Tony Oursler’s mAcHiNe E.L.F. Installation at Lehmann Maupin

tony oursler machine elf installation photo by gail worley
All Photos and Video By Gail

I apologize in advance for not making it to Tony Oursler’s mAcHiNe E.L.F. exhibit at Lehmann Maupin Gallery until March 24th, the day before it closed. If you didn’t see it, and you’re reading this now, I’m afraid you’re going to have to live through me. In this review I am focusing solely on the video installation portion of the exhibit, the Crystal Forest — a mesmerizing multimedia head trip that liberates video from a traditional two-dimensional format and brings it into the realm of sculpture to create a truly immersive experience. Seriously, it was just insane. 

tony oursler machine elf installation photo by gail worley

Oursler’s mAcHiNe E.L.F. installation is composed of a large-scale crystal forest that reflects whirling video from an overhead projection. Combining new and archival footage with interventions from AI technology (which is just so hot right now), the work explores a series of themes, including the digital sublime, extremely low frequencies (ELF), and intragroup dynamics. Even you don’t care what any of it means, it was amazing to behold visually. Because, just look at this:

tony oursler machine elf photoby gail wortly

As a mix of live-action footage and computer-generated imagery play across the sculptures and the surrounding walls, depicting a variety of strange and surreal scenes, the glowing crystals — some standing well over six feet tall — evoke a sense of dreamlike wonder. If you were even the least bit high (which, sadly, I was not) I’m sure the effect was even more mind-blowing

Check out this two-minute-video capturing just one section of the piece:

david johansen in machine elf video photo by gail worley

One memorable part of the installation is the inclusion of musician David Johansen in one of the video segments. The former lead singer of the New York Dolls appears on a screen embedded in one of the sculptures, his face distorted and multiplied by digital effects as he recites spoken word poetry.

machine elf installation view photo by gail worley

As you can see, the group of crystals was large enough to walk around in, for optimal Instagram content creation.

machine elf installation view 2 photo by gail worley

In many ways, mAcHiNe E.L.F.s Crystal Forest is reminiscent of another of Oursler’s installations, 2018’s Tear of the Cloud, for which a comparably surreal combination of video images were projected directly onto the historic West 69th Street Transfer Bridge gantry, the Hudson River, and the surrounding landscape. Both works explore themes of technology, spirituality, and the boundaries between the natural and the artificial, and both employ Oursler’s signature mix of whimsy and surrealism to create a truly unique and captivating experience.

tony oursler machine elf installation photo by gail worley

mAcHiNe E.L.F. examines the process by which highly specialized scientific narratives deteriorate into myth over time. The artist draws inspiration from this paradox, which he describes as “the current re-enchantment of America.” In this new body of work, Oursler aims to pull back the curtain, revealing the science behind the spectacle while simultaneously acknowledging the mythology that exists beyond the edge of human knowledge.
tony oursler machine elf installation photo by gail worley

Consider this a head’s up to put Tony Oursler on your art radar, so that next time you hear that he has an exhibit somewhere, you can  make sure you don’t miss it!

tony oursler machine elf installation photo by gail worley

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