Concord's 'Eyeball' Artist Gets Ready To Show The City A Whole New Face

Nov 6, 2018

In March of 2018, Tom Devaney “turned off” a provocative work of art in downtown Concord - a video loop, projected onto a 6 foot wide sculpture - of his own blinking blue eye. 

Over its five year run, Concord’s enormous, creepy eyeball became something of a landmark, and when Devaney took the sculpture down people wondered what he’d do next.

NHPR’s Sean Hurley visited with the artist to find out. 

This past summer Tom Devaney began working on The Face of Concord in his gallery overlooking Main Street. 

He didn’t block the curtains or try to hide the huge plaster sculpture of a human head and shoulders taking shape.  “People are looking now because the eye was here and so they are looking up and this is a pretty big form from the street so they know something’s up,” Devaney says, “So I do see them walking back and forth a couple times to try to figure out what's going on.”

Video projected onto the sculpture creates a three dimensional illusion.
Credit Tom Devaney

While the plaster shoulders and neck look right - despite being seven  times larger than normal - what the onlookers can’t quite get is what’s going on with the sculpture’s head...which is empty. It's a bowl, with slight depressions for the nose, eyes, and mouth.

This is a hollow-face projection illusion,” Devaney explains, “so when you're on the street the head follows you it tracks wherever you go. We can turn it on if you want?”

Devaney closes the curtains and turns the projector on. A woman’s face pops out in three dimensions from the hollow.

Her eyes close - her mouth moving, roving slowly. She’s singing.  I make out the words from the movements of her lips…“somebody”...“love”...

“Somebody to love…” the artist sings out the silent words.

I walk side to side before the enormous singing woman - the illusion isn’t just of her eyes following me - but of her face turning and singing to me…soundlessly.

When the faces talk to you they say certain things that are optimistic, let's put it that way,” Devaney says. “You won't hear them but you'll see them talking so if you're a good lip reader, you should be able to figure some stuff out.”

Devaney and his landmark "Eyeball" sculpture, shortly before the eye closed for good.
Credit Sam Hurley

Devaney says he’s already seen people standing on the street below his gallery during tests of the sculpture – watching the huge silent faces – trying to figure out what’s being said, what’s being sung.

“There's a script. It's unique to each person. They kind of write their own script in consultation with me,” he explains.

So far, Devaney has filmed about ten locals talking, laughing, singing, and smiling.

“And so,” he says, “the Face of Concord idea was that it was trying to help us define who we are as a community.”

For a sense of scale - Devaney stands beside a test projection.
Credit Sean Hurley

And a community in flux. 

Downtown Concord is experiencing a renaissance that goes beyond its recent makeover, Devaney says.  There’s more art on the street and new theaters in the works.  An upheaval, and sense of potential, that he believes raises the collective local question, "Who are we now?"

“And so it's kind of youthful and optimistic and expressing that kind of character of Concord that it's young and fresh and growing and an interesting place,” Devaney says, “and that things might evolve over time.”

He means this doubly - in terms of Concord and the work itself.

When John McCain passed, away, Devaney quickly put together a video memorial piece that he projected onto the sculpture.  

“And then we're also considering you know doing some fundraising for charities and people could be the face of Concord for a week,” he says.  

And Devaney has other longer term ideas for the face after it goes live in a couple weeks. What if, he wonders, you could film yourself on your phone - and whisper a secret that you longed to get out - and then there you were, seven times larger than life, silently whispering your almost detectable wish to the world…

What would you say? What would your wish be? What secret would you like to silently share? Someday, you may get the chance to do just that.

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