TONY OURSLER: CAPTURING MODERN MAGIC
By Allison Merchant
Published in Whitewall Magazine, July 15, 2016
Tony Oursler grapples modernism with the elusive tools of mysticism, pseudoscience, and stage magic. “Imponderable,” currently on view at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), unravels the worlds of sensory wonder as a five-dimensional, feature-length film (of the same name) inspired by multi-paranormal manifestations.
Entering the exhibition, one first encounters a selection of movie posters, books, and items gathered from the artist’s archive in relation to his film work. Cinema posters for The Spider (1945) and The Spiritualist (1948) rest on the walls adjacent to flyers from Harry Houdini performances. The sourced materials re accompanied by the artist’s text and commentary. The room vibrates with energy of the past as Oursler transports audiences to a time when there was more mystery and fewer machines.
“Imponderable” transects the mystical phenomena experienced during the last 200 years with the advancements in technology. The artists presents his immersive world with the illusory Pepper’s ghost, a Victorian phantasmagoric device with a contemporary form. He personalized the exhibition with the inclusion of his own family history threaded with the historical tapestry of virtual images. The film characterizes Oursler family members, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Houdini, and Mina “Margery” Crandon. Artists, musicians and performers including Kim Gordon, Jim Fletcher, Keith Sanborn, and Constance DeJong portray all of these characters.
The work conjoins Ourlser’s interest in popular culture, psychedelia, and media history through macabre humor and theatrical surrealism. It runs approximately 90 minutes and the entire exhibition is on view through January 2017. “Tony Oursler: The Imponderable Archive,” is also on view at the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York through October 30, 2016.