About the work

TONY OURSLER

ABOUT THE WORK


   TONY OURSLER
     Sferics, 2001
Mixed media
160 x 91,4 x 34,3 cm
Sferics appears as a complicated technological construction with the conspicuous TV antenna-like form and the translucent orange Perspex screen zigzagging over the grille. Only later do we discover the woman with the odd egg-shaped face who seems to be talking to herself or at least to someone we cannot see. The woman's voice is hushed and mumbling, and her speech is disjointed.

Fragments of sentences and isolated words are audible but fail to make any coherent sense. Words like "isolated", "sferics", "shadows" and "atmosphere" alone set the mood. It is as if we are witnessing a conversation that is not meant for us.

The mumbling voice and the endless repetition of the face caught in the prison of the grille give an unpleasant and claustrophobic impression, augmented by the work's formal opposites: the woman's serene face juxtaposed with the disharmonious and disjointed speech as well as the grille's static, square shape juxtaposed with her organic, vivid face.

THE ABILITY TO SPEAK WITH THE DEAD
Sferics is part of the series Antennae Pods Transmissions which was created on the basis of interview sessions which Oursler conducted with a group of people who believed they were able to communicate with the dead through technology. In his research he came across a group of nineteenth century spiritualists who made use of Morse code to knock on walls and thus speak with the dead who they believed answered in a similar Morse.

Oursler is interested in the physical dimension of the Morse code in which the hand transfers energy to another medium, the wall, thus establishing a close connection between the two very different physical entities. The communication transfers movement to sound, thus creating meaning for the initiated. For a number of years Oursler has been interested in the communication made from what cannot be seen as well as other alternative frequencies.

The TV antenna is an example of a construction that creates meaning from something that we cannot see, receiving invisible waves of information from afar. In the installation the invisible is rendered visible – from intangible frequencies the TV creates pictures that we can all understand. Today antennae have all but vanished due to cable TV, and there is an almost antiquarian quality to them.

TECHNOLOGY VITALISED
Typically Oursler applies video projection to vitalise and expand film's traditional limitation to the screen. In this instance he has used a grille. The woman seems caught and trapped inside the literally rigid technology. The juxtaposition of human body, the mumbling woman's voice and the technological construction with the grille imbues the work with a pronounced psychological dimension. The face addresses us, speaks to us and somehow we become part of the repetition's trancelike states. Oursler unites man and advanced technology in his works to demonstrate the profound impact that technology today has on our lives and our understanding of the world.

Tony Oursler's art in general
Oursler works with video art in an unconventional fashion. Unlike most artists he does not use screens or normal projections on a uniform surface. Instead he projects faces onto dolls, dummies and torn-off heads, making the hitherto dead objects come alive. The dummies speak and express themselves to such a degree that not only are they given a lifelike appearance, they are also afforded a personality, often slightly annoying or disturbing. They frequently speak to themselves or to us, thus drawing the onlookers in, making them commit to the work.

A PIONEER
Oursler ranks among the most pre-eminent video artists of recent years. He has challenged and renewed our expectations of what video looks like. His video installations are not only advanced technological constructions; they come across as part future sci-fi flick, part older Surrealist inspired dream sequences. Says Oursler of our relationship with TV, movies and the internet: "It's a way to experience things that we don't want to confront in real life."

THE IMPACT OF THE MEDIA SOCIETY
Oursler is fascinated with the huge potential of new technologies, in particular those that, like video, possess almost real traits. According to Oursler technology has the capacity to imitate human spiritual and emotional attributes and so he sees it as vitally important to our lives today. By combining speech, moving images and sculptural objects Oursler creates human sculptures that possess their own personality and psychology, making it easy to engage yourself in.

In a way Oursler animates 'dead' technologies by imparting them with a human dimension that, like us, expresses fear, anxiety, joy, anger and curiosity. His video installations are marked by his interest in the media society and its impact on people. The insecurity shared by many in connection with a growing fragmentation of the world, and alienation from our own body and society are recurrent themes in his recent works.

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