“Um, this may sound strange, but have you seen a…” The painter cuts off the question in mid-sentence, as he leans over his scaffolding and opens a pack of Players. Using a fresh cigarette as a pointer, he nods, “The giant ball? It rolled that way, towards the Commons.”
By the time the ball—which isn’t really a ball but a 2.54-metre-tall, stainless steel spherical cage equipped with a digital video camera—is located, it’s crossed the Halifax Common and is sitting on Bell Road in front of locked-out CBC television employees. Ilan Sandler, the artist who designed the traffic-stopping piece, crosses the street to explain his project to the group, while his assistants, fellow artists Tania Sures and Aaron Schmidt, take a rest before the next challenge: Citadel Hill.
This roaming eyeball is an integral component of an installation by Sandler called Three Senses. Imagine if your senses—sight in this case—were removed from your body and allowed to experience life on their own, roaming the streets of Halifax. It’s absurd, Sandler admits, as he directs the eyeball to record video of the soon-to-be-destroyed NSCC building and the thick trunk of a tree, but he’s interested in the unusual coincidences and panoramic patterns—sky, cityscape, asphalt, grass—that the ball experiences.
“I want to pick up images that are particular to Halifax. Inevitably there are some surprises,” he says. “As we walk around, you observe what’s at the plane of your height. You’re never this close to the ground or the upper reaches of the sky.”
Once the city tour is over, Sandler, who is also director of Centre for Art Tapes, will edit three hours of video into “10 really interesting minutes.” The video, along with photos and the eye itself, will be on display at Saint Mary’s University Art Gallery from October 6 to November 20, along with representations of two other senses: hearing and touch.
Formed out of cotton-candy pink high-density foam, “The Ear” is what the artist refers to as a “passive listening device.” For the length of the exhibition, the oversized three-metre-tall representation will be fixed onto the outside of SMU’s Loyola residence. A microphone tucked into its canal will pick up bits of conversation and street noise; those with voyeuristic tendencies can listen in from a pair of headphones inside the gallery. It’s not exactly an accurate surveillance piece—Sandler mixes in previously recorded conversations and sounds. There’s a Hitchcockian mood to “The Ear”: things are never as they appear, or, in this case, how they sound.
Completing the trio of dislocated senses is a ceiling-grazing hand.
“Touch is the most difficult sense to relate to somebody,” says Sandler, guiding the eyeball across Trollope Street to the base of Citadel Hill. The eyeball makes a harsh scraping sound on the sidewalk before relaxing on the grass. “So I converted touch to sound.”
In the giant hand is a large speaker playing sounds from hands touching a variety of objects. Sandler contacted researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who recorded sounds emitted from receptors in monkeys’ hands in an attempt to better understand their sensory complexities. The two sources are mixed in what Sandler refers to as a polyphonic soundscape.
The eyeball takes Citadel Hill with ease, much to the confusion of a Harbour Hopper tour operator who is stunned into momentary silence by its sight. As Sandler checks the videotape, he explains the last installation, Table Talk, to be installed in a popular Loyola food court. Two copper tabletops are etched with stories from victims of violence—one from Philadelphia, and the other, a swarming victim from Halifax. Text taken from transcripts and from interviews Sandler conducted with the victims is permanently “stamped into the copper, the same way violence is literally engrained into the minds of the victims.”
Sandler explains the connection between the victims’ stories and Three Senses: “It still deals with a sensory experience. It’s a literal portrayal of senses being shocked—both the victim and the person reading it.”
A third copper tabletop will be left blank, with encouragement for other victims or witnesses of violence to come forward to tell their stories.
The eyeball and crew finish their brief break and carry on to the Public Gardens and through the south end. With a mere blink of an eye, they vanish from sight.
Three Senses and Table Talk at Saint Mary’s University Art Gallery, October 6 to November 20.