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The cornea is high: Eye sculpture brightens up 2019 Lansing ARTpath project

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City Pulse has an “Eyesore of the Week” and an “Eye Candy of the Week,” but not just an “Eye of the Week.”

“You do now, man,” David Such cackled.

Such, a Lansing artist, and his frequent collaborator Fred Hammond have created one of the most striking entries in this summer’s ARTpath project along the Lansing River Tail — a giant, glowing eyeball on a stalk.

The unblinking orb sprouts up from the ball field at Elm Park, east of downtown, to stare down passersby on the River Trail.

Such was strangely drawn to the idea of people walking by and suddenly being aware of a Cyclopean presence.

“I wanted it to look like a big cosmic eyeball,” he said.

“I don’t know, I don’t always think rationally when I make things.”

Overall, the impression is surprisingly benign, for a naked, floating eyeball.

“I didn’t want it to be threatening,” Such said. “I knew that kids play ball at the park there. I just wanted someone riding by to go, ‘Whoa’ — startled but not scared.

The sculpture started with the stalk, a nifty aluminum stand with a solid plate at the base that was lying around Such’s north Lansing workshop for years. He guesses that the stalk was once part of a robot arm discarded from a factory.

But what would go on top?

While scrounging at MSU Salvage one day, Such came upon two large, cornea-like light fixtures, probably from a parking lot. They already looked like giant eyes, even before he bought them for $16 apiece, took them apart and spray-painted the “irises” blue.

An unfortunate accident put a fatal crack into one of Such’s eyes. After painting the first lens, he left it on the shop floor to dry. Hurrying to answer a phone call, he stepped on it.

“It was dead, so I just got busy on the other one,” he said.

As the eyeball took form in Such’s shop, it began to remind him of the old 1950s space monsters like “The Crawling Eye.” He decided to lean into the 1950s vibe by adding two sculptural, automotive-looking fins to the back. (“The Cruising Eye?”)

Such emphatically denied that the sculpture is a commentary on the surveillance state, although he acknowledges some people might interpret it that way.

Dusk is a good time to eye the eye because of a subtle feature that’s hard to appreciate in full sunlight. As a viewer approaches, the eye lights up. Such and Hammond equipped the sculpture with a motion sensor and a light, powered by a solar cell mounted on the back of the eyeball. Reflective material on the pupil diffuses the light.

Hammond, an engineer, is often the one who makes Such’s bizarre ideas work in the real world.

“He figured out how to build the box with the motion sensor,” Such said. “It’s a sweet little piece of engineering.”

Such called the sculpture “Eye on Summer” because he and Hammond built it in the winter, when it was getting dark around 5 p.m. and he was longing for longer days.

Such and Hammond have created several sculptures around town, including the bike chain sculpture in front of Chipolte Restaurant on Grand River Avenue in East Lansing and the nutty, noisy diving bell fantasia that occupied the Elm Park spot on ARTpath last summer.

The team has just been commissioned by the Lansing Area Economic Partnership to build a big sculpture on the corner of Pleasant Grove and Holmes streets on the south side.

In his day job, Such is director of photography at Render Studios, a video production company based in Old Town. He was born in Lansing, where his parents worked at Lansing Dairy, and has lived most of his life in the area. He traces his compulsion to create sculptures to a period of time he spent living with his two brothers, both artists, on a farm near Lansing. Such and both of his brothers have pieces on view at Zoobie’s Old Town Tavern and the Cosmos restaurant next door.

Among Such’s favorite artists are color-crazed abstract English painter Howard Hodgkins and another sculptor who wouldn’t blink at putting an eyeball on a steel stalk, American sculptor David Smith. Locally, Such loves the work of Lansing area artists Julian Van Dyke, Brian Whitfield and Robert Shellberg.

Such loves being a part of the local arts community and especially enjoys seeing his work on the ARTpath, a two-year-old project that tucked some 20 works in various media into parks and overpasses along the downtown stretch of the River Trail this summer.

“There are so many cool things and talented people in Lansing,” he said. “I love the idea of people riding by and discovering something new and different.”

He’s had a lot of conversations about the eyeball at Zoobie’s Bar. (He’s hoping it will find a permanent home at the space-kitsch Cosmos or some other suitable site.)

“People think it’s cool,” he said. “Nobody’s been flipped out by it or scared by it. My nine-year-old godson loves it.”

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