Q&A: SVA’s Alice Aycock on Her ‘Park Avenue Paper Chase’

July 8, 2014

Attention New York City readers: From now until July 20 is your last chance to see Alice Aycock‘s “Park Avenue Paper Chase” on site. The public-art project, a series of large-scale metal and fiberglass sculptures installed on the Park Avenue medians from 52nd to 57th Street, was unveiled in March. Last summer, as Aycock prepared the works, the BFA Fine Arts faculty member spoke with SVA’s magazine, Visual Arts Journal. An edited excerpt from that interview, which originally appeared in the fall 2013 issue, is below.

You’ve said
the sculptures for “Park Avenue Paper Chase” were inspired by wind-related effects—scattering debris, billowing fabrics, dust storms.
I tried to visualize the movement of wind energy as it flowed up and down the avenue, creating random whirlpools, touching down here and there and sometimes forming a dynamic, three-dimensional massing of forms. I wanted the work to have a random, haphazard quality—in some cases piling up on itself, in others spinning off into air. The project is celebratory as well—ribbons of movement and paper confetti. This sort of dual reading is present in much of my work.

Some of the “Paper Chase” sculptures look precariously balanced. How do you plot out things like that? Do you first build a scale model?
The process differs. In the past, I would build a model. Now I work primarily on the computer to design and make shop drawings. . . . But making a small model for something 100 feet long won’t tell you anything about how to actually build it. I work in the real world. Once a sculpture gets to a certain size, you have to bring in engineers who understand wind and snow loads and full penetration welds and what types of bolts to use and so on. I use very good engineers who make sure that something that looks like it’s teetering on the edge is actually very secure.


Are you mechanically inclined?
Not really. What I’m really good at is thinking these things up and then getting a crew of very skilled people to help me do it [laughs].

How do you find your collaborators? Do you just ask around?
It happens in a serendipitous way. A number of the people that I’m working with right now were students at SVA. Amelia Midori Miller [MFA 2012 Fine Arts] has run my studio for the past six years. (She was also in charge of the catalog for my recent retrospective.) Joshua Kirsch [BFA 2009 Fine Arts], who has a studio in Los Angeles, fabricates all of my midsize sculptures, and Jamie Rubin [BFA 2013 Fine Arts] is at Perfection Electricks, the fabricator for “Park Avenue Paper Chase.”

I’ve had a lot of struggles with getting things done or convincing the outside world or even getting people to pay attention to me, but if my idea’s good and interesting enough, I can always get someone intrigued, who will be weird like me and want to make it. I’ve just been really lucky that way. I find people who are smart and curious and interested in problem solving. And sometimes they come from SVA.

AycockHoopLaIn a talk you

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gave last year at SVA, you emphasized the usefulness of the computer for making art. How do you use it?
Everything is planned on the computer. I think on the computer. Prior to the computer, my drawings were all hand-drawn the way architects worked—isometric perspectives as well as plans, elevations and sections that had dimensions. And the language of the computer was developed for architects, so for me it was an almost seamless segue. Now I can draw something in plan, loft or extrude it in three dimensions, spin it around, make it larger or smaller, remove parts and add others . . . and the computer will rapidly complete these processes. This gives me much more control and almost infinite possibilities.

From a fabrication point of view, it’s fantastic. For instance, with a piece like Maelstrom, from “Paper Chase,” we were able to create and print a full-scale cut pattern for 10×24-foot aluminum sheets, with all the curves flattened and with all the places where the pieces intersect clearly marked. We were able to calculate exactly how many sheets we’d need, so very little material is wasted. When the sheets are fabricated and rolled, it looks precisely as it was drawn. Twenty years ago, this would have been very hard to do, very costly and taken an infinite amount of time.

I keep telling my students how important it is to acquire computer skills. For a young person, this is the way the world will be. And it’s just another tool, like a paintbrush or anything else.

AycockMatildaYou’ve been on the faculty at SVA since 1991. Why do you teach?
It’s a way to keep energized and engaged in the latest trends in art. The best doctors are teaching doctors, they say. You stay in touch with young minds and ideas and it’s a great two-way street. And the best students are really exciting.

I don’t think teaching art is just about teaching craft. Students have to have craft and skill, but after that it’s about opening them up and teaching them how to be curious and take risks and be brave and giving them books to read and ideas to stimulate their imagination, as opposed to sitting on them. But, there’s a difference between encouraging and nurturing and simply enabling people to stay in the same self-satisfied place.

Images (from top): Maelstrom, Cyclone Twist, Hoop La, Waltzing Matilda. All photos by Dave Rittinger and courtesy Galerie Thomas Schulte and Fine Arts Partners, Berlin, Germany.

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