Investigating human psyche through Virtual Reality: Tony Oursler

Dep Art Gallery
Nov 28, 2019 11:35AM

Mount Pelée is a volcano at the northern end of Martinique, a French overseas department in the Lesser Antilles island arc of the Caribbean. The Volcano erupted in 1902 and destroyed the town of Saint-Pierre, killing approximately 30.000-40.000 people in a few minutes: it was the worst volcanic disaster of the 20th century. Some days after this terrible catastrophe, in Tours (France), Commander Louis Dàrget – a pseudoscientist, arguably the first thought photographer –, during a séance, postulated that the trauma of Pelèe existed within the darkened atmosphere and hoped would somehow register on the glass negative plate. The experiment aimed to give image to the flow of mental and spiritual energy set in motion by Martinique’s disaster, demonstrating that psychic forces might have had an effect on physical reality. The resulting photograph is one of Darget’s key works.

Le Volcan video installation by Tony Oursler, on exhibit last summer at Dep Art Gallery (Milan) curated by Demetrio Paparoni, took inspiration from these events. The loose reenactment of the scenes was based on the artist's interpretation of research and recalled all phases of the séance in a suggestive staging inhabited by three-dimensional and virtual characters, presenting the actual picture produced on that day by Dàrget, as well. The work enabled visitors – thanks to special 3D visors – to immerse themselves in a virtual and psychoactive optical setting, evidencing the artist’s interest in extra-sensorial perception.

Tony Oursler, Le Volcan, 2015-2016. Installation view, Dep Art Gallery (Milan).

In fact, Tony Oursler’s works demonstrate how mankind is powerful attracted by inexplicable and uncontrollable happenings, by stories the protagonists of which are individuals involved in extra-sensorial or paranormal experiences, attributed to religious faith, science, magical thinking and esotericism. So that, beliefs, illusions and desires becomes artist’s source of inspiration.

Oursler collects mysterious and enigmatic evidences, present-day and past news, legends and mythology. Digging up the past and deepening the disorienting effects which technology has on people, the artist has found his stimulus for his latest solo-show: Eclipse – part of the larger exhibition Trees, curated by Bruce Albert, Hervé Chandès, Isabelle Gaudefroy – which run till last October 20th in the garden of the Foundation Cartier, in Paris. Inspired by the transformation of Daphne into a tree, the Tree of Life from the Norse cosmogony, and the new DNA technology CRISPR-Cas9, the artist created a dynamic work where trees became the center of conflicting world views and came to life thanks to projections. This artwork invited the viewers to contemplate their relationship with environment, and their behavior within the biosphere, reconsidering technology and nature.

But the artist is used to investigate concerns and anxieties of human soul, and this is the topic he has developed for the group exhibit titled The Dark Side. Who is afraid of the dark?, curated by Danilo Eccher, which is taking place at Musja, in Rome, till March 1st, 2020. Always rooted in the medium of sound and video installation, for this project, Tony Oursler creates four site-specific artworks: SenS, LitH, SolV and BlocK, which explore unspoken part of our thoughts, secrets of our soul, but also uncertainty and courage to cross the darkness. Combining projections, sculptures, optical devices and audio recordings, Oursler’s installation interacts with the space: videos projected onto spherical surfaces, faces in the act of speaking, eyeballs, which create immersive and dreamlike environments.

Tony Oursler, BlocK, SenS, LitH, 2019. Installation view, Musja museum (Rome).

There is therefore a fil rouge that connects all these most recent – but early, as well – Oursler’s works, in fact his attention is always addressed to human beings, to their fears and worries, to the limitations and potentialities of their memory and unconscious and to their need to believe in something, despite the awareness it would be false or not real. Tony Oursler through his art impels us to take a pause in order to reflect new possibilities, new thoughts, new perspectives, maybe never taken into consideration and unexplored.

Dep Art Gallery