An Interview With Mary Ayling

Mary Ayling is a sculptor working primarily in glass, and co-owner of
Fill in the Blank Gallery
in Ravenswood. Originally from Ohio, she now
lives and works in Chicago. Ariel Radock is an art historian and writer
for Fill In the Blank Gallery. In this interviewed Ayling discusses with
Radock her personal art practice.

Ariel Radock: Your work appears to be highly conceptual coupled with a great ability to assemble materials. Which is more important to you, the process of making art or the final product?

Mary Ayling: I see both of these as equally important. My work begins with a lot of research, model making and trial and error, all which hopefully result in an end product that is informed and enriched by the process of making it. I am so invested in every decision that I make, that the process of creating it is essential to my own experience and a satisfactory end product is a result of that.

AR: There is a wonderful balance of science, philosophy, and spirituality in your work. Where do you draw inspiration for your designs?

MA: I am an avid reader of literature about early 19th century inventions as well as books on the brain, perception and physics. As far as spirituality, I think there are a lot of associations with light and glass in that context. In my own work, I can't say that I actively sought to bring spirituality into the discussion as far as being affiliated with a specific deity or religion, but I am aware of the close ties between science and spirituality. I am curious about the roles that both of them play in the early part of the 19th century. Being so closely tied, it wasn't until a cropping of events such as the discovery of electricity and evolution that we began to see a rift in the two houses and in people's perceptions.

And so I guess in some ways I am most interested in this idea of a shifting of perception from one of myth and mysticism to "reality" but discovered through a series of very magical seeming ways such as early visual experiments. Glass was the one material that opened up the invisible world to us in hugely revolutionary ways. Light was able to be broken down into the spectrum and studied through the creation of the prism, eyes were given almost magical powers to restore vision with the invention of spectacles, we could now see beyond the capacity of the eye and explore great mysteries of both a macro and micro scale with telescopes and microscopes, and of course one of the inventions with the most impact was that of the camera - both still and motion. I love how understated this material is, it surrounds us constantly in almost every action and object, from our drinking glasses and windows to our movies and spacecrafts. And yet we hardly give it a second thought. It lives up to its natural properties of being transparent and almost invisible and yet it is a silent cornerstone to our entire contemporary existence.

AR: With these installations you are creating, what emotion are you trying to evoke upon the viewers?

MR: I think simply wonder. Wonder is an action and one that calls for the viewer to travel through the landscape of the work while engaging in speculation, awe and doubt. Truth and illusion are only a couple molecules away from one another and I like to walk the line of something being both. There is something comforting in the thought that I can make reality how I want it with my art, but under the guise of some scientific accuracy, so that it feels more legitimate and less personal. It's like the sly way to unearth everything's silent potential. I think of my sculptures, as precious little nuggets of personal magic and wonder, like a secret that you reluctantly share. There is a quote that I really enjoy, "Truth is a sort of agreement, and depends on point of view. There is no objective truth, just a sort of agreement regarding how accurate the information is to the model."

AR: What are your feelings about imperfection? Do you think it assists or detracts from a piece? Do you deliberately try to utilize one over the other in your own compositions?


1. A fault, blemish, or undesirable feature.
2. The state of being faulty or incomplete.

I don't mind it. I know that we all know what imperfection is, but I added those definitions because I feel like I can answer this question on two fronts. One being that in terms of something holding a fault, blemish or undesirable feature in the way that it is constructed, without specific intention, is obviously not helpful in being able to properly view a work. So as I'm sure everyone feels, yeah, having something crafted nicely is important aesthetically and helps viewers get to the meat of your work more easily.

On the other hand, I am drawn to something being in an incomplete or faulty state. One of the processes I like to borrow from my scientific influences is the use of a working hypothesis. Hypotheses are always in the state of being incomplete and they are merely a guide to how you think something might go. In a lot of my works I research certain properties and uses for a material and while researching I will begin to put my own spin on how I want that property to act in my sculpture or work. I see science as a set of temporary or provisional truths just waiting for a new set of theories or interpretations. I use this outlook when I am employing scientific ideas as inspirational material for the creation of artworks.

In my next sculpture I am building a series of "satellite" projectors whose balance and rotation rely on the physics of gyroscopes (which are essential for space flight navigation). Ideally, all of these glass disc projectors will spin at a fixed 45-degree angle while balancing atop a 6ft pole. But I am aware that they very well might rotate 360 degrees on it's axis rather than sitting at a fixed angle because I am hypothesizing that my construction will force them to act outside of their normal states. This may make the end image I have in mind essentially "incomplete" since it would not end up creating the exact imaging I had in mind. But this is okay for me, because I like to use a certain percentage of chance in my work. Just like scientific experiments you can have your guidelines but the end result cannot be fully controlled. As a glass worker I have become quite familiar with chance and unexpected end results. There is a certain amount of physics and "magic" in working with this material and that has made its way into the philosophy of my sculptural works as a whole.

AR: Working with a medium that is translucent, it seems that you take into great consideration incorporating light and shadow into your work. Can you elaborate upon that play?

MA: There are so many connotations with light and shadow - good vs. evil, the known vs. the unknown. Essentially in all of my pieces, lights role is providing the means to show us something, to teach or enlighten us in some way. In my phentikscope piece the light is projecting onto the oscillating glass disc with the imprint of a droplet of water falling. But, the actual image of that information is delivered in the form of a shadow. Shadows mysteriously withhold information, abstract subject matter, and can often provoke the imagination of the viewer. By definition a shadow is an area where direct light from a light source cannot reach due to obstruction by an object.  Here the object that is causing the obstruction is also the tool that seeks to provide the information to us. The light is bending around the curves of the imprint in the glass and casting shadows of those imprints onto the wall. I am interested in the roles of light and shadow as simultaneous illuminators and masks of information and our role as viewers in how we interpret that duality. The shadow animation of the stream of water is telling us that what we see with our physical eyes when we look at the actual stream of water in the tank is not actually true. It is not one solid stream but rather a bunch of tiny droplets moving faster than we can visually process. As a viewer what do you trust, the shadow or yourself?  In the history of cinema viewers responses oscillate between the mimetic (images true to nature) and the hypnotic (images invoking magic and fear). I am interested in how they go together and the moving image as uncanny because of its verisimilitude.

A lot of the pieces you see in the presentation are works from when I first started exploring my ideas.  After the creation of my first sculpture (the glass boxes) my first animation was of a piece of glass leftover from the boxes, being slowly turned by a hand. The hand is represented in shadow and is powering the turning of the glass piece in the movie. Each slight degree that it rotates changes the angle and shape of the light rays that emit from the glass. The movie loops so that this animation of light is eternally exploding and imploding back into itself, never really having a definitive beginning or end and not really telling you anything concretely.  Which is in some ways how I feel about the creation of art and discoveries. They are constantly happening in a wave of mini big bangs that are constantly creating and destroying ideas.

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