New York

Alice Aycock

112 Greene Street

The work in Alice Aycock’s first solo exhibition spanned the past three years and included relatively Conceptual photographic pieces, various pieces executed outdoors and documented with photographs, and one work executed in the gallery itself. Aycock’s work varies physically, but it is generally concerned with natural processes or systems and with the human consciousness of and response to them. The more Conceptual photographic pieces date from 1971, and often deal with the location of “abstract” things in nature, like directions or boundaries. Photographs also document Sun/Glass, a piece which existed physically, if temporarily, in a field; seven rows of mirrors, each row at a different angle, reflect different points of the sun’s path across the sky. The decision to let nature take its course is basic to Aycock’s work. This mirror piece is similar to another one from 1971 which was exhibited at the Aldrich Museum: a large, low wooden box (6' x 6' x 10'') was filled with mud which naturally hardened, cracked, and shrank, setting up its own organization and internal scale. This piece is earlier, like the ones discussed above and, like them, seems didactically rudimentary. Unlike these others, however, it has real physical existence and indicates a use of materials and scale which Aycock has recently developed to a more interesting complexity.

Of the three most recent and most interesting pieces in the exhibition, two are present in the form of photographs and statements. They exist on a farm in Pennsylvania where Aycock built them and left them to the devices of the local residents and natural elements. They are a wooden maze of five concentric circles (6' high and 32' in diameter) and a low building with stone walls and a sod roof weighing several tons, built in 1972 and 1973 respectively. These pieces are consistent with and elaborate the third one in the gallery: an enormous wooden staircase 10 feet wide, rising over 13 feet toward the ceiling and titled Stairs—These Stairs Can Be Climbed. Here, Aycock deals with a much more universal, subjective notion of nature, not the least of which is the nature, the natural visceral responses, within ourselves.

All of the pieces are beautifully constructed, with clear, large scale. They can be comprehended visually as unified wholes because of this clarity and also because they are basic, universally known structures. If they are “used” they also provide a less esthetic, more physiological experience. In each Aycock attempts to structure a somewhat disconcerting situation: disorientation in the maze; claustrophobia in the low, ponderously roofed building; precariousness on the high, steep staircase. With the staircase, the decision to climb is simple, but neither visual or esthetic. It involves a whole history of your own responses, of what you know you can or cannot do. Thus, Aycock’s earlier concern with movement through time and space, previously of herself across abstract boundaries, or of the sun across the sky, has become at once more direct and more mysterious. These structures demarcate a special site and space and provide an opportunity to relate our own physical size, scale and weight to theirs. In doing so, the notion of time in them becomes particularly diverse. There is the timelessness of Aycock’s structures themselves, recent versions of anonymous structures that people have built for ages, for reasons ranging from functional to religious. An almost ritualistic notion of time is involved in the task of both building and experiencing the structure—and moving onto or into one of them is in part reexperiencing Aycock’s original labor. Related to this is the experience of time as it is distorted and prolonged by physical discomfort or disorientation.

––Roberta Smith