Carte blanche to Tony Oursler

18.06 – 25.09.2022

For the inauguration of its new building, Photo Elysée gives carte blanche to Tony Oursler (1957). On this occasion the American artist presents three video installations in the LabElysée space. By exhibiting a particular theme, the testimonies of encounters with unidentified flying objects (UFOs), Oursler questions our relationship to images and their influence in a world where screens are becoming increasingly widespread.

Consisting of photographs, documents and videos depicting UFOs, the installations explore the visual constructs of ufology. They invite visitors to take a position on what they see and question the status of the information presented to them. By playing with perception, accentuating details and mixing sources, Oursler disrupts references and creates illusions. Without ever taking a stand on the existence of extraterrestrial life forms, the artist exposes the obvious and the constructed on an equal footing, holding us hostage between myth and demystification.

This work has its roots in Tony Oursler’s personal archive. In the catalog Imponderable, the archive of Tony Oursler (2015, JRP | Ringier), Branden W. Joseph wrote “Tony Oursler has amassed a large enough collection of photographs of unidentified flying objects that one can begin to discern a distinct pictorial genre: UFO photography.” Oursler incorporated this theme into his practice in the 1970s. He soon became interested in the stories of alien abductions published in paperback and in the tabloid press. They were usually accompanied by black and white illustrations poorly altered using pre-Photoshop retouching techniques and far removed from the polished science fiction visuals popularized by sagas such as Star Wars.

Often presented as visually poor, a shape with blurred edges on a plain background and no reference to scale, these images are nevertheless among the most influential of their time and are known to all. As if the pictorial poverty guaranteed the veracity of the cliché. Through a skilful editing process, Tony Oursler confronts sources from different periods, published from the 1950s to the present day, and explores the mechanisms of their influence. Long before social networks, these documents allowed their authors to address a very large audience by being presented as experts in some media.

Imagination, reality, a mixture of both, where are the reference points? In 2020, the Pentagon officially released on the Internet three videos taken by U.S. Navy pilots showing encounters in flight with what appeared to be unidentified flying objects, reviving the debate on the existence of extraterrestrial life. What happens when an institution invites itself into the debate? It is in the light of this event that Tony Oursler wished to revisit his research into this pictorial genre.