Alice Aycock is a frank, no-nonsense woman in her 60s who gives the impression of being utterly comfortable in her own skin. Sometimes irreverent and always unapologetic, she weaves both humor and philosophy into her conversation, and draws inspiration from sources as divergent as Claude Levi-Strauss and Tom Waits. I talked with Aycock in February when she was at Crystal Bridges to select a site for the work. I get a slight sense of menace from Maelstrom, with all its sharp edges and points. Yet there’s also a playful quality to it. For me some of the most seductive experiences are thrilling, and they’re thrilling because they are a little scary. So in my mind my best pieces have a quality about them … I don’t know if the word is thrilling, but they’re both a little terrifying—that’s too strong a word—and they can be very beautiful. I mean, why do people chase tornados? Why do they like to be out in big huge waves? My son’s a surfer and as soon as the hurricane comes on, that’s where he wants to be. Why do people climb mountains? Any of those experiences that are euphoric because they’re also challenging in some way.
I noticed the spiral pattern, the whirls, but there’s also something almost like a roller coaster. Yes, I spent a lot of time in amusement parks as a child and I’ve designed a lot of pieces about super duper loopers and roller coasters, so that’s there, absolutely there.
Are you a fan of roller coasters? I look at them. I used to go on them all the time. I don’t go on them anymore, but I have books and books on roller coasters. Literally books about the design, particularly the super duper loopers. I mean I love all roller coasters, but I grew up near Hershey Park and they had that old-fashioned wooden roller coaster. It’s absolutely there, and I show pictures of them in my lecture, so you’re right on.
So the industrial materials that you’re using—big things made of heavy, difficult material, with this mechanical aspect—what is it that attracts you to that? I think that I’m interested in a kind of underlying sort of metaphor for the energy that propels both nature and human industry. And a vortex-like structure, because it seems to me it’s a generator. This goes way back. It sounds like a cliché, but all the great gods in history were creators and destroyers, they were just big energy machines. And the two are just kind of wrapped around each other like the double helix, like the structure of DNA, I mean you just feel them wrapped around each other. And I suppose I’m just always going for that.
You referred to yourself as “an artist who is an elitist.” What do you mean by that? I mean I got into this because I think there are certain things that artists should pursue that may not be enjoyed or understood by everybody, but that we need to be able to pursue that anyway because that is fundamentally what changes the world. We need to be able to pursue ideas that are not popular, that seem stupid, that seem irrelevant. That’s what scientists need to do, too. And that every real breakthrough idea has been hard to swallow—in science and in art—but that the really good ones changed everything. And if you’re always appealing to the masses, where are you? You’re never getting out of the starting gate.
UPDATE: Installation of Maelstrom begins on the Orchard Trail on Monday, April 20. Some heavy machinery will be in use and at times preparators may need to pause foot traffic along Orchard Trail while sculpture parts are being moved. We appreciate your patience while we install this breathtaking artwork!
Alice Aycock will be visiting Crystal Bridges to take part in a Spotlight Conversation with Curator Chad Alligood on Thursday, May 21. Don’t miss the opportunity to meet this fascinating and dynamic artist!