The eyeball popped-up in August on a recently cleared vacant lot in between Main and Elm Streets, across the street from the Joule Hotel. Since then Tony Tasset’s sculpture, a massively enlarged replication of his very own eyeball, has been the focal point of plenty of conversation. Mayor Mike Rawlings praised it as an indicator of the kinds of things that could help boost energy downtown. Our own Glenn Hunter aptly made the comparison to the glaring, ever-fixed gaze of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg in The Great Gatsby, an advertisement that functions as a kind of ambiguous symbol of a moral universe, ante-uping Pascal’s Wager, so to speak. And in the wake of the NSA surveillance revelations, they eye could be seen as a tongue-in-cheek reference to an ever-watching Big Brother.
But not so, says artist Tony Tasset in this interview with Interview Magazine in which he discusses the piece at length. The eye, he argues, is just an eye:
“People have been so conditioned to not understand art that when something’s obvious they feel like they’re missing something,” Tasset says. “It’s a big eyeball.”
But even if we accept the artist’s insistence that there is no symbolic or metaphoric intention with placing a giant eye in downtown Dallas, that hasn’t stopped the eye from instigating a range of peculiar reactions:
Tasset’s focus is in pinpointing objects that are widely recognizable, easily construed by anyone. As far as spurring reactions, Eye seems to be working: On one end, a homeless man wrote an enraged screed proclaiming the Eye was a false god; on the other, Flaming Lips singer Wayne Coyne shared the pithier sentiment “…fuck yeah!!!” in an Instagram of the still-under-construction sphere. “I was quite honored,” admits the artist.
That’s where Tasset’s eye becomes interesting for me, where it occupies this space between intentionality and interpretation, a sculptural positioning achieved merely by utilizing objects that can’t help but carry allusive qualities. Similarly to Claus Oldenburg, who re-positioned our apprehension of consumer products by monumentalizing mundane or toss-away items, Tasset’s piece is about exploring the inclination of the perceptive mind to extrapolate meaning from a thing, subtracting intent so as to reveal any particular interpretation of the object as a projection of meaning by the perceiving viewer. The eye, then, as the dominant sensory tool of perception, is an appropriate symbolic tool. And like Oldenburg’s work, it’s a form that carries both symbolic weight and surrealist humor.
“So, you put in a 30-foot eyeball and it turns the downtown into this surreal, funky set, and it makes you, the viewer, a participant in this weird stage set,” Tasset says. “An eyeball is just a classic. I try to make work that kind of keys into things that are already familiar. They know what an eye is like. There’s no mystery to it. Still people ask, ‘What’s it mean?’”
Photo by Jeanne Prejean