Audio Transcript for The Islands of the Rose Apple Tree Surrounded by the Oceans of the World, for You, Oh My Darling by Alice Aycock

Alice Aycock’s cast concrete sculpture was built here on campus in 1987 with the help of students during a summer symposium on site-specific sculpture. Aycock came to the critical foreground in American art in the 1970s because of her challenges to the traditional idea of outdoor sculpture as an enlarged object brought from a gallery space to a public plaza. Aycock conceived a type of architectural sculpture integrated with the landscape which expanded both the behavioral and perceptual patterns of the viewer. Her work here is called The Islands of the Rose Apple Tree Surrounded by the Oceans of the World, for You, Oh My Darling. The horizontal form is similar to her very early works which hugged the ground or were virtually under the ground. In speaking about Western’s work several years later, Aycock allows us to see the workings of an artist’s mind, the problems she encountered in transferring a cosmological concept into a theatrical structural form, and why she choose this site.

Aycock said:

“I made fantasy drawings several years prior to the Bellingham sculpture, in which I incorporated diagrams and drawings from Tantric Indian art. I took the architecture of actual theaters, especially the interior of these theaters, and began to fantasize these diagrams in a three dimensional way and overlay them inside the theater. I assumed that there would be water; that you would walk inside and instead of having seats you would have this very strange environment in which water would move.

Perhaps water with all different colors.  These were images that I had looked at for maybe 10 or 15 years, trying to figure out how to crack them. In other words, how to utilize them in a three-dimensional way and in a transformational way…. At the time of the Western Washington project I knew what materials I wanted to use. I knew I wanted to use some of these two dimensional diagrams in a three dimensional way, but I wasn't sure why. In other words I didn't quite have a strong theoretical reason.  It was more of an emotional and instinctual need to do it. Afterwards I began to understand how it relates to my ideas. But at that point I had the methodology. I was going to make the sculpture in concrete and water and set it into the environment. I wanted some sort of interplay between these very stylized negative forms in the sculpture that imply water and the real water which flows in these spaces. It wouldn't be a traditional fountain that sprayed water but a dialogue between artifice and nature. In the actual diagram that I was using there were metaphors for the Tantric Indian religious concept of the origin of the world and also concepts about heaven and hell…. Most of these things are two dimensional, often diagrammatic. They don't have to conform to the physics of the world.”

“In Tantric art there is a sacred mountain, Mt. Meru, from which everything originates. All the rivers of the world flow from this mountain and there are many levels which conform to states of being, not unlike Dante's Paradise and Inferno. I looked at many versions of this particular Tantric diagram which is incredibly complex.  For years I tried to figure out whether there was any way of using it since it came from something that was so foreign to our culture. At any rate, at a certain point in time I realized that I could use concrete and use water and that I could set this into the landscape and create this dialogue that I have been talking about between the artificial and the natural. This was really my first attempt to use concrete in this way; that is, to make it conform to very elaborate designs and to cast it in place on the site and to get these kinds of designs in the negative (where water would flow). In that sense, it was somewhat of an experiment since I had never used the technique of cast-in-place like this before.”