Get to Know SAM’s VSOs: Alyssa Norling

Alyssa Norling

Aly moved from Hillsboro, OR to Seattle in 2011 to pursue her BFA in Theater from Cornish College of the Arts. After spending a summer working for a trapeze studio in exchange for high flying trapeze lessons, she decided she should find a paying job while in school. She took up her position as a VSO at SAM and graduated with her BFA with a concentration in Original Works in 2015. Aly continues working as a VSO to gain inspiration while working as an actress, playwright, director, dancer, and singer.

SAM: Material Difference: European Perspectives is a new addition to the Big Picture: Art after 1945 exhibition featuring artist Anselm Kiefer. What is your favorite piece in this section?

Norling: Anselm Kiefer’s Die Welle (The Wave). You know something is deeply wrong with the world when you see it, and then you learn that Kiefer is using the myth of Lilith at the Red Sea to evoke the destruction, despair, and death of the holocaust. It’s remarkably haunting and effective. It’s inspired me to take a closer look at the myth of Lilith and create art of my own about her because, to me, the myth sounds like it was created to keep women from demanding equality with men.

What is your favorite piece of art currently on display at SAM?

I have to cheat because my favorite was JUST taken down. Untitled by John McCracken,the monolith-type thing with perfectly clear reflective surfaces, became my favorite over time. When patrons took their time and really considered our stainless steel McCracken (in ways other than to fix their hair and take mirror pics) it inspired so much play and creativity. The possibilities for interacting with it were endless. It evoked a wider variety of response from patrons than any other piece in the museum, in my experience. The McCracken was a different work of art every day, every minute, depending on who was in its presence and how they chose to interact with it.

Who is your favorite artist?

My brain goes to playwrights. I’ve been in love with the structure, themes, and feminism that live in the plays of Maria Irene Fornes and Caryl Churchill for a very long time, so probably one of those two. Read one of their plays someday! Seriously.

What advice can you offer to guests visiting SAM?

Spend time with art. More time than you think. More time than you want. I took this job because I was curious about what discoveries I’d make if I spent a ridiculous amount of time in the presence of a work of art. Interesting things happen when you push yourself to give art the time and attention it actually needs from you. This sounds like really basic advice, but spend a day in the life of a VSO and you’ll be dumbfounded by how many patrons experience art at hyper speed through smart phone cameras. Snap. Move on. Snap. Move on. Snap. Move on. So many people don’t experience art through their actual eyes, brains, and hearts. And very few push themselves to really investigate a work of art and discover a relationship with it.

Tell us more about you! When you’re not at SAM, what do you spend your time doing?

Rehearsals, performances, or research really just take up most of my time! Currently, I perform at Café Nordo in Pioneer Square Thursdays–Sundays in a crazy, geeky, hilariously weird Christmas, shadow-puppet play called Christmas is Burning that runs all of December. I’m also rehearsing with a group that will be performing a piece at On The Boards in the spring, which I’m really excited about. But when it’s not one of those current projects, I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to figure out what kind of art I want to make in the future. My education is in theatre, but I grew up a dancer and surround myself with visual art, so I feel a need to explore which of these (or which combination of these) will allow me to tell stories most effectively.

Katherine Humphreys, SAM Visitor Services Officer

Photo: Natali Wiseman