We had the very good fortune of seeing Tony Oursler's "Imponderable" Archive show up at Bard last weekend, and I highly encourage you to make the trip if you're able. Oursler has been collecting thousands of supernatural and occult books, objects, photographs, and other ephemera stretching back to the 19th century, and his archive is eclectic and vast. This exhibition is a comprehensive and beautifully curated "best of" if you will, and touches on topics from cryptozoology to Spiritualism to stage magic to witchcraft.
It also features some of Oursler's own entrancing, sly 4D video works which complement the exhibition well. Those, plus frequent references to his grandfather, Charles Fulton Oursler - a friend of Houdini's and noted mediumship debunker - give the show a personal texture. It becomes not only about humanity's history of seeking, but a slippery, winking portrait of the artist and his influences.
The exhibition is accompanied by a new edition of his tremendous book, "Imponderable: The Archive of Tony Oursler." There is also a coincident show at MoMA featuring his video installation, also called "Imponderable."
Full details on all:
Tony Oursler: The "Imponderable" Archive
June 25, 2016 - October 30, 2016
CCS Bard Galleries
Imponderable is an extensive research project, exhibition, film, and publication that investigates the personal collection of American artist Tony Oursler, a remarkable trove of more than 2,500 photographs, documents, publications, and unique objects, tracking a social, spiritual, and intellectual history dating back to the early eighteenth century. The actual objects within the archive will be shown for the first time in this comprehensive exhibition, extending the previous iterations of Imponderable commissioned by the LUMA Foundation in Arles and Zurich, where the 4D film and publication were originally presented in 2015. Concurrent with the presentation at CCS Bard, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York will exhibit a full-scale theater screening of Oursler’s Imponderable film (June 18, 2016 – January 2, 2017).
The project’s title, Imponderable, suggests the idea of something that cannot be determined with accuracy. Eighteenth-century scientists used the word to describe magnetism, electricity, and other unquantifiable energies, many of which are represented in Oursler’s archive. The ‘imponderable’ also suggests an area of open speculation populated by numerous conflicting belief systems. Additionally, Oursler is interested in how even the most incredible ideas can be presented in such a way that they convince the audience of their veracity.
The landscape of the archive covers numerous categories such as: stage magic, thought photography, demonology, cryptozoology, optics, Mesmerism, automatic writing, hypnotism, fairies, cults, pareidolia, the occult, color theory, and UFOs. Oursler’s initial research into these fringe practices of media histories and occult phenomenon led the artist further into ideas of speculative thought, the boundaries of science, the use of the spectacular, all of which resonate with contemporary pop culture. For Oursler, nested and mirrored within this archive, is also an intriguing family history that includes his grandfather, Fulton Oursler, Houdini, and the author Arthur Conan Doyle.
Originally commissioned by the LUMA Foundation for LUMA Arles in France, this project investigates new possibilities for archives and artistic production, which is one of its primary concerns. Imponderable translates the original archival materials into the form of a film, an installation, and a publication, providing new insight into both the material gathered by the artist over many years, and the trajectory of his own work.
The 4D film-based experience to be shown at MoMA explores the conflicting and overlapping belief systems implicit within his grandfather’s engagement with the debunking of paranormal activity. In addition to the exhibition of more than two thousand objects at CCS Bard, the broader reach of the archival material is presented in a six-hundred page, fully illustrated, publication that makes the archive available to the public for the first time. Alongside a substantial visual catalogue of Oursler’s archive, organized by the artist, this publication gathers a large number of newly commissioned texts by scholars, historians, and fellow enthusiasts for material that certainly lies outside the mainstream.
Imponderable: The Archives of Tony Oursler was commissioned and produced by the LUMA Foundation for the Parc des Ateliers in Arles, France. Curated by Tom Eccles and Beatrix Ruf.
The exhibition Tony Oursler: The Imponderable Archive, curated by Tom Eccles and Beatrix Ruf is on view at the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, from June 25 to October 30, 2016.
Tony Oursler: Imponderable, curated by Stuart Comer and Erica Papernik-Shimizu, is on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, from June 18, 2016 to January 2, 2017.
(Many thanks to Susan Aberth for making sure we saw this!)