Studio Visit: Alyssa Moxley

This studio visit is a part of the exhibition ROUNDS featuring new works by Michael Milano, Alyssa Moxley, and Milad Mozari. The exhibition is organized by Make Space in conjunction with ACRE.

Alyssa Moxley is a Masters of Fine Arts student in the Sound department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her studio is on the second floor of the school’s Sharp building. It’s an average-sized studio with three stark white walls and besides the blue tape being used to hang up projects and tickets from the Gene Siskel, there is little color. Yet, despite this somewhat bare visual depiction, when visiting Alyssa’s studio, I felt like a wide-eyed child to whom the mysteries of how the world works were being revealed. Each new project explanation, to me, seemed wondrous, verging on magical, yet Alyssa’s explanations were straightforward, calm, and concise. She had the practical attitude of one deeply integrated with her work, so practiced in it that it is simply a matter of fact.

Upon entering the studio, the objects that most curiously caught my eye were large sheets of filmy paper that were either taped to the wall or suspended from the ceiling. On the paper is what appears to be a symbol of a spiral, laid onto the paper in thin lines of copper. Alyssa’s simple explanation of what these objects are made me no less curious. She explained that they are speakers. When a magnet is placed at the center of the spiral, the speaker can be connected to a source of sound like a computer, and can actually play the sound.

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There’s a little bit more to these objects than this straightforward description of functionality, though. Alyssa explained to me that any kind of coil shape can be used to make a speaker. She had tried out different shapes of coil and had settled on the spiral because it worked more effectively and also felt most appealing to her as a shape.  “I think it’s quite amazing that just by aligning this material in this particular way, it creates an energy field.” Alyssa was not trained in art before coming to SAIC. She studied anthropology and musicology. In her experience with different traditions around the world, she had seen the spiral used as a symbol for energy forces and while researching for her most recent project, she found this too in fact be true. “With this material, it literally is an energy field … I kind of feel like it’s a bit magical.”

This sense of wonder or magic flows quietly throughout Alyssa’s work, which often includes installations of sound and visual effects – multiple elements harmoniously coming together. She showed me images of a recent installation at 6018North that turned a room into a camera obscura, projecting the street outside onto some of her hand-made paper speakers. She describes her work as visually seductive. She wants to create spaces and environments that encourage people to stop and stand still, allowing them to engage in an experience they would have otherwise missed.

These experiences are all portrayed through Alyssa’s unique perspective. Currently, she is deeply engrossed in researching the life and work of a U-2 Pilot who was also Alyssa’s Great Uncle. The details of this project and Alyssa’s research were revealed to me bit by bit throughout our conversation. It seems that the research process is similar for Alyssa. As new information is revealed to her, it leads to new ways for her to display her research and make her own technical discoveries. For example, the spiral shape that Alyssa used to create her speakers mimics the shape of a tool that the pilot was operating in his work. The tool was used to filter radiation and search for ancient radiation from the Big Bang. The work branches around one central subject, creating new networks of investigation and data connections. The results of this research will be displayed as Alyssa’s upcoming MFA installation. From what she explained of the different aspects of the installation, the work itself will be as equally branched and circuitous as her process of uncovering the story. It will represent the history to her audience as Alyssa has explored it and learned to understand it herself, with the built up layers of complexity conveyed through sounds, objects, and visual effects.

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Alyssa’s work consists of a process of in-depth research resulting in the creation of objects and environments that make connections and complete the circuits discovered in her research for an audience. Her environments inject various presences into a space—whether these be historical presences from a place’s past, the sound of crickets in a library, or the presence of a particular person none of us will ever know. In this way, Alyssa is a translator. She translates narratives and technical functions into various platforms that an audience can access.

Harmony and translation are themes present throughout the work of each artist included in ROUNDS. In describing the work created for the show, Alyssa used the term “harmonic relationships.” I asked her to define this term. She explained that the mathematical definition of a harmony is a whole number ratio between tones. In a more poetic way, she described it as unity and wholeness, the beauty and understanding in how the brain works – to experience disparate parts brought together in just the right way. The translations in Alyssa’s work and in the work to be seen in ROUNDS materializes this harmony of translation by bringing patterns of understanding into being across various visual, sonar, and spacial planes.

Make Space and ACRE are proud to present ROUNDS // new work by MICHAEL MILANO, ALYSSA MOXLEY and MILAD MOZARI, the next installment in ACRE’s year-long series of solo exhibitions by 2013 ACRE summer residents.