Giant Eyeball to Invade Chicago

On July 7th, Chicago will be invaded by a three-story eyeball.  There is no word yet whether it will threaten us with death rays.

Of course, I am kidding.  What will be coming to Chicago on July 7th is Eye, a three-story sculpture by Tony Tasset.  Tasset is a Chicago-based artist and a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, he also has quite a bit of artwork currently on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, which I wrote about in my review of that exhibition, “Rewind.”  

I’ll be honest, I’m really excited about seeing Eye eye-to-eye (ok no more puns like that).  I first learned about Eye when it appeared in Laumeier Sculpture Park, though at that point there was no indication that the sculpture would be enlarged several times over and come to Chicago.

I’m strongly in favor of good public art (as opposed to really bad public art).  With the visual arts coverage in mass media at about zero, Chicago Tribune included, public art is proving to be  a vital way to engage people with art.  The Picasso and now the Bean have both demonstrated this.  Will Eye live up to the challenge?  It’s size certainly suggests to me that it’ll make waves.

While I am wary about the spectacle that this installation will undoubtedly cause, which could be to the detriment to the work itself as demonstrated by some of the Chinese sculpture in Millennium Park, I’m already interested in its site in Pritzker Park.  The “Park” itself was nothing more than a vacant lot about two years ago frequented mainly by the city’s homeless population.  Last year they put in a plaza, some spindly trees, a concession stand (of course!), and some really bad landscaping.  Then they (whomever “they” are, brief research turned up little on the park itself and even less on the naming process) named it after our local plutocrats, the Pritzkers, who already have their names plastered all over town, including just a couple blocks away, in Millennium Park.  Now finished and open, Pritzker Park seems to have been reclaimed by the city’s homeless population.

Even more interestingly, the park is the site of the city’s new and unwelcome crowd controls.  Several weeks ago, it being warm out again finally, I went with some friends to the roof deck of Plymouth Restaurant and Bar, located adjacent to Pritzker Park and across the street from the Harold Washington Library and the Library El station. One person joined us later in the evening, cutting through Pritzker Park to get to Plymouth.  She reported that there was some sort of high-pitched siren broadcast throughout the park.  On my way home I decided to check it out and sure enough, the park is rigged with speakers that broadcast a high-pitched siren throughout the park making it very unpleasant to be there, thus deterring vagrants. However the homeless were still there, just uncomfortable now.  There is no official word whether these sirens will be active during the evening hours of the day which would make viewing the work nearly impossible.

This experience indicates to me the potentially most interesting aspect of Eye: its reference to surveillance and control.  Joel Kuennen brought this kind of point up in relation to Roger Hiorns’ installation of jet engines on the roof of the Art Institute of Chicago, and I ascribed Chicago’s culture of surveillance to be of primary importance to Michael Wolf’s 2008-2009 exhibition “The Transparent City.” Chicago is the most closely watched city in America, according to a recent Associated Press report.   Anywhere you go in the Loop you are likely being watched by an electronic eye, or probably several of them.  The cameras can be discrete or obtrusive, but they are omnipresent, watching our movements and actions for the presumed purpose of keeping us safe. The sirens in Pritzker Park go a step beyond passive monitoring to
actively shaping our behavior, in a disgustingly Orwellian-type of
move.  These sirens should be scrapped.  The parks are for the people.  Tasset makes visible an eye, which can be surreal as the artist describes it, but its location in this particular park, in the loop, in the midst of a forest of electronic eyes, gives it a more disturbing character.  What or who is watching you?  Why?


Leave a comment
  • Cool!

  • If it only produced tears, we could have Willie Nelson sing, "Blue Eye Crying In the Rain", or if it changed colors, Linda Ronstadt could entertain us with, "Don't It Make My Brown Eye Blue"

  • The eye is a kind of self-portrait that Tasset has executed previously. According to a CNN article that was published after I wrote this: "The steel reinforced fiberglass EYE has a blue iris because that is the color of Tasset's eyes."

    As if it not being "true art," that's almost as ridiculous as the first assertion in that comment.

  • While I agree with your sentiment that the sirens are disgusting, I think you should be aware that these sirens are designed and marketed to keep pigeons away, not people.

    It's a park. They want people there. Why do yo think they are installing this piece? The "sirens" are simply horrible public planning by the city of Chicago because - while most people can't hear the high-pitched frequency - many of us can. They are supposed to be callibrated outside of the range of the human ear. They clearly are not.

    I hate them, they give me a headache like nothing else, and I wish I knew where to complain.

    But to attempt to connect them to some big-brother-is-controlling-you concept...that's, well, absurd.

    We have enough real life examples of that. The speakers are nothing more than Chicago Style Stupidity.

  • Michael-

    My opinion of the sirens as a control device is actually not absurd, in fact it's based on actual technology that is in use all over the world. I was obliquely referencing this article from the BBC about a UK mall that is using such sirens to deter teens from loitering:

    I agree with you, people should be in the park. But if the sirens deter people at the same time as pigeons, isn't the effect the same? Aren't they shaping behavior via negative reinforcement?

    The sirens may be intended for a certain purpose, but they function differently as I am sure you and your headache might agree.

  • In reply to Skeptical:

    I am aware of the use of the high pitched speakers being used in front of PRIVATE buisnesses to keep away teenagers.

    But I'm awfully confused as to why you think they would be trying to purposefully annoy people in a public park so that they don't want to stick around.

    By your rationale, the park was built next to a noisy elevated train station (much louder and unsettling, yes?) so that no one would ever visit the park, since the L was built for one purpose but has a secondary consequence because of its location.

  • In reply to mikel1814:

    This would be the main reason I would imagine the city might deter people: "Now finished and open, Pritzker Park seems to have been reclaimed by the city's homeless population."

    Also there's no signage that I could see explaining the sirens or their official purpose.

    Being next to the "L" maybe loud but it has its charms, it certainly doesn't cause the physical discomfort of the sirens. Though that's subjective.

  • In reply to mikel1814:

    I live right next to this park which allows every aggressive, drunk, urinating vagrant to move in along with their preaching, megaphone-using friends. I am harassed while heading home from work on a daily basis, and it's worse on Sunday when a feeding line is formed and homeless folk come from near and far for the bagel. I've seen people ticketed for sitting on the grass with their dogs enjoying a packed lunch, while 6 feet away a man and his blankets, suitcase and empty liquor bottles sleeps in the plants. I don't mean to sound bitter, but let's face it... I'm pretty darn bitter.

    So along with this physical and vocal harassment comes the shrieking of those incessant speakers. Is it to keep pigeons away? The pigeons are quite used to it, and they enjoy the mass quantities of food people toss out there and leave to rot in these humid summer days.

    Oh, and don't use the elevator at the Library El station, because the floor-level exit is one individual's personal restroom. This has gone on for 2 years now (and counting) and no one DOES ANYTHING about it. Wait for a nice, hot day. You can smell it.

    So now they're installing a 30-foot eyeball? Are they hoping it will creep people out enough and keep them at bay? Or are they planning to create a shady nook for my alcohol imbibing friends for those sunny summer Tuesday afternoons? And will the eye save me when I'm being chased down by an enormous man in an Urlacher jersey asking me for money?? WHERE ARE THE POLICE???

    Oh, they're at the Plymouth Restaurant and Bar. You can see their cars/bikes/ATVs parked right outside at any time of day. Head out to Plymouth Ct during lunch and get an eyefull of the who's who of illegal diner parking. It's law enforcement. That's right.

    So I conclude... A 30-FOOT EYEBALL made it to the top of the list?

Leave a comment