Tony Oursler, 1957

Antennae

2002
Installation with antennae, satellite dishes, metal poles, concrete, video projections, performances by Tracy Leipold
25 min loop
Magasin III Produktion

The exhibition Station at Magasin III was comprised of an all-new group of separate but interrelated works: TV-studio, Frequency Spectrum, Caricature and Antennae.

At the start of our collaboration, Tony Oursler explained that he wanted the Magasin III exhibition to encapsulate ideas he had worked with since The Influence Machine. This large-scale outdoor performance, first shown in New York and London in 2000, presents an alternative reading of the history of technology: fragmented bits of speech, moving images of faces projected on clouds of smoke, trees, and surrounding buildings. The monumental multimedia séance was composed in collaboration with Tony Conrad, and includes sampled voices and glass armonica. The Influence Machine, in a new, expanded version, was shown as part of Magasin 3 Projekt Djurgårdsbrunn over three nights in the fall of 2002.

Tony wrote in an email from April 2002:
“I’ve had some revelations about our project while traveling in Rome and Germany and I am ready to begin production and development. The idea of the sculpture/installation metaphorically breaks down into 3 parts: Production and Mechanics of TV studio, the encoding and decoding of Television transmission, and reception with the antenna. These three or four things will roughly divide up the space using the layout you sent us. We would ask you for several things to help us with the development:
1. Research (we would like to have photocopied and or photographic material of machinery, antennas, or anything related to Television production and transmission that has to do with Sweden.
2. We would like you to find outdated TV studio equipment, cameras, editing equipment, video mixing consoles etc., that we could acquire in order to incorporate into the sculpture/installation.
3. We would also like to acquire TV Antennas old and new as well as dishes that might be found from surplus outlets or perhaps old military or TV studio places.”

With Station, Tony took to new lengths his meticulous research into the history of technology and in particular the television medium, including its connection to different forms of Spiritualism. He reflected on the presence of media and technology in everyday life and, ultimately, their social and physical influence on us humans.

TV-studio was the first work in the exhibition. As one can glean from Tony’s wishes above, the final work became an installation in the form of an abandoned television studio, with strange “ghost-like” images on flickering screens. One element in the work is the acrylic painting Nordic Test, which depicts a Swedish television test screen. Tony painted it in his hotel room during his first visit to Stockholm for the exhibition. Like the television studio, the image has become a historical artifact now that test screens are no longer broadcast.

Frequency Spectrum is a work in two parts: two separate rectangular sculptures, each comprised of a number of boxes of varying sizes. The work’s form is derived from a graphic representation of the radio frequency spectrum, used to subdivide frequencies so that they do not disrupt each other. The work is composed of two parts. One sculpture is solid, with boxes in several different colors, while the other is transparent. Moving images of a face are projected onto each box of the transparent sculpture, and from each face a voice can be heard singing or chanting words. Together, the voices form a sort of chorus. The voices we hear (all Tony Oursler) speak of “the hum”—a phenomenon in which low-frequency sounds suddenly arise in different places outdoors. No satisfactory explanation for the phenomenon has been found, but it is speculated that it may involve the collision of different types of sound waves.

Antennae is the receiver, the end point of the exhibition. A number of spinning faces, all of the same woman, are projected onto a sculptural landscape of antennae, mostly satellite dishes. Together, the faces sing a slow song. A window in the exhibition gallery was incorporated into the work and covered with a film to filter the daylight. Through this window one could see the Kaknäs tower, which has long functioned as a link in the radio and television broadcasting network in Sweden. Tony was clearly pleased at the idea of including this enormous antenna as part of his work.

Caricature is the final work that was added to the exhibition. The space was initially empty until Tony felt that he wanted to create a work that would complete the others. What was missing, in his mind, was a representation of media itself—the content that was sent from studio to antenna. The work he created to fill this empty space ended up being the first in a long line of figures that Tony continued to work with for many years and in many variations. The figure is deliberately given a rather ”cutesy” appearance, with large eyes and mouth, no nose. It is off-putting, verging on the grotesque, with a voice speaking a kind of “baby talk” that adults sometime use when they talk to children. For Tony this is an embodiment of “media”: by trying to entice in the most primitive way, it becomes, accordingly, repulsive through its unnatural and exaggerated manner.

Richard Julin, June 2014