Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling
The wind is passing through.
Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads
The wind is passing by.
— Christina Rossetti (1830-94)
Air is a quiet constant in our life, what we need to be alive at all. When air begins to move, a breeze can set our world into motion, with trees gently swaying or leaves scattering. When air becomes wind, it can be a caress, but it can also be a force that turns the very air we breathe into a tornado. Being surrounded only by air, being lifted off of the earth was only a dream for humanity until modern times when airplanes took us up into the skies. Being aloft in the air is both one of the most exhilarating and the most terrifying experiences that humans can have.
Alice Aycock’s sculpture makes visible the air that sustains, delights, and frightens us and that also represents our awareness of things beyond the ground we stand on. Her structures are precisely engineered to embody the forces of nature and to suggest the feelings they provoke in us. Often made up of thin, curving slices of steel, Aycock’s sculptures evoke currents of air, especially ones that could lift us beyond the earth – in our imaginations as well as our actual bodies.
Her sculpture, Liftoff, is installed in the best possible place in the greater Des Moines community: at the entrance to the airport. Aycock has referred to the sensation she has when the airplane leaves the ground and climbs toward the clouds, a feeling that is widely shared and is likely anticipated by passengers arriving to catch their flights. At first glance, the sculpture immediately creates the effect of moving air that can carry us up and away. It also may make us think of the propellors and turbines that spin and induce the energy to overcome gravity and take us into the open air and off to other places.
Painted a dazzling white, Liftoff catches the light that, like air, is constantly moving and changing. Every view of the sculpture is different and distinct, tracing the sun’s progress across the sky or, at times, the clouds that drift overhead. Even at night, the sculpture is dramatically lit so that it will glow as travelers pass in and out of the airport.
Liftoff serves partly as a memorial to Johnny Danos, a bon vivant whose charm, energy, generosity, and congeniality was devoted to the enhancement of Des Moines. After retirement from a distinguished career in business, Danos led the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines to a spectacular success that continues to enliven the life of the city.
Written by Lea Rosson DeLong, Ph.D., art historian | curator
Much of my work in both the public and private spheres has been a meditation on the philosophical and metaphorical ramifications of science and technology from the simplest tool (the arrowhead and the plow) to the invention of flight and the computer. Many of these works have incorporated references to energy in the form of spirals, whirlpools, spinning tops, whirly-gigs, and so on. I try to visualize the movement of wind energy as it flows up and down creating random whirlpools and forming dynamic three-dimensional massing of forms. The sculptural assemblage references the expressive quality of wind and flow dynamics.
Metaphorically, the work speaks to the exhilaration and sense of excitement that travelers feel during takeoff and landing. As a frequent traveler, I always experience the moment the plane leaves the ground and the Earth itself as a truly magical sensation of levitation. Aerospace travel feels as though it defies gravity.
--Alice AycockAlice Aycock