ALICE AYCOCK: The Turbulence Series
MARLBOROUGH GALLERY | OCTOBER 18 – NOVEMBER 18, 2017
The terms “climate event” and “extreme weather” have only recently entered common usage, yet the meteorological occurrences they refer to are as old as our planet’s atmosphere. The rising frequency and intensity of these discrete climate events is due to the gradual, yet still alarming, climate change. Satellite images of spiral-shaped storms—whether tropical or polar in origin—can now be read as indicators of our species’ ability to unwittingly transform the environment. These climate events are terrifying, yet fascinating when viewed from a safe location; whether in the form of satellite images on television, or in artworks that invite meteorological activity, such as Walter de Maria’s Lightning Field (1977).
Marlborough Gallery’s current exhibition features The Turbulence Series, New York-based artist Alice Aycock’s large, swirling, white aluminum sculptures that evoke the powerful, kinetic churning hurricanes and tornados. Two of these sculptures, Devil Whirls (2017) and Twister Again (2017), are placed on the gallery’s rooftop terrace, acting as a bridge between the works in the gallery itself and Aycock’s temporary sculptural installation, Park Avenue Paper Chase, which was on view between 52nd and 66th streets between March and July of 2014. This work featured a number of cyclone-like shapes of the same white powder-coated aluminum of The Turbulence Series, placed down the center of Park Avenue. Aycock’s repeated use of these swirling metal funnels in public space, on the rooftop terrace outside the gallery itself, and finally, within the interior walls of Marlborough’s second-story gallery, implies a movement of the weather from out there to in here. This movement from outdoors to indoors is one Aycock has navigated in her four-decade long career, beginning with a predominantly land art practice in the 1970s. During this phase, Aycock, like De Maria, sought to intervene in conditions outside of, and in many cases, far away from, the space of the gallery. The Turbulence Series brings the violence and drama of extreme weather events into the gallery space, immobilizing their kinetic force in the form of five massive, gleaming metal whorls.
The exhibition also featured a number of smaller metal sculptures that incorporated architectural and mechanical motifs, often arranged in a spiral or funnel shape around a central post. Without the powder-coated finish of the larger sculptures, and on a more intimate scale, the blade-like strips of metal signify the whirring and rotating of motorized blades or propellers, occasionally topped with a cymbal-like disk. Threatening yet hypnotic, Aycock’s sculptures formally synthesize the aggressive dissolution of forms in Futurism, the interest in industrial materials of the Constructivists, as well as the ludic machine aesthetic of Dada. Aycock formally quotes these movements, yet these works do not seem to support the hawkish militarism of Futurism, the revolt against logic of Dada, or the utopianism of Constructivism.
What worldview do these works espouse? The answer might be found in a smaller room featuring a number of Aycock’s works on paper. Free from any gravitational obligation, Aycock’s abstract shapes hover weightlessly, purposelessly. Many of the inkjet prints shown are culled from larger series, and their titles suggest anxiety and fascination with infrastructure and planning. Examples include From the Series Entitled "Sum Over Histories" - Study for a Timescape V (2013), and Hoodo (Laura) from the Series “How to Catch and Manufacture Ghosts”- Vertical and Horizontal Cross-section of the Ether Wind (1981) (1990/2012). Are these blueprints for instruments to build a utopia, or to preserve us in event of the apocalypse? What type of apocalypse could these fanciful arrangements guard against? Perhaps Aycock’s digital inkjet print, Terra Incognita for Sappho (2017) attempts to answer this question. The large gloomy print features an orb with a fiery core and icy corona. Fragments of machinery and parchment encircle the core, as though blasted away from the center. On the left-hand side is inscribed the following quote from Sappho: “I tell you/someone will remember us/in the future.”
Void of human figures, Aycock’s prints point to a time outside of our own. While they are the least physically imposing works in the exhibition, the content of these prints can be understood as cosmic, world-ending. This continues the curious oscillation between physical size and implied scale in Aycock’s works. Her monumental aluminum funnels dwarf viewers in the gallery space, while the smaller sculptures’s inclusion of recognizable—albeit miniaturized—forms like staircases, seem to suggest that they are scale models for massive, building sized works. These works ask viewers to consider different timescales—from the momentary pausing of a whirling cyclone, a temporarily stalled machine, or an unknown subject in the distant future, remembering us.
SIWIN LO is a writer and a PhD candidate in Art History at the CUNY Graduate Center.