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<nettime> Oursler - can this be distributed?
Ivan Knapp on Fri, 28 Aug 2015 17:37:51 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Oursler - can this be distributed?


   Tony Oursler prefers to call his dolls effigies. This is largely, so he
   says, due to looking at photographs of New England scarecrows in 1989.
   An effigy is totemic, more a synonym for a likeness than a sculpture
   with serious representational ambitions. An effigy also comes with
   inescapable baggage; it canât get away from the fact its function as a
   lightning rod for shared hatred or fear. You can burn an effigy, you
   can also lynch it, stick pins or pitchforks in it â or just beat it
   with clubs and tire-irons. Dolls, on the other hand, are playmates for
   more benign games. They attend tea parties with stuffed bears, they
   provide an invaluable role model for the absent mother, they absorb the
   more normal sexual frustrations that are meted out to them by jabbing
   fingers and little throttling wrists. And they come in latex with
   lubricant to ward off loneliness.

   But, both effigies and dolls are two sides of the same coin and the
   different types of play they espouse are, at root, traceable to the
   sexual drives. It is more interesting however to think about the
   intimacy between dolls and effigies in terms of the inter-subjective
   social dynamics they engender through their different forms of
   prescribed action. Both forms of activity, in as far as they encompass
   both individual and group activities which may be either/both
   aggressive and amorous, creative and destructive, mystic and material,
   could be said to fall within the perimeters of play, in as much as play
   is constituted by a fantasy space whose construction maintains visible
   traces to the more unmediated desires of infancy.

   Underwriting this dynamic between effigy and doll, which, in the case
   of Oursler, has to be framed within a certain art historical context,
   is both Hoffmannâs uncanny mannequin and Hans Bellmer. It goes without
   saying that these are not the only manifestations of the doll that are
   of any particular significance in art history but they are the most
   pertinent. Both Bellmer and Hoffman, through their mannequins, tell
   stories that foreground sadism whilst also making legible the
   relationship between technology, sexuality and sight. Oursler does the
   same through his dolls.

   In the seventies video art was described as a fundamentally
   narcissistic apparatus. It was stressed that the screen functioned as a
   mirror mediated by technology. Narcissism calls into question the
   desire at work in recognition and misrecognition, its autoerotics are
   unstable because the act of recognition implies the threat of
   misrecognition. To this degree there is always someone else in the
   reflection. In Ourslerâs work with dolls/effigies this is literally the
   case, as long as we accept that there are two substitutable screens â
   the mirror and the face. It is why the particular compulsion to watch
   that Ourslerâs work shares with horror films and freak shows is so
   palpable in the doll/effigy works. There seems to be an understanding
   that pleasure in watching others is rooted at some fossilized level in
   their dismemberment.

   In Ourslerâs work the body is literally dismembered, the face or organ
   ruptured by the technological dissonance between parts. But this is
   merely a metaphor for the way the body in the screen, in the
   reflection, is more broadly experienced by the viewer (the Other in the
   screen, given that it is narcissistically mediated, bears a base
   indentificatory relation to the viewer â it is an Other that is also
   I). Nevertheless in Ourslerâs work the dismembered part is very often
   the head, the site of the origin of the gaze. If the viewerâs gaze has
   understood to be dismembering in its dislocation of the on-screen
   subject from its physical self, then the gaze of that on-screen subject
   - the face projected onto the doll/effigyâs screen - instead of
   wielding the subjecting power of the gaze and being the point in space
   from which it emanates, is utterly dominated by the gaze of another,
   more completely embodied, subject â the person looking at the work in
   the gallery. The relationship between the viewer and the face of the
   doll/effigy is therefore one of subjection.

   Set against this axis of domination is the acceptance that, as in
   psychaenaesthesia, the relationship between the two subjects entails
   that subjectivity, through the identificatory processes of projection
   and introjection, is to some degree shared between viewer and viewed.
   This situation appears perfectly healthy under normal circumstances â
   we often call it empathy - but in Ourslerâs work its psychotic nature
   is revealed and the failure to match body and subject is exposed.
   Within this environment, the corollary swapping of subject-hood that
   occurs in sadismâs slippage into masochism, and vice versa, whereby
   role play and proxy performance is well practiced â becomes not only
   naturalized but revealed as a structuring principle of human
   relationships.

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