Artist Tony Oursler’s current exhibition at London’s Lisson Gallery is his first showing of new work in the United Kingdom in over five years. He explores how such electronic, constantly watching eyes see and read the people around them.
Template/variant/friend/stranger, which opened on January 30th, focuses particularly on the increasing use of facial recognition technology in society, employed in public areas such as the streets or airports and also in private settings, including Facebook, with its highly accurate photo-tagging feature.
Oursler, whose body of multimedia works revolves around the human identity, presents in this latest exhibition a series of standing wood and aluminum panels that resemble faces and incorporate visualizations of biometric data accumulated by various facial recognition systems. Nearly nine feet tall, the seven portraits residing in the main gallery recall the straightforward captures intended for photo identification cards: men and women look directly forward to clearly expose their features to the camera, their expressions void of emotion. Overlaid on their visages are markings reflecting the networks of nodes on specific features that facial recognition systems use to recognise and differentiate between individuals, transforming the standard portraits into electronic profiles. Colourful video screens of moving mouths and blinking eyes also disrupt the photos, reminding of the humanness behind these machine-produced identities while introducing a feeling of being watched.
“We generally have used machines in service of our vision, however, now there’s a way that the machine is imaging us, which is what interests me,” Oursler said. “Because there’s a second level of observation that’s happening that really is kind of an alternative from the way we see. You have this vast gathering of information that is going on at any given time.”
In another room, nine aluminum panels hang on the walls like an array of colorful masks, many barely recognisable as faces, through which videos of eyes or mouths appear. Etched on bare, reflective surfaces, the rigid geometric patterns tracing points of individuals’ distinct traits become stronger indicators of identity, like precise scarification marks and they also suggest the permanent storage of biometric data by government corporations and private companies.
Contributing to the human-machine hybridity of Oursler’s panels is the artist’s integration of sound into many of the pieces, which speak about the power of technology in terms of both its potential and its challenges. The faces convey their messages in whispers, creating an effect of people talking to themselves, or as Oursler describes, relays “a translation of inner thought.”
“They’re really about privacy, identity, about the desire to know other people, about the inability to actually understand that through visuals,” Oursler said. “So it all comes down to communications and how that really works because I might gather all the information I want on you, however, it might mean that I’m going to necessarily know who you are in any way. Philosophically, there’s an interesting game being played by the information gatherers and by the subjects, and each script has a different take on that.”
The Lisson Gallery is one of the most influential and longest-running international contemporary art galleries in the world. Since being founded in 1967 by Nicholas Logsdail, it has championed the careers of artists who have transformed the way art was made and presented. These include many important Minimal and Conceptual artists, such as Sol LeWitt and Richard Long, as well as a whole generation of significant British sculptors from Anish Kapoor and Richard Deacon to Shirazeh Houshiary and Tony Cragg. It continues to support the future of its artists, the legacy of historical figures, the evolving practice of established artists and the wide-ranging potential of emerging and new talents.
In addition to two exhibition spaces in London, one in Milan and an office in New York, the Lisson Presents programme of off-site exhibitions extends a legacy of curatorial innovation beyond the gallery spaces, working with institutions and artists to present new initiatives around the world. As well as showing and supporting an important array of international artists; such as Marina Abramović, Ai Weiwei, Gerard Byrne and Liu Xiaodong.
For further details on the exhibition please contact London’s Lisson Gallery
What insight does this exhibition bring to the personal existence of machines?