Son of Oil, 1982

By Billy Rubin
Published in Vox Vernacular
Feb. 24, 2014

The title Son of Oil is a play on words evoking a low-budget 1950s monster movie and a notorious serial killer, Son of Sam, who terrorized NYC in the late 1970s. The free association begun in the title continues throughout this video/installation. In the early 1980s Oursler sought to represent the prevailing contemporary dystopia as reflected in the conspiracy theories that abounded at the time. The free- wheeling plot links two distorted narrative lenses: petro-politics and paranoid personal perception. Oil, the dark flowing protagonist, surges relentlessly to the surface leading us on a tortuous path from dead livestock in a farmer's fields, Howard Hughes and the skull of a murder victim found in the La Brea Tar Pits, to a gas-sniffing teenager, an assassi- nation attempt on the US President and The Mummy. As Lori Zippay writes, "Son of Oil is a cautionary tale about the decline of Western civiliza- tion, as only Oursler could envision it. Oil is the central metaphor around which he constructs a burlesque critique of the cults of money and power that fuel economic and sexual systems, social pathology and cultural mythologies. Allusions to terrorists, the Son of Sam killer, the oil crisis and John Hinckley locate the dense narrative text in the media- saturated vertigo of early-1980s America. The grand dimensions of this subversive drama, in which Oursler employs actors in addition to his usual puppet-like props and objects, are played out in a deliber- ately claustrophobic, fantastically rendered theatrical space." 

The video was partially produced and presented as an installation at PS1 NY. After filming, the expressionistic Gas Station/Graveyard set was converted into a screening-room installation.