Tony Oursler – Station


Prologue by David Neuman, Director Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall
Introduction by Richard Julin, Curator Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall
Pop dead pictures, essay by Tony Oursler

Exhibition catalogue no 26
No of pages: 
55, color, illustrated
hard cover
Graphic design: Mattias Givell

Language: Swedish and English
Year: 2002
Publisher: Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall
ISBN: 91-974236-0-2


Pop dead pictures by Tony Oursler

Who killed pop culture? At first, I thought the neighbors’ phone was ringing by a window. There was something strange about the ring, a low series of connected pulsing tones that seemed to arch. I recognized that ring but at the same time it was alien, distant. Tricked again. It was a bird ringing. A gray parrot. It lives in the back ally. It has caused the death of pop culture. I listen to him sing all day long in the back between buildings. He imitates other birds and all sorts of technical devices – pagers, computers – and most of all he mimics the phone. The bird is very good at what it does. Over time I realized that the ring was from an old 1980s phone, one of the first cheap models which came onto the market after the AT&T monopoly was broken. Why was he singing an old song? It dawned on me that gray parrots live 150 years and that the creature must have learned to sing the ring in 1980. The bird was like an organic loop across time, linking 20 years ago to today, erasing everything in its path. What was the bird trying to tell me, why was it calling me from so long ago? The ring was dangerous, powerful, and had clearly killed pop culture; what else did it want?

The Influence Machine was the culmination of an extensive research project. First I wanted to chart the history of mimetic and virtual images, starting from the camera obscure and continuing forward in time through the technological developments of today. This is a shadow history of art from the point of view of the moving image.

The idea was to keep the history extremely accurate and focused on technology so that people could draw their own cultural associations. Art history from the point of view of a media artist. The result, TimeStream, is organized in terms of dark and light, good and evil, which seems to follow all developments in technology. The devil appeared throughout. People tend to polarize these discoveries; just look at the cloning debate today. TimeStream turned into a website for MoMA and will eventually become a book. This historic timeline was also the inspiration for most of my work for a number of years.

The final project to come out of this research was The Influence Machine. The work linked a trend in recent history of using technology to communicate with the dead, starting with spirit photographs, then the telegraph, radio, television, computer, and finally the Internet. This became the subject of the work. In the installation, various characters from history were channeled and projected into smoke: Gaspar Robertson, founder of the phantasmagoria; Baird, inventor of the mechanical TV; Farnsworth, inventor of the electronic TV; and the adolescent Katie Fox who was able to communicate with a dead man through a mysterious knocking code. Knocking became a key concept in the work; a violent force, causing energy to move from one medium to the next, resulting in vibration, sound, and communication with the other side. (…)