Tony Oursler

Anomalous
18.06 – 06.11.2022
LabElysée
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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.

Artworks

Unidentified

Multimedia installation, LCD screens and projection.

Unidentified presents photos of UFOs taken by Tony Oursler in an original archive form. For this installation, Oursler digitised his archive and sequenced it.
He emphasises the infinite variety of photographic images that follow those of George Adamski (1891 – 1965), the pioneer of UFO photography. Different-sized screens play a score against which projected images of UFOs move like flying saucers. This wall reveals the construction of these photographs, their very amateurism sustaining the mystery surrounding the truth of what they purport to show. While the quality is poor, these visuals sow the seeds of doubt. They have had a major impact and are familiar to people well outside ufologist circles, propelling their authors into the ranks of experts in the media. For this installation, Oursler does not only show the similarities, but also endeavours to illustrate the links and references that tie these objects to one another. Using quotes and other borrowed elements, the images create a coherent visual universe. Here, Tony Oursler presents the emergence of this pictorial genre in the 1950s.

SUBZ

Video, wood and projection, 2017

In his works, Tony Oursler regularly uses the myths of alien-human encounters as a mirror to observe our shifting society. He has been interested in abductees since the 1970s and collects their stories. According to the artist, these testimonies gradually became darker in the 1980s, sliding towards fear.

The forms of “Subz” are illuminated by video projections filmed by Tony Oursler on Earth, in Los Angeles, combined with animated images inspired by drawings of people abducted by extra-terrestrials. The figures appear and disappear in an almost dystopian architectural landscape. By means of editing and special effects, the video evokes and questions the concept of extra-terrestrial threat.

UFO / UAP

Video, 2013-2022

Internet is flooded with images and videos showing UFOs in the sky. Tony Oursler presents a compilation of these videos collected on YouTube in 2013 and 2022. Exploring a new medium, he follows the evolution of this pictorial genre from one support to another, from silver photography to online video, and sometimes even live. By doing so, he creates a tension between the development of means and technologies of communication and the persistence of popular beliefs. Often pixelated, these animated images are the contemporary expression of the phenomenon of ufology. Unlike photos drawn from the photographic archive, they capture movement, the appearance and disappearance of the objects. We could hardly be blamed for wondering if UFO photography even still exists today. Photos of UFOs nowadays are almost always freeze frames of video sequences and are ultimately not so different from the photos taken during the second half of the 20th century.

Despite the improvement in imaging equipment, we do not observe a significant improvement in the visual quality of contemporary sources. The interest in these stories has in no way diminished. On the contrary, social media means that they can be shared more quickly and on a larger scale, all the more so as they show unexplained phenomena. Each new post increases the number of views of the previous ones, amplifying the content referencing in the process. New communities of followers (and detractors) are emerging, influencing one another. Can we still talk about popular beliefs since the Pentagon officially published its videos of in-flight encounters with UFOs in 2020 and introduced the term UAP (Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon), to replace UFO (Unidentified Flying Object)? Through this montage, Tony Oursler follows the shift in the collective imagination, its ability to move from one support to another in connection with the development of technologies.

Text by Tony Oursler

21.06.2022

Tony Oursler Anomalous

While Science Fiction was never far from the horrific fear of the unknown, it seemed to have been colonized by blue eyed soft-core fantasies played out on the Hollywood screen. In the liminal spaces of rural and suburban America, something else was taking place which involved half remembered subjugation and violation. It was as if the synthesized, nonstop party of the late 70s, fueled by amnesic soporifics had transformed its disco lights and ubiquitous mirror ball into an alien anhedonic nightmare.

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Credits and acknowledgements

Tony Oursler Anomalous

Concept of the exhibition: Tony Oursler
Curator: Manuel Sigrist
Videos: Jack Colton Oursler Studio
Technical team: Kilian Amendola, Stéphane Detruche
Design: Gavillet & Cie

Special thanks: Branden W. Joseph (scientific and curatorial adviser).

Partners

The LabElysée gets the support from the BNP Paribas Suisse Foundation, the Bru Foundation and the Federal Office of Culture (FOC).