DESIGN, CONCEPT, and DIRECTION: Alex Kahn, Sophia Michahelles

ARTISTIC and TECHNICAL SUPPORT: Kate Whitehead and Linda Lambertson



Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange
~ Shakespeare, The Tempest

As inspiration for the 2011 NY Village Halloween Parade, PAW looked to Odilon Redon’s iconic Eye Balloon.

What is it about the Disembodied Eye that is at once so disturbing and yet so strangely familiar? Tradition associates the all-seeing eye with inescapable power and authority – coldly remote, yet as near to us as the back of a dollar bill. From the Masonic Eye-in-the-Pyramid, to the Thousand-eyed Avalokateswara (whose eyes emanate from his palms), to the Glowing Eye of HAL 9000, the floating eye evokes the ancient awe of omniscience and the modern anxiety of surveillance.

But all this has suddenly started to change. Lewis Hyde recounts a tale in which Coyote the Trickster learns to throw his eyeballs high into a tree to sight distant prey on the horizon. We, too, are learning Coyote’s trick of remote viewing, sending our eyes out into the world and pixel-by-pixel crafting a parallax view of ourselves. Where we once hid from Big Brother’s ubiquitous gaze, now – with every Youtube upload, with every Facebook post, and every Google (Go ogle!) search, we revel in our own reflections, no matter how mundane. The anonymous eye of authority now lies in the palm of our hand. “They” have become “We”, and we have become eyes. Like the eye-covered body of Argus in Greek myth, we have become a matrix of ever-wakeful omnivorous observers.

But in the end, Coyote’s eyes get stuck in the tree. Having lost vision of his own, he stumbles on with borrowed eyes. As the technology of Facebook and Flickr offers us the possibility of seeing everything, we risk seeing nothing but ourselves, eyes wide shut, in a collective feast of Narcissism.  Argus, for all his vigilance, is slain by Hermes (God of Communication), and for his sacrifice, is turned into a peacock.

PAW led the 2011 Halloween Parade with i of the Beholder, launching a cloud of floating eyes up Sixth Avenue. Videos of eyes gathered from across the world were projected onto our giant ocular orbs, a sequence of dissolving images at once intimate and anonymous. Ganglia of illuminated wires pulsed beneath the giant eyes, and fiberoptic tendrils brushed the heads of the crowd. After years of being electronically ogled, captured, and Youtubed en route, we returned the gaze, with a thousand borrowed eyes. Here's looking at you, kids . . .