Tony Oursler Studio Visit

'My characters tend to exist in kind of existential spaces, somewhat tortured, struggling'

TateShots met Tony Oursler shortly after the opening of a solo show at Lehmann Maupin Gallery in New York.

Tony, who describes his work as a physical embodiment of a thought, took us on a tour of his studio. He showed us what inspires him and how this manifests in his work, as well as giving us a sneak preview of what he currently has in development.


My name is Tony Oursler, and we are in my studio in the Lower East Side, Manhattan, New York, USA, the globe. My studio functions in a unique way in that it’s a mix of a lot of different things. It’s got a lot of functions, because I’m constantly going from one thing to the next, which is what keeps it exciting for me. I’ll give you a little tour around, show you the different places where I make things and tell you what happens here, what kind of junk I have laying around to inspire me.

Let’s see. Here’s a glass of wine. Here’s an anthropomorphised root. Projection is one of the things I’m mostly known for – being able to project into different materials and spaces opened up a whole new language for me, and opportunity to develop installation and kind of fuse two things which generally were juxtaposed, and now kind of create a third space. And I’ve been working in that third space for many years.

[Trumpeting noise]

That’s a spirit trumpet – it’s collapsible – and it’s used to listen to spirits. My characters tend to exist in kind of existential spaces, somewhat tortured, struggling, and I suppose I struggle through the work and through the world to various understandings. Keep in mind there is a lot of humour in the work as well, so I’m not really a pessimist, you know.

And I do some drawing and painting over here. Here is something in progress. These are new … these are the miniature, some of the miniature things that I’m working on. The new work, really are kind of physical embodiments of a thought pattern, in a way, so I thought of them as little flow charts, and the more I worked on them with the rhythm of editing and the materials together to create these little worlds, in a way, they started to get the feeling of almost like a physical embodiment of a thought. So I like the idea of a flow chart, and this one is pretty funny. It’s how to solve problems. Does the damned thing work? Yes or no. Don’t fuck with it – or, did you fuck with it? If so, you’re a dumb shit. I love the idea that you could somehow technically describe human behaviour, I mean, essentially in this project. There is an absurdity to that, but also something fragile and human about the desire to understand ourselves.

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