Face to Face

Face to Face

ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum | Aros Alle 2, Aarhus C, DK-8000 | Denmark
Mar. 2 - July. 27, 2012

  • Cyc
  • Flesh MPD, 1999
  • Bell Deep, 2005
  • Apparition, 1995
  • Freak Out, 1994
  • Half Brain, 1998
  • FX Exothermic, 2005

The expansive solo exhibition at ARoS Kunstmuseum is thematically based on Oursler's exploration of the human face. Including over 20 works, the show is comprised of key works spanning the last 15 years. Full color catalogue for the exhibition.

In 2003, after reading about Japanese children feeding pets on the internet, Oursler grew increasingly interested in the way technology serves a surrogate friend. How did this empathetic bond develop between machines and humans, and how could it potentially evolve in a digital space?

Using new image-processing technology, which at the time allowed for sophisticated photographic, high- resolution manipulation, such as stretching, bowing, and twisting, Oursler began to shape a cast of digital pets or companions. Based on the notion of a caricature, this series references a wide variety of sources, from Harvey Ball's 1969 smiley face, to the fertility goddess Venus of Wilendorff and Japanese manga. The often overtly humorous, somewhat grotesque characters attempt to seduce the viewer in various ways. As Elaine King* wrote, "[Oursler's] position on the exploratory edge was again evident... when he introduced a new brand of mutants. Stepping inside, viewers could imagine that the toons from Roger Rabbit had taken up residence in the gallery. Eight animated, phosphorescent, biomorphic creatures, varying in size and shape and displaying human characteristics like eyes, teeth, and mouths, occupied three rooms. Oursler used his own or friends' body parts for the projected human anatomy. At first glance, these bizarre alien beings might appear entertaining. However, one realizes all too soon that behind the blinking eyes, fluttering lashes, big beaming smiles, gleaming teeth, and puckering red lips, this pageant of projected images aglow with endearing virtual faces is not a funny affair."

For the texts, Oursler listened carefully to the way people speak to pets as well as to "pillow talk" and attempted to fuse the vulnerable, often embarrassing, private language of intimacy into the performances. Monosyllabic and moronic, the caricatures are often unsettling and provoke embarrassment in the viewer. The video editing programs of the time allowed Oursler to stretch and bend human features, exaggerating some and minimizing others, to suggest a cartoonish evolution which could only happen in a digital space. Michael Amy** describes the technique: "Playing with the face in the way initiated by Picasso, and further explored by the Dadaists and the surrealists, is something Oursler engages with in a psychedelic series of heads of abstract biomorphic shape, with roots in surrealist practice seeking to reveal the workings of the subconscious. Unlike Picasso, however, Oursler has the nerve to give us faces without noses, and thus, lacking the point of gravity around which the other facial features are arranged. Oursler's nose-less faces are highly disturbing- evoking, at times, disease, accident, mutilation, altered states (including noses melted off by too much heroin or cocaine intake), and aliens (Ello and Rubio, both from 2003)."

* Elaine King, "Tony Oursler's Uncanny Drama", in Sculpture, The International Sculpture Center, Hamilton, January / February 2005, pp. 50-55.

** Michael Amy, "Making Faces", in Tony Oursler. Face to Face, ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum, 2012.

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Tony OurslerTony Oursler was born in new york in 1957. He completed a BA in fine arts at the California Institute for the Arts, Valencia, California in 1979. His art covers a range of mediums working with video, sculpture, installation, performance and painting. Oursler's work has been exhibited in prestigious institutions including the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Documenta VIII, IX, Kassel, Museum of Modern Art, New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Skulptur Projekte, Munster, Museum Ludwig, Cologne, the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, the tate, Liverpool. The artist currently lives and works in New York City.

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