The Van Abbemuseum Collection consists of over 2800 artworks. We publish texts and images on an ongoing basis, but this record is currently in the process of being documented.
This work by the American artist Tony Oursler consists of two figures set up in a dark room. Their heads are formed by a sort of oval cushion onto which video images of a face are projected, fitting exactly. Their bodies consist respectively of a dress and a man’s suit which are hanging on a wooden stand. The man is placed at a slight angle behind the woman, with their heads very close together. The sound of a woman’s voice can be heard in the room. The woman’s words and expression reveal that she is being tortured by voices which she hears or which actually fall silent.
In the 1980s Tony Oursler became well known for his low-tech videotapes which recorded a narrative about good and evil in a collage-like way. In the 1990s Oursler started to integrate video images in spatial installations. They were no longer projected onto a flat screen. For several installations, Oursler made simple rag dolls with a white cushioned head onto which he projected recordings of people’s heads. These recordings were made with the help of actors and actresses. He often carried out the men’s roles himself. Oursler’s characters suffer psychological disorders and are tortured by fear. The subject of several of his works is multiple personality disorder. In this disorder the person concerned is traumatized to such an extent that he seems to split himself up into several different personalities. This means he can look at his own disorders as though they are happening to someone else.
In Autochtonous Alien the woman is suffering from voices she hears which she is afraid of, but she is also afraid when she hears nothing and calls out in desperation: “Where are you?” or “I know you are here.” The arrangement of the male figure just behind the woman gives him a double function. You can see him as someone who is literally and metaphorically standing behind her to help or console her, but you can also see him as the personification of the evil voices. The woman just fails to see him but turns her eyes in his direction though she cannot move her head. She is trapped in her own body and does not know whether the man is really there or is imaginary. The technique of using simple rag dolls gives the figures an appealing character. The projections of the moving faces and the accompanying sounds make the work seem realistic. The figures appeal strongly to the viewer’s sense of empathy.
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