Tony Oursler: The Influence Machine

Originally shown: November 2000
Soho Square, London WC1

Subsequently shown at the Whitworth Art Gallery (2011) and Tate Moden Riverside (2013)

Face in smoke

In the heart of London’s media world, leading American video artist Tony Oursler created a spectral son-et-lumière for our image-saturated age.

Oursler conceived The Influence Machine as a kind of ‘psycho-landscape'. Delving deep into the history of the media, he created an historic sound and light show which invoked the spirit of Soho Square itself, from the phantasmagoria of the late eighteenth century to the beliefs and superstitions which have haunted the locally prominent media industries throughout the twentieth century. The project also investigated what Oursler called “the dark side of the light”, an alternative history of disembodied communication – and of the spirits lurking within the media we all use today.

Monologues by various figures projected onto trees (which were conceived as a kind of ‘chorus’) were written by Oursler and performed by actors in his hometown of New York. One of these figures, appearing and disappearing in the smoke, was in fact a long-standing collaborator of Oursler, Tracy Leipold. Oursler called her “the medium”, and her dialogue made references to key names from media history such as television pioneer John Logie Baird and Etienne Gaspard Robertson who founded the first moving image theatre in a Paris crypt in 1763. Running through it all was a soundtrack composed by Tony Conrad and performed on a glass harmonica.

From the telephone to the television to the internet, the ‘influence machines’ of the modern media have been tools of communication and information. But they’ve also been conduits for voices from the other side. Just yards from where Logie Baird gave his first public demonstration of a prototype television set in 1926 (in a room above Bar Italia in Frith Street), The Influence Machine offered a fractured multi-media landscape of spectres, sounds and light. For twelve nights only, the ghosts had escaped from the machine…

The Influence Machine is included in The Artangel Collection.

It was developed with the Public Art Fund in New York and originally installed in Madison Square park (October 2000) and then Soho Square, London (November 2000). The work was co-commissioned by Becks and supported by London Arts, the City of Westminster, The Stanley Thomas Johnson Foundation, The Henry Moore Foundation, The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and The Company of Angels with the special help of Tom Bendhem and Anita and Poju Zabludowicz.

The Influence Machine was supported by Arts Council England, Special Angels and The Company of Angels

Funders and Collaborators