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PROFILE: TONY OURSLER

In high school I went through several phases of niche cinema, watching the same cult classics every night before finding a new subgenre to fixate on. In 11th grade I discovered David Cronenberg’s, and became lost in the world of hallucinatory cinematography and 1980s fears of television’s immersive power. That same crawling unease and simultaneous inability to look away hit me again with the multimedia work of American artist Tony Oursler. Like the iconic poster for Cronenberg’s film, and even the practice of watching a movie in a darkened room, Oursler’s exhibitions and installations pull the microcosm of the individual mind into a deep and scary macrocosm of humanity.

Oursler has been creating since the late 1970s, first recognized for his non-sequential narrative videos that featured his own stop-motion animation and special effects. His work continued to explore physiological tunnels (faces, namely eyes, are motivic) through immersive mediums that startled its viewers within and outside of the traditional gallery context. Oursler’s first “talking light” in 1995 features a street lamp manipulated so that a voice can be heard in synchronization with seemingly random pulses of light. Oursler writes, “This particular lamp was loosely based on the warning signs and illogical leaps of faith involved in the conversion to fringe cult belief systems.”

The imposing pupils and artificial colors of Oursler’s video-performance-painting-sound pieces have seen every major arts space–the MoMA, the Centre Pompidou, the Tate. His latest exhibition, PriV%te, runs until March at the Lehmann Maupin Gallery in Hong Kong. Head-shaped panels and video screens set the stage for a commentary on facial recognition technology, becoming “data portraits” that gaze down at their viewers. The days of getting lost in a VHS tape may be gone, but Oursler continues to probe our conceptions of reality based on the technologies we create.

Text by GRETA RAINBOW