Revisiting: Tony Oursler – The Influence Machine

In Madison Square Park in New York, and subsequently in Soho Square, the heart of London’s media world, video artist Tony Oursler created a spectral audio-visual experience for an image-saturated society. Conceived as a kind of psycho-landscape, The Influence Machine delves deep into the history of media, rousing long-forgotten spirits and setting them to roam about both squares at night. The ghosts of the Fox Sisters, who made telegraphic contact with the spirit world in the mid-nineteenth century, haunted alongside the ghost of television pioneer John Logie Baird.

Jointly commissioned by the Public Art Fund, and Artangel, and realised in 2000, the work is now part of the Artangel collection, and has been restaged in a range of location both in the UK and elsewhere.

What the work itself comprises is difficult to delineate, as it not only relies on Oursler’s quintessential ‘talking heads’, and thus also sound (including a sound track by Tony Conrad), in this case moving image’s ephemerality is pushed even further because of the outdoor projections onto whatever they fall upon – buildings, trees, people and, most strikingly, smoke, which forms an integral part of the realisation of the work. As a result it is not only literally always fleeting but also different in every context, visibly influenced by the surroundings in which it is revived.

In the book Oursler’s then most elaborate deep media project is condensed in an illustrated time line, ‘Timestream, I Hate the Dark, I Love the Light’, while accompanying texts elaborate on the phantasmagorias of the late eighteenth century, its contemporary equivalents, and the influence of spiritualism within the general development of media. With an introduction by Susan K. Freedman, Tom Eccles and James Linwood, a conversation between Tony Oursler and Louise Neri, and essays by Carlo McCormick and Marina Warner, as well as extensive image sequences.

The design is by Mark Diaper, who came up with the idea to break up the ‘Timestream’ and divide it in different strands that, as time passes, cross each other, or new strands ‘fade in’ and old strands ‘fade out’. The hardback cover also has a dust-jacket on which the title on the front cover and spine lights up in the dark…

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