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?
Tags: chicago tourism, downtown chicago, eye, eyeball, installation, Laumeier Sculpture Park, MCA, Michael Wolf, Millennium Park, Pritzker, public art, public sculpture, Roger Hiorns, sculpture, surveillance, Tony Tasset