Film
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Tony Oursler (b. 1957)


The Loner (1980)
Grand Mal (1981)

Spinout (1983)
EVOL (1984)
Sucker (1987)
Synesthesia: Genesis P-Orridge (1997-2001)
Synesthesia: Alan Vega (1997-2001)
PAC Milano 19 (2011)
PAC Milano 19 (2011)


Tony Oursler's brand of low-tech, expressionistic video theater is singular in contemporary art. Willfully primitive, often grotesque, and crafted with an ingenious visual shorthand, his psychodramatic landscapes of image and text are fabricated within the ironic vernacular of pop culture.

Oursler has worked in installation, painting, sculpture, and video since the mid-1970s. His recent 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 that evoke Caligari by way of Eraserhead. Subjective visions of cultural and psychosexual delirium are pursued with outrageous black humor and a surreal theatricality.

The miniaturized, hand-constructed and painted mixed-media sets that are Oursler's signature suggest post-punk spectacles via German Expressionism; his somnambulant voiceovers and disorienting sound collages evoke stream-of-consciousness dreamstates. 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.

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.

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 [they are] 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.

In the late 1980s Oursler increasingly used his narrative and visual strategies to construct social critiques. His more recent installation works continue to explore a kind of macabre psychodramatic theater with pop cultural elements. Fantastic Prayers, a 1999 CD-ROM project that translates many of these themes into an interactive format, is a collaboration of Oursler, writer Constance DeJong and composer/musician Stephen Vitiello.


Oursler was born in 1957. He studied at Rockland Community College, Suffern, New York, and received a B.F.A. from the California Institute for the Arts, Valencia, where he studied under John Baldessari.

In 1999, a mid-career retrospective of Oursler's work 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 widely exhibited internationally, including one-person shows 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.

Oursler lives in New York. -- EAI


This title is available for exhibitions, screenings, and institutional use through Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), NY. Please visit the EAI Online Catalogue for further information about this artist and work. The EAI site offers extensive resources for curators, students, artists and educators, including: an in-depth guide to exhibiting, collecting, and preserving media art; A Kinetic History: The EAI Archives Online, a collection of essays, primary documents, and media charting EAI's 40-year history and the early years of the emergent video art scene; and expanded contextual and educational materials.