to do to really push the material. I went from wood to metal. There is only so much you can make metal do, and then it just tears and rips. Certain forms, which are very hard to capture- like smoke. I would love to do it large scale, but would start off in smaller scale. The transparency, the translucency, and sense of materiality being there, and not there. On an architectural scale. There was a lot of stuff being done with glass, but glass has to be done in sheets. I think unconsciously, in architecture, beyond all the other reasons for using glass, is the sense that- “the world is so permeable, the world is cinematic, you reach out, and it is really not there.” It is just a screen, or monitor. Some of this glass architecture mirrors that. Also there may be a certain guilt about making monuments. The glass is there and not there. Certain forms that are not hard-edged are very interesting to me.
TB: When we talked on the phone, you thought you might like to pick out a selection of “greatest hits”.
I think the piece at Storm King- (Three-Fold Manifestation II)
, the piece Project for a Simple Network of Underground Wells and Tunnels
, a piece called The Pig of Knowledge
which nobody has seen for a long time- it was an indoor piece, I really like the Clayton piece, the one on the wall in my studio The Uncertainty of Ground State Fluctuations
and The Thousand and One Nights in the Mansion of Bliss
, one of the big blade machines. I just love those. I would give anything to be able to put those pieces back up. Well, I guess I’m about done…I have to go teach.
TB: Yes. Thanks very much Alice for your time doing this. WM