Tony Oursler has been working in installation, painting, sculpture, and video since the 70s. He studied at Rockland Community College, Suffern, New York, and received a B.F.A. from the California Institute for the Arts.
Oursler is best known for his sculptural video installations where he animates non-living objects with the use of projectors, like faces being projected onto ball-like screens to present faces that talk, scream, watch and engage their audience. Frequently combining spoken text, moving image and sculptural object, Oursler?s works seem like animate effigies in their own psychological space, often appearing to interact directly with, or confront, the viewer.
Tony Oursler Classified, along with Bill Viola, Bruce Nauman and Gary Hill, among the most outstanding video creators, but he has employed this technique in a totally different manner and his brand of low-tech, expressionistic video theater is singular in contemporary art. In his works, a motion picture filmed with a video-camera is projected with a projector functioning on a laterna-magica basis as in the 19th century theatre. The viewers do not stare at a rectangular screen, rather, they can see before them enlivened flowers, giant eye-balls, or puppets talking, swearing at one another, quarrelling, and using coarse expressions. The contrast between the immovable, 'dead' bodies of the dolls and the aggressive, vulgar language not spared by their 'talking heads' add up to an unexpected dramatic power of this show. With a multi-century tradition consciously referred to, Oursler's is a puppet theatre of some sort - having more to do, indeed, with a frame of mind and emotion than a narrative.
In my use of narrative techniques, I always wanted to get my spectator entrapped, build up a certain structure with which one could play, and build on. However, as is the case with my 'actors', also my narrative does incessantly get destroyed. The longer I study narrative structures, the stronger is my conviction that no such thing exists. Whatever we could name a 'narrative' is, essentially, no structure, rather a mental or physical disposition of the viewer/reader.
Tony Oursler's mixed media installations, in which theatrical objects such as puppets and dolls are layered with video projections and spoken text, are prefigured in the wildly inventive body of videotapes that he has produced over the past twenty years. In his videotapes, Oursler's idiosyncratic fictions take the form of bizarre narrative odysseys, horror-comedies. Subjective visions of cultural and psychosexual delirium are pursued with outrageous black humor and a surreal theatricality.
Fusing media-saturated artifice with primal obsessions, the iconography of his visual tableaux ranges from the biblical to the perverse; the language of his narrated texts is hilarious, irreverent and unexpectedly poetic. Utilizing low-tech gadgets to simulate and satirize video effects, his disjunctive fictions are haunted by themes of sexual alienation and hysteria, political and cultural violence, and the dichotomies of good and evil, life and death.
Tony Oursler's expressionistic reveries incorporate phantasmagoric sets and rambling stream-of-diseased-consciousness narrative that serve to illustrate the depths of a psyche becoming unhinged. To enter one of his insular universes is to embark on a twisted journey that assumes the form and content of a hallucination of the contemporary collective unconscious. Strewn with the objects and idioms of adolescent fantasies, the detritus of mass cultural artifacts, and the macabre inversions of nightmares, Oursler's elaborate theatrical microcosms are populated by jerry-rigged props, hand-made puppets, found objects, body parts and, at times, human actors. Oursler's early tapes of personal investigation and social reflection earned him a cult following among New York audiences.
His recent video projections also examine the effects on human psychology of our mass media-oriented society. Oursler found video an appropriate medium in which to comment on television and the generation raised on it. In asking whether our popular obsession with television indeed has negative effects, Oursler's video sculpture takes us to the point where media consumption and psychosis often converge.
He also mentions the influence of artists such as Jonathan Borofsky, John Baldessari, Judy Pfaff, and Laurie Anderson. Oursler has collaborated with a number of other artists, including Constance DeJong, Joe Gibbons, Tony Conrad, and Dan Graham and the band Sonic Youth.
Early works, such as The Weak Bullet (1980) and Grand Mal (1981), have been described as "half Jackson Pollack, half David Cronenberg, and as funny as paranoid". The faux-naivete of his visual and spoken tales belies the textual sophistication of his meta-language of pop culture and subversion of narrative modes. Signature works have been his talking lights, such as Streetlight (1997), his series of video sculptures of eyes with television screens reflected in the pupils, and ominous talking heads such as Composite Still Life (1999). An installation called Optics (1999) examines the polarity between dark and light in the history of the camera obscura.
Tony Oursler's retrospective was exhibited at Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts, and toured to The Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston and Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. Oursler's videotapes and installations have been exhibited internationally at capc Musee, Musee d'art Contemporain de Bordeaux, France; Kunstverein, Hannover, Germany; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE); Metro Pictures, New York; Museum Fur Gegenwartskunst, Basel; and the Museum Folkwang, Essen, West Germany. His work has also been seen in group shows at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels; Documentas IIX and X, Kassel, Germany; The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; Whitney Museum of American Art Biennial, New York; the Tate Gallery, London; and DuMont Kunsthalle, Cologne. In addition, he has received commissions from Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris and the 1989 Serious Fun Festival at Lincoln Center, New York.
Copies of the works of Tony Oursler
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