City Gallery City Gallery Wellington

Past exhibition

Tony Oursler

26 June–3 October 1999

CURATOR Eckhardt Schneider ORGANISER Kunstverein Hannover OTHER VENUES Kunstverein Hannover, 16 May–21 June 1998; Museet for Samtidsknust, Oslo; Tel Aviv Museum of Art

Tony Oursler is famous for bringing puppets, dummies, and globes to life by video projecting faces and facial features onto them. The New York artist’s work combines a range of practices and themes: video, sculpture, and performance; theatre, magic, and cinema (Georges Méliès is a hero); the occult, horror, pop psychology, and trashy daytime TV.

Crushed under an overturned armchair, the head of a cloth figure delivers a skittering monologue: ‘It’s inside me, I feel it, but then I am the devil’s daughter.’ A head submerged under water in a glass tank moans, apparently holding its breath. As one reviewer writes, ‘The urge to reach into the tank and rescue this poor disembodied head is overwhelming.’ Another head is trapped in a wall cavity.

In some works video images of eyes are projected onto spheres, becoming monstrous disembodied cyclopses. (These works inspired the video clip Oursler made for the David Bowie hit song Little Wonder, which is included in the show. He has also made clips for Sonic Youth and Beck.)

Oursler deals with themes of trauma in a comedic way, nodding to the traditions of Punch and Judy and of slapstick. His uncanny works exploit the gap between life and death, the animate and inanimate.

The show also includes less signature works, including still-life sculptures bathed in psychedelic video projections (the Viruses), photos of rubbish discarded to gutters or left in the snow in New York and London (Trash (Empirical)), a CD-Rom offering nine virtual environments (Fantastic Prayers), and a suite of paintings.