Alyson Shotz eludes categorization within any existing canon in art history. Just as one attempts to place a label on her style or methodology, she pivots, shape-shifting into another unrecognizable pattern. What she is, foremost, is a poet of space. Given the range of media and content that Shotz’s work incorporates, it is only appropriate that her show, Force of Nature, be presented by two liberal arts institutions: Hamilton College, New York and the College of Charleston, South Carolina. Shotz’s work emphatically embodies the basic tenets of the liberal arts—the idea of bringing all of our critical faculties to bear in linking seemingly disparate strands of information. Shotz demonstrates that there is wisdom in combining and assimilating ideas from various fields. In keeping, she complicates the process by presenting works in which the form is not the content, but rather the delivery method of a set of interlinked ideas.
Working in such diverse media as paper, clay, digital imaging, metal, beading, glass, fiber, animation, and various dichroic laminations, Shotz employs whatever materials are most efficient in helping visualize her complex ideas. Conceptually, her work combines aspects of theoretical mathematics and physics, scientific methodology, chance operations, memory, art history, time, and the vagaries of language. In that sense, the artist’s enterprise involves a kind of alchemy—she synthesizes and transforms familiar materials into novel perceptual experiences, which are often disorienting. Her work confounds as it delights; and the effect on the viewer is both visceral and cerebral. It is through the process of unraveling the perceptual experience that the meanings and implications of Shotz’s work become apparent.
The body of work exhibited in Force of Nature contains a startling variety of ideas and imagery, yet they are all interwoven by the artist’s fascination with the interplay of the human mind within sculptural space. As a result, her pieces become charged with a kind of psychic resonance causing us to question our assumptions about what we are seeing, and this questioning is a form of framing. Because the experience of viewing is perpetually in flux, we wonder if we have forgotten what we already knew. There is no fixed space in Shotz’s work; surfaces and volumes shift as you move around the work, creating an almost kaleidoscopic effect.
Stepping back from an encounter with her works we deduce that Shotz is encouraging curiosity and wonder about the world we share. Her work offers a call to re-explore the spaces around us and to recalibrate our assumptions about the reliability of perception itself. Whether it is the shimmering undulations of Invariant Interval or the sheer effects of chance and gravity made evident in Recumbent Folds, the artist makes visible the presence and power of unseen forces that surround us. Her piece Frames Per Second, for example, recalls the time-motion studies of nineteenth century pioneer Eadweard Muybridge. Instead of a galloping horse, we see ourselves reflected in an infinitely receding space, divided by slivers of time.
Nature is Shotz’s willing collaborator. She manages to coax aesthetic pleasure out of the tension between perception and cognition, and by using natural phenomena as her leaping-off point; the sculptural spaces she creates offer a sanctuary for the contemplation of our place in the universe. We marvel at her precision of execution and the dazzling spectacle of the work itself, but perhaps the real animation in Shotz’s oeuvre exists in the gap between the sculpture and the space between our ears.
Director and Chief Curator
Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art
College of Charleston
School of the Arts
Shotz received a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design and an MFA from the University of Washington in Seattle. In 2012, Shotz was the Sterling Visiting Professor in the Department of Chemical and Systems Biology at Stanford University. Shotz’s recent solo exhibitions include Alyson Shotz: Fluid State (Indianapolis Museum of Art) and Alyson Shotz: Ecliptic (Phillips Collection, Washington, DC).
This exhibition was organized with the Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton College and curated by director Tracy Adler. A fully illustrated monograph accompanying the exhibition will feature essays by Tracy L. Adler; Veronica Roberts, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas, Austin; and Nat Trotman, Associate Curator at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.