Lisson Gallery

Announcing participation in Art Basel's OVR: Pioneers with works by Tony Oursler

11 March 2021

Running from 25–27 March, the sixth edition of Art Basel’s Online Viewing Rooms, ‘OVR: Pioneers’, is dedicated to trailblazing artists whose practices have opened new aesthetic, conceptual, or socio-political territories. Lisson Gallery is pleased to announce its participation with a focused presentation of five works by Tony Oursler from a series inspired by facial recognition technology and its presence as a new kind of portraiture.

Always rooted in the mediums of painting and film, Oursler conjures sculptural and immersive experiences using technologies that hark back to Victorian light shows, camera obscura and auratic parlour tricks, but that also look forward to the fully networked, digitally assisted future of image and identity production. At the forefront of video art in 1970s New York, Oursler specialized in hallucinogenic dramaturgy and radical formal experimentation, employing animation, montage and live action. From performative and low-fi beginnings, Oursler has developed an ever-evolving multimedia and audio-visual practice utilising projections, computers, video screens, sculptures and optical devices, taking form as large-scale installations or intimate digital effigies or bots, ethereal talking automatons or immersive and sometimes cacophonous environments.

The recent series of wall-based works showcased in Lisson’s 'OVR: Pioneers' selection sees Oursler situate our reconfigured digital personas as a key 21st century battleground for data control and information retrieval. Facial recognition systems are controlled by artificial intelligence and mark a turning point in the way that our culture sees itself through technology. The aggregation of all manner of information regarding the individual becomes a more important mirror than the classical depictions offered throughout art history. It also marks the first time that machines control our representation.

Animating his installations with fantastical characters or abstracted figures and faces, who are often loud and demanding of their viewer, these stainless steel and aluminum panels present a noticeable return to an almost passive two-dimensionality, their audio components adding up only to intermittent whispers of computer-like commands and isolated phrases. Overlaid with the latticed configurations and cardinal points used in facial recognition technology, the characters depicted vary in their representations of humanness – from 4^#z (2019) with its hair, clothing and proportional features, to iD^•8 (2017), appearing at time as a fractured plane of colour over the just-discernible silhouette of a human head.

While the variety of human expression made possible by our facial muscles makes recognition an inexact science at present, the nodes marking universal points of facial detection are also some of the most static areas of the face, prone to the least alteration or expressiveness. In these altered portraits, Oursler suggests a tipping of the balance from human towards some as-yet understood, hybridised technological being, stating:

“The ability to instantly capture and identify someone’s features and, more importantly, connect those features to an ocean of data that is both private and public is a defining moment in the culture. These works engage with this new dynamic between humans and machines as both portrait, surveillance and speculative futures. Patterns used in this technology are superimposed on various faces which are represented either graphically or in digital moving pictures. Through this system we have trained computers to learn about us and ultimately create new representations of us.”

Several examples of Oursler’s works inspired by facial recognition technology are currently on view in the artist’s major retrospective exhibition, 'Black Box', at the Kaohsiung Museum in Taiwan.

Lisson's 'OVR: Pioneers' presentation will be accessible from 25 March.

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