One of the many functions of public art is to disrupt the environment in which it is placed and to contribute to the interactions that already exists between objects and people in a given space. In the last decades Davidson has made an effort to bring more sculpture to campus, the most recent of which is Walking See Flower, by American artist James Turrell and gifted to the college by John Andrew MacMahon ‘95. Hearing the new piece described as everything from “the panopticon” to  “the spaghetti eyes,” I wanted to get a better sense of the kind of conversation that the sculpture was generating. Below are anonymous statements from a wide range of students expressing their initial reactions to the piece. If an aspect of art is reactive, what do we learn about ourselves or our campus when something new disrupts a seemingly circular conversation? – Alyssa Tirrell, Arts and Culture Editor

Walking See Flower outside of Vail Commons. Photo by John Crawford ‘20.

“I feel like the sculpture outside of Commons is staring at me.”

“My first reaction to the new art piece, just seeing it on Facebook, was that it was weird and kind of ugly… Seeing it in person this fall, I appreciate it a little bit more, it’s an interesting piece that has good movement. Still, I think the placement is kind of odd, why not put it in the center in front of Commons? Or even less close to the sidewalk where it is? Also, as a GSS major, I can’t help but think about, as another student mentioned to me, how it’s very similar to a panopticon…”

“I feel like I’m being watched. In a cyclical fashion. A really big brother.”

“I personally don’t have much of a reaction to the new sculpture. It seems like a somewhat pointless addition to campus, but it doesn’t bother me either.”

“I like that new sculpture a whole ton. It’s spooky in a family fun fair kind of way and the eyes really pierce. I see it and know I’m always being watched.”

“I saw the piece a week ago and honestly had no idea what it was. At first glance, I interpreted the sculpture as an explicit representation of the surveillant society we uphold daily. The eyes feel constant and impending, similar to the  opinion of peers.”

“I feel like I’m being watched. In a cyclical fashion. A really big brother.”

“I love public art and would love to see more and more pop up around campus. The sculpture outside of Commons seems somewhat out of place though, but it’s mystical — resembling both a flower in movement as well as a strange being with many eyes. I had an argument about which one it was recently (my side being that of the eyes), and I think any sort of piece that invites discourse between passerby is a worthy piece for campus.”

“Public art is vital to any liberal arts campus. It invites discussion, engagement, and ultimately opens the door for a deeper understanding of one another. Art on Davidson’s campus advances its academic rigor. In art’s subjectivity, a piece can achieve so many different things. But in general, public art on our campus should share histories, address social issues, and encourage an embrace of individuality, in both thought and personality.”

“I’m not sure of the origin, inspiration, or intent of the new sculpture outside commons, but I think it looks vaguely psychedelic in nature. That is, there may be a political or ideological statement within its wheel of eyes, but it recalls psychedelic imagery reminiscent of the ‘third eye’ that has been around forever. Honestly, it has never seemed threatening or unsettling to me personally; when I first saw it, I thought, ‘Huh, that’s pretty weird for this place.’”

“The eyestalk tumbleweed underscores this campus’s panopticon feel. Walk and be watched. You sense that everyone is judging you, and you are right.”

“The piece recently installed on campus is something I am conflicted about. I want art and sculpture to be incorporated into the subconscious of the campus just by sheer exposure, but I think this sculpture doesn’t do much to get Davidson students thinking about art here on campus.

I love the ethos of the artist himself, but I only learned about his background and tenets from researching his background — he is an internationally-known artist focusing on natural forms, psychological themes, and repeating motifs, and so many of his works are intriguing to me. This one incorporates the themes of the eye and plant which are often seen in his work, but I think they seem vague and disconnected when looking at the piece independently from the whole body of work. 

I wish there was a way for students to become engaged in learning more about the artist behind each piece, especially regarding the symbolism and intentionally of the forms in the campus sculpture. I just don’t think that placing a sculpture randomly on campus, no matter how respected the artist is, will appropriately get students thinking about art in a non-classroom setting.”