Tony Oursler

New York USA 1957, lives and works in New York

During the eighties Tony Oursler was still presenting his works in the classical manner. But like the artists Gary Hill and Bill Viola, Oursler also abandoned his use of the television screen as an image surface during the nineties. Since then he has been projecting his video images directly onto the wall or onto objects, largely dolls that are brought to life by projections. By projecting the image of a speaking person – the face of Oursler himself, of a friend or simply an actor – onto the blank face of the stuffed doll, the doll acquires an expression, an identity.

Director (1994) consists of a tripod with a small doll onto which a woman’s face is projected. ‘Oh, show me, show me, no don’t hide, there’s no way to go, you’ve got to face it honey, face it.’ With these words the little doll begins to speak like a veritable director to actors who are not present. The viewer, the only one present in the space, may feel somewhat confronted by the abrupt instructions and, in any case, has the impression that things are not going as they should. Sometimes the ‘director’ bursts out laughing, and other times she curses away at her actors or sighs in exasperation.

Oursler places his dolls, which can be very small but also life-sized, in a variety of stances and situations. Tragic and comic at the same time, they are hung on a tripod or on the wall, lie on the floor or remain trapped beneath a mattress, a television or among broken furniture. The lines that they speak, whisper or scream do not usually constitute a coherent narrative but are fragments that conjure up an image of relational problems, violence or the use of drugs and alcohol. Occasionally, there are only a few words or emotions, as with the inconsolable little doll of Weeping Woman (1993).

Because the projection is usually directed at the head of the figure in Oursler’s installations, the body, which is made of rags or old clothing, remains lifeless. The dolls have a kind of movement in them, but they are not living people. ‘That is part of their sad beauty,’ says Oursler, ‘which consists of what they are not, cannot be. It’s part of their design; provocation through absence.’


website of the artist