Tony Oursler at Redling Fine Art

By Aaron Horst

Published in Contemporary Art Review LA, February 15, 2017


Tony Ourlser,  Emerald[Hypnotics]  (2017).  Wood, resin, acrylic, media players, LED flat screens. Image courtesy of the artist and Redling Fine Art.

Tony Ourlser, Emerald[Hypnotics] (2017).

Wood, resin, acrylic, media players, LED flat screens. Image courtesy of the artist and Redling Fine Art.

There’s a moment in Tony Oursler’s Emerald[Hypnotics] (2017) where the creature—a lizard-y, painted alien with a video eye, mouth, and hand—shifts it’s eye sidelong, dimly glares, and whispers “I’m just trying to go to work.” Oursler has a habit of framing self-containment in transparency—his heads, faces, and figures seem always to speak, or shout, to themselves, calling from a variety of odd objects. At Redling, Oursler sinks the moving image(s), into the picture plane: garishly painted wall panels that are based on drawings by self-professed alien abductees, animated with inlaid video.

One can never be sure at whom each chimerical head’s whispered asides are directed. An old boyfriend of mine would talk (and respond) in conversational cadence while asleep, immovable by my sleep-deprived “Hey!”s; the effect of Oursler’s works are similarly disconcerting. Oursler’s [Hypnotics] series (all 2017) culls footage from professed abductees, recorded while under hypnosis. All whisper indifferently, and lean toward paranoia—the kind that makes one talk quietly aloud, audience be damned.

Over this buzzy underlayer of voices, is My Saturnian Lover(s) (2016): a video work outfitted with 7th-grade-science-fair-caliber foam planets and viewed through an elliptical cutout. This and Subz (2017), a 4-panel set of alien forms over which play projections of spectral lights and bunkered, mysterious buildings, add a Heaven’s Gate-like shimmer of cultishness, as paeans to alien benevolence intermingle with darker references to abduction.

Amaranthine[Hypnotics]’s claim that “this information is going to be very disturbing” never quite materializes. Oursler uses camp and media-deformed narratives of alien life to keep disturbance at bay, like a shrub moving-but-not-moving after one has taken mushrooms. Oursler’s objects here become canvases; or rather, canvases riddled with traditionally Ourslerian objects. In a similar method, the artist Brian Bress, makes a fetish out of the picture plane, asymptomatically closing the gap with the viewer. Oursler’s forms, by contrast, are a study in indirection, skirting specifics much like the purveyors of conspiracy theories of extraterrestrial cover-ups.

Tony Oursler: Unidentified runs February 4–April 1, 2017 at Redling Fine Art (6757 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90038).