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Professor Brings Kinetic Energy To Art Making

Story posted January 01, 2012

Alicia Eggert in her studio
Alicia Eggert in her studio.

Many artists carve a niche in one discipline-painting, say, or sculpture, or multimedia-then branch into other mediums. 
Bowdoin's newest visual arts faculty member, Alicia Eggert, defies such classification.

She earned her undergraduate degree from Drexel University in interior design, studied architecture in Copenhagen, then worked in design and architecture circles in New York City before earning a MFA in sculpture from Alfred University.

These influences are interwoven to fascinating effect in her sculptural installations, which often include mechanized parts, motors, and everyday objects. Her work creates new contexts for commonplace objects and ideas-even the tic-tock passage of a clock-inviting viewers to reconsider the mundane.

Wonder, 2011, proximity sensor, servo motors, Arduino
Wonder, 2011, 80"x48"x4", proximity sensor, servo motors, Arduino microprocessor, electrial comonents, MDF panel, acrylic, house paint, spray paint, ink and graphite.

She professes to being a non-artist artist, which may be another reason why her conceptual approaches are firing up students to think with their hands in new ways, even if they've never before gotten them around art.

"I'm not a big painter or drawer," she says. "I think it's because I never really feel like I have the images in my head that I need to get out. It's not about me as an artist creating something from nothing. It's very much about me putting a puzzle together. One of the things that I do is create things that move, that actually function."

Eggert's often kinetic installations invite viewers to physically participate with her in "puzzling out" themes of time and change and language. Humming behind much of her recent work are motors, clock works and motion sensors that track the proximity of viewers, changing aspects of the work at human approach.

In her 2010 installation Eternity, a panel of 36 scrambled clock hands aligns every 12-hours to form the word "eternity." Knowing viewers can wait and watch the passage of time, the congealing of language, and then its dissolution.

"I like that it moves so slowly, that things change at different speeds that we almost don't perceive," notes Eggert. "And I'm interested in language coming from something that doesn't look like words. Language is just lines spread out." 

Wonder, a new work developed for the 2011 Portland Museum of Art Biennial takes those themes a step further, rewarding viewers who come close to look. A panel of black arms are dipped in white paint. From a distance, the white dots jitter uncertainly like far-off stars. As the viewer approaches, a proximity sensor connected to the arms forces the dots to coalesce to form the word "wonder."

Eggert's drive to transform everyday materials also translates into the classroom. In an assignment for her Sculpture I class in the fall, Eggert asked students to find a chair-preferably used and broken-disassemble it and remodel it to fit a new function.

"I had [students] think about parasites, how they attach to the exoskeleton of the host and make it sick but don't fully kill it," she says, smiling a little. "I asked them to think about the function of the chair being affected by something, but not being totally obliterated. The idea of a parasite can be abstracted or used very literally ... which brought out some interesting work."

Walter Wuthmann '14
Walter Wuthmann '14

The work was so interesting that it got its own exhibition in the lobby of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, where it served as an inventive parallel interpretation of the 2010 Museum exhibition, Sit Down! Chairs From Six Centuries.

Among Eggert's students whose work was featured was Walter Wuthmann '14. His disassembled Windsor-style chair was reshaped into a stork-like bird, where it perched sassily under the Museum staircase.

"She expects big artistic ideas out of us," he says of Eggert. "She tells us, you know, have your first idea then throw it away and go with your tenth idea. I've never done sculpture before but it turned out really cool. When else in my life am I going to be in an art museum?"

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I'm interested in language coming from something that doesn't look like words. Language is just lines spread out.
— Professor Alicia Eggert