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Issue 224

Tony Oursler on Elves, UFOs and the Corporate Psychic Monopoly

The New York-based artist answers the frieze questionnaire

BY Tony Oursler in Interviews , Questionnaires | 28 DEC 21

What do you wish you were better at?

Monster-murdering. I completely failed.

If aliens arrived on Earth, what would be your advice to our new visitors?

Once they’ve finished probing me for DNA and implanting or removing the microchip from my amygdala, I’d ask them for help restoring the History Channel to educational programming and banning Ancient Aliens (2009–ongoing). They must defend their brand and, at the same time, prevent brain rot of the average citizen.

Who is your celebrity soulmate?

When I was five years old, I was somehow convinced that the television actor Jackie Gleason was my guardian angel. I’m not sure what I saw in Ralph Kramden – the fat, angry bus driver he played who was always threatening everyone. It’s a real puzzler. Strangely, a few years ago, I discovered that, in real life, Gleason had a massive collection of parapsychology ephemera, was an avid believer in UFOs and that his archive-collection is kept at the University of Florida. Like myself, he was also a closet composer who produced a melancholic album, Lonesome Echo (1961), for which Salvador Dalí did the cover.

What – or who – is overrated?

Technology has been hijacked by a few large corporations into a sort of psychic monopoly. I’m waiting for the next generation of creatives who manage to wrestle these tools away from the corporate structure. It’s going to be difficult because they have so much money, and it turns out that money can be a big obstacle to creativity. As Shoshana Zuboff says in The Age of Surveillance Capitalism (2018), once the machine works well, there’s really no resistance and control is total.

What was the best concert you attended?

The worst was my own band, The Poetics. We always cleared the room.

If you could be anywhere right now, where would you go?

First, I’d take a boat trip down the Amazon. Then, I’d go to Iceland on the night that the elves move their homes. (Apparently, this is accompanied with great fanfare, singing and bonfires.) Then, I’d soak in the hot springs and, finally, journey into the future by maybe 100 or 200 years. I’d love to see how some things play out.

What was your biggest mistake?

Losing track of friends. They vanish, sometimes permanently.

This article first appeared in frieze issue 224 with the headline ‘Tony Oursler’.

Main image: Tony Oursler, Tear of the Cloud (Westpoint), 2018. Courtesy: the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York/Hong Kong/Seoul/London; photograph: Nicholas Knight

Tony Oursler is an artist. His exhibition 'Hypnosis (and other states)' is on view at Zifergauz Gallery, St. Petersburg, Russia, until 31 March, 2022.