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Tony Ourlser uses the medium of film to create his own unique sculptural aesthetic – taking the images out of the convectional television and making a three-dimensional sculpture out of them. “I felt like the magic of the appliance [the television] was hindered by the box itself. So most of my installations involved manipulating the video image to remove it one step from its physical origin into another space or dimension.” (Oursler, 1998, p. 24). It’s through projection and sculpture that he rids the images of its original form and creates video sculptures. Through a combination of video and sculpture Oursler creates alternative worlds that give the viewer numerous objects to look at which form an understanding of the installation as whole. As Oursler states:

“I like the idea of someone expecting to “get” an artwork entering an environment where they can’t possibly absorb anything with a few seconds or minutes – thus the viewer is put into a different position; they must make a decision of where they stand in relation to the artwork, how they want to read it, how much do they want to invest in the process?” (Oursler, 1998, p. 25)

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Installation view of 'System for Dramatic Feedback' (1994)

Figure 1: Installation view of ‘System for Dramatic Feedback’ (1994)

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A key aspect of his work is how he engages the human body to actively gain a response; the body functions through the encounter with the work as Oursler’s situations frequently invoke the very human wish to lose oneself in an illusion. Raymond Bellour’s analyses how Oursler’s work ‘has used video as a catalyst for the creation of worlds that painting and sculpture could not adequately conceive, and for which film proved too exterior.’ (Bellour, 2003, p. 54). Bellour discusses further the way installations have changed and are continuing to change the way that film is exhibited compared to the frontal projection of the cinema, looking in depth at Oursler’s System for Dramatic Feedback (1994), Bellour uses it as an example to talk about “another cinema [in which] the spectator is dealing with various elements at the same time” (Bellour, 2003). System for Dramatic Feedback (figure 5) is an installation that consists of ten different elements, the viewer has to wander the space, take everything in form different angles to perceive the space as a whole. It’s the combination of these elements, through the physical act of moving about the space, which initiates the body as part of the experience but also key to the creation of the experience and the concept of the work.

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The Influence Machine (figure 2 and 3) consists of very few regular and consistent features and to date has been installed in a number of different locations each time adapting to the architecture and landscape of the space with changes and restructuring. Installed in a public places such as parks and shown at night, The Influence Machine is a son-et-lumière comprising of a vast number of different elements including multiple large-scale projections on to trees, buildings and the general landscape of the surrounding area, with certain projections moving about the landscape. Images of talking faces and knocking hands are projected; text runs over walls and fences pronouncing cryptic messages. A voice emanating from a lamppost (in New York) and from a cottage-like folly (in London), with a synchronized blinking light, transmits other worldly messages. The stand out feature though is that of projections on to clouds of smoke, created by smoke machines, which continuously change form and never creates a complete or perfect screen. With the smoke ever moving and affecting the image the physical three-dimensionality of the smoke means that the screen is not flat and the viewer can move around and see a distorted image from all angles.

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Figure 2: The Influence Machine (2000-2015)

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The Influence Machine’s content is as disjointed as the structural set-up of the installation. The videos play in a non-linear fashion, with the length of each video being different sound and images combine, randomly, as they play back. Interesting experiences evolve with these chance operations and the non-linear, random creation of the content mirrors that of the randomly possibilities of the viewer movements. The Influence Machine construction is of course not actually random, the videos are different length so hours from when they are started they are playing at completely different times to each other but this is not random, however it does come down to random and chance for the viewer who could walk in to the piece at any time and experience any combination of the elements. Moving out from John Cage’s ideas of how information can be reordered by the viewer and keeping free and unformed/restrained/restricted. Almost the exact opposite to Nauman corridor in that there are no constrictions on the viewer, the viewer is free in the space, free to explore and free to allow their mind to connect with the piece. But similar to Nauman’s corridor, The Influence Machine is an experience completed by the viewer. With a non-fixed perspective the viewer has no parameters and chance and random come in to the creation of the piece through the possibilities of the viewer’s movement.

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The installation adds barely any actual physical objects to the space but instead makes the surrounding space and it’s features in to one large sculpture thus creating a dreamland like space.

“A park was the perfect place for it, where the viewer was able to wander through and around an environment rather than being presented with a fixed perspective. I gave a lot of thought to the way that the viewer moved in space, in some cases intercepting the light and smoke sources, which instantly and directly affected to forms of the projection themselves.” (Oursler, 2001, pp. 59-60)

Its position within the city has a huge affect on the structure of the piece, where it begins and where it ends comes in to question. For the wandering viewers that cross the blurred border between the city and the piece the surrounding city is part of the work. The viewer’s act of walking through the city, through to park to the work is just as much a part of the experience.

“Everything dispersed in open space – the sound, the smoke, the light, the viewers. The Installation fused with the larger mechanism of the city – the ambient light and sound, the traffic, the streetlights, the weather. The outside poured into the piece, the piece poured out into the city.” (Oursler, 2001, p. 60)

For the wandering viewers that cross the blurred border between the city and the piece the surrounding city is part of the work. The viewers act of walking through the city and park to the work is just as much a part of the experience and places an indefinable start and finish on the piece. There is a real here and now that the participator exists in and they are innately linked to their real life as they walk. The projection and sound alter the real surroundings, compounding and affecting them, they form from them in to a new here and now that the participator can physically engage with. The audience is actively able to move about and create their own experience within the realm of the installation. If Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology has eluded to anything then it firstly must be that though the physical engagement with the world the body creates a perspective of the world and it is through this that our experience of space is created. With the Influence Machine, the participators are creating experiences that do not depict the real world but that of a world created from the phenomena of the encompassing installation. The illusionary world is perceived as a tangible real one.

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Figure 3: The Influence Machine (2000-2015)


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The Influence Machine on tonyoursler.com

Tony Oursler on lehmannmaupin.com

Tony Oursler on lissongallery.com

www.tonyoursler.com

www.tonyoursler.com

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Bellour, R. (2003). Saving The Image. In T. Leighton, & P. Buchler (Eds.), Saving The Image: Art After Film (pp. 52-77). Glasgow: Centre For Contemprary Arts.

Oursler, T. (1998). Video is like Water. Tony Oursler, 23-29. (S. Lodi, Interviewer) Milan: Charta.

Oursler, T. (2001, May-August). Smoke and Mirrors: Tony Oursler’s Influence Machine. Tony Oursler: The Influence Machine, 56-62. (L. Neri, Interviewer) London: Artangel.

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