The Watching, 1992

By Billy Rubin
Published in Vox Vernacular
Feb. 25, 2014

At the time Oursler stated, "Sex and violence are the engine of the American media machine, yet precious little is known of our attraction to it." The Watching is a contemplation of the cold consumption of hot subject matter and the friction between the the sex drive and the death drive. Oursler continued, "It has been said that we have an almost anatomical need for repeated exposure to tragedy and violence as a means of avoiding it. Learning and narrative-play structure are linked, and visions of gore and mayhem function positively. There is much evidence to suggest that we spend more time in fictive states than we do in reality." 

Combining some 15 elements, The Watching was designed for the staircase of the Fridericianum, allowing viewers to move between the basement and the roof of the building. They could spiral up or down through the space, lending a cinematic effect to the experience. It was in this work that Oursler introduced his signature cloth figures with projected faces, along with numerous sculptural, kinetic and interactive elements. 

Starting at the top of the space, viewers sit in the Control Room and speak through a dummy two floors below, then watch the reaction to their words. Moving downward they pass through the gaze of a reclining figure with a mechanical eye tracking the synchronized projection of a burning effigy on the opposite wall. They then pass the Reflecting Face, a painted television set playing random broadcast TV, as well as a large Fiction Release Form, a legal contract drawn on red cloth that defines the terms of release of one's life story. Next, a dummy with an oversized projected face, FX Plotter, hangs in the top corner of the room. At the foot of the dummy, scattered on the floor, is Instant Dummies. These are various effigies and latex body parts squeezed into three large glass capsules. Descending further, viewers find the second half of the Reflecting Face and then a Model Release Form, a contract outlining the exchange of one's likeness for remuneration. In the next large vestibule, the suspended Hanging Dummy is animated and gives voice to the viewers/ participants in the Control Room. In the far corner is Bucket of Blood, named after a startlingly violent quote from a horror movie and comprised of a decomposing human form in a gray suit in a deep pool of blood-like liquid. Below it, Biting Lens is embedded in the wall-a camera obscura with cartoon teeth followed by the shriveled, diminutive visage of Sex Plotter. Finally, in the basement stands a ghostly form in lingerie, coiffed with an electronic wax candle.