Ghostly presences are set to haunt the winter landscape around Tate Modern in an other-worldly installation by American artist Tony Oursler. This large-scale multimedia séance, entitled The Influence Machine, will take place from 18.00 to 22.00 on 15, 16, 18 and 19 February. Oursler, who directed the video to David Bowie’s new single Where Are We Now?, is renowned for his imaginative use of projection and performance to create immersive environments, and this example is among several works by major video and film artists donated to Tate from the Artangel Collection in 2011.
Playing on both the technological and supernatural meanings of the word ‘medium’, The Influence Machine is conceived as a kind of ‘psycho-landscape’ in the spirit of late eighteenth-century phantasmagorias. It examines the machines that have been created as tools of communication, from the radio to the telephone, the television and now the internet, and explores this history of disembodied voices and fleeting images.
The work consists of monologues performed by several ethereal figures which will be projected onto trees, walls and clouds of smoke around Tate Modern’s riverside landscape. Key names from media history are referenced, such as the television pioneer John Logie Baird and Étienne Gaspard Robert, the founder of the first movie theatre in a Paris crypt in 1763. The haunting soundtrack, played on a glass harmonica, was composed by musician and expanded cinema pioneer Tony Conrad. These elements combine to create a fractured multimedia world of spectres, sounds and light.
Oursler conceived The Inﬂuence Machine as a kind of ‘psycho-landscape’. Delving deep into the history of the media, he created an historic sound and light show which invoked the spirit of Soho Square itself, from the phantasmagoria of the late eighteenth century to the beliefs and superstitions which have haunted the locally prominent media industries throughout the twentieth century. The project also investigated what Oursler called “the dark side of the light”, an alternative history of disembodied communication – and of the spirits lurking within the media we all use today.
Monologues by various figures projected onto trees (which were conceived as a kind of ‘chorus’) were written by Oursler and performed by actors in his hometown of New York. One of these figures, appearing and disappearing in the smoke, was in fact a long-standing collaborator of Oursler, Tracy Leipold. Oursler called her “the medium”, and her dialogue made references to key names from media history such as television pioneer John Logie Baird and Etienne Gaspard Robertson who founded the first moving image theatre in a Paris crypt in 1763. Running through it all was a soundtrack composed by Tony Conrad and performed on a glass harmonica.
From the telephone to the television to the internet, the ‘inﬂuence machines’ of the modern media have been tools of communication and information. But they’ve also been conduits for voices from the other side. Just yards from where Logie Baird gave his first public demonstration of a prototype television set in 1926 (in a room above Bar Italia in Frith Street), The Inﬂuence Machine offered a fractured multi-media landscape of spectres, sounds and light. For twelve nights only, the ghosts had escaped from the machine…
Tony Oursler was born in New York in 1957, where he continues to live and work. His work has been exhibited at major public institutions including LA MoCA, Los Angeles; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and the Stedjelijk Museum, Amsterdam. He has undertaken commissions for such venues as the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris and the Seattle Public Library and has collaborated with musicians including David Bowie and Sonic Youth.
The Influence Machine by Tony Oursler was commissioned and produced by Artangel with The Public Art Fund, New York, and co-commissioned with Beck’s. The project was presented in Soho Square, London in November 2000.
The Artangel Collection launched in 2011 to bring outstanding film and video works, commissioned and produced by Artangel over 20 years, to galleries and museums across the UK. The Artangel Collection at Tate consists of a number of major moving image works, donated to Tate by Artangel and the artists in 2011, to join those Artangel-commissioned works that are already held in Tate’s collection.
On Saturday 16 February, Tate Modern will also present a one-off screening of Oursler’s single-channel videos in the Starr Auditorium
15–16 and 18–19 February 2013, 18.00–22.00 Tate Modern, River landscape Admission free