Alice Aycock

By Meyer, James | Artforum International, Summer 1996 | Go to article overview

Alice Aycock


Meyer, James, Artforum International


Best known for such outdoor projects as Maze, 1972, and A Simple Network of Underground Wells and Tunnels, 1975, Alice Aycock is also a committed draftsman who has produced an extensive corpus of drawings. More than simply plans for projects, Aycock's drawings are works in their own right, fantasies on paper that echo the history of visionary design, stretching back to Piranesi and Boullee. At the same time, they exemplify their own moment, announcing the shift from the phenomenological environment of Minimalism to a metaphorized architecture or earthwork. The development of land art and built structures during the early '70s opened up new possibilities for drawing. If the Minimal work was represented in schematic form (usually, a no-nonsense diagram on graph paper) then the earthwork demanded something more. Once practice began to exceed the physical limits of the sculptural object and the "white cube," drawing could explore a range of figurative languages.

Aycock's plans for structures, Smithson's sketches of earthworks, and Robert Morris' designs of labyrinths reveal a diversity of graphic technique. Where Smithson created prophetic, quasi-expressionist landscape drawings in pencil, Aycock turned out meticulous plans and elevations that resemble actual blueprints, a tendency often attributed to the fact that her father was a contractor. Aycock's simulation of the language of architectural representation is distinctive and powerful, but it points to the internal contradiction of much of this work. Drawings by land artists appeared by necessity to prove the viability of a practice that exceeded the physical and esthetic constraints of Modernist painting and sculpture, yet Aycock's designs, for all their meticulous detail, delight in their unrealizability; schemes to be built, they conceive the unbuildable. Aycock's "architecture" is in fact one of buildings gone awry, an architecture that precludes and subverts its functional imperative.

The focus of these schemes is the viewer's body. In Project for Five Wells Descending a Hillside, 1975, the visitor scales down a wall into a cistern. Climbing through an opening in another wall, then down several steps, one comes to a second well. This procedure is repeated until the fifth well is reached, the steepest of enclosures positioned at the hill's base. And what is the reward for completing this arduous descent? Only the brute awareness of one's entrapment. …

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