|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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