I don’t know about you, but I’m one of those people that doesn’t like my food staring back at me. When I order fish at a restaurant, I need to make sure it’s a fillet, and not a whole fish with eyes looking right at me while I’m eating it. Besides the just plain gross, ick, and sentimental factor, there’s the paranoia component. I don’t like to be constantly watched (with the sole exception of my dog, who is not the least bit creepy and whose watchfulness is always filled with love). Generally, the idea of eyes constantly on you evokes feelings of discomfort, unease, and can be quite unnerving. It can make you even feel that you’re unsafe. It makes you wonder if there is something unusual or attention grabbing about you, of which you might be oblivious. We usually gaze at art the way that fish on your plate might gaze at you. It can be intense, prolonged, and even irreverent. But what if the roles were reversed? What if art incessantly gazes at you? There is certainly a precedent for turning the tables on the gaze in early portraiture, as in Mona Lisa (Leonardo Da Vinci, 1503) or subjugating the male gaze of the female nude and ricocheting it right back at you, as in Olympia (Edouard Manet, 1863). But how does that idea of looking and being looked at manifest itself in contemporary art?
Randall Cleaver explores some of these themes in his whimsical work, measuring 4 x 5 x 5, entitled Scallop Time. It’s an antique silver dish with four realistic blue eyes outlining the four quadrants of a clock. As simply stated by the artist: “I looked at photos of scallops and they have these amazing blue eyes. When I saw this old butter server I thought of scallops and decided to make the clock face with blue eyes.” First, I never knew scallops had blue eyes. Secondly, the dish with eyes from a type of seafood is certainly reminiscent of that abhorrent dinner plate. Yet the clock, or standing watch, if you will, is something you constantly look at to determine the time. The word watch is literally synonymous with looking. Perhaps this all seems to allude to multiple permutations of the gaze: the four eyes gazing at you (so unnatural, which by the way makes it less icky than two eyes), the clock, something you constantly look at, and the idea that the four eyes are embedded within a device that you look at, and that can literally be called a watch, another word for gaze. Perhaps all of these confounding layers of looking speak to the changing nature of art, as moving beyond simply an object on which to rest our gaze. Maybe. Or maybe it’s just a beautiful, quirky piece of art, one that can generate layers of interpretation and conversation.