Tony Oursler's video installations presented alongside Gustavo Rol's paintings in exhibition in Turin
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Tony Oursler's video installations presented alongside Gustavo Rol's paintings in exhibition in Turin
Installation view.

TURIN.- The Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli continues the research on the topic of collecting and presents Paranormal: Tony Oursler vs. Gustavo Rol. The exhibition is an ideal collection that includes works by the American artist and a selection of objects belonging to his large collection revolving around the occult, alongside the paranormal activity and art works in the city collections by Gustavo Rol, active in Turin in the latter half of the 20th century.

The works were selected by Tony Oursler together with the exhibition curator Paolo Colombo and showcased in a space conceived by the artist himself. On this occasion, Oursler also displays a new series of works, the Ex Votos, inspired by his visit to the Sanctuary of the Consolata in Turin. Marcella Pralormo, Director of the Pinacoteca Agnelli, curated the exhibition section on Gustavo Rol, with a long research work on the people that knew him, tracing and selecting, in tandem with Tony Oursler and Paolo Colombo, the paintings and objects that belonged to Rol, in Turin’s private collections.

The father of video-sculpture, Tony Oursler is one of the most innovative artists to use video as an expressive means. Not only are his works expressed in the video image, but they use and combine sculpture, design, installation, multimedia projections, single projections (single channel projection), recordings and performances, also interacting with the spectator. Amongst his most well-known works are the projections of faces on round pieces of fabric and other materials, as much diverse as ephemeral, like smoke; faces that recite usually poems using a cryptic language and that are by all means apparitions projected onto objects with a sculptural presence.

For years Oursler has been collecting objects, publications, ephemera about the paranormal, letting himself be inspired for many of his works: photographs of ghosts, texts of pseudo-science, primitive technology for creating visual illusions, have developed into an archive that today amounts to over 15.000 elements.
An interest that is rooted in the artist’s family history: his grandfather, Charles Fulton Oursler, writer, journalist and script writer – author amongst other things of "The Greatest Story Ever Told" (1949), which inspired the famous 1960s film – frequently interacted with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, English writer who believed in spiritualism and the paranormal. He was also a close friend of Harry Houdini, and supported him in his battle against the scams of fake mediums in the 1920s, up to publishing the book “Spirit Mediums Exposed” (1930), which did indeed expose their scam techniques.

A personal path that finds countless ties with Gustavo Rol, born in 1903 into an affluent middle-class family from Turin. A personality out of the ordinary, an art lover and a painter himself, educated and charismatic: after working as journalist and bank clerk, he devoted his life to his greatest passion, the occult. His admirers have credited him with paranormal properties; his detractors have spoken of "mentalism". But Gustavo Rol always professed to be a mere researcher and experimenter, whose sole purpose was “to encourage men to look beyond appearances and stimulate their intelligent spirit". A man who has lived through the 20th century, leaving a deep mark in the collective imagination and in the numerous international personalities he came into contact with: from Walt Disney to Marcello Mastroianni, from several presidents of the Italian Republic, such as Giuseppe Saragat and Luigi Einaudi, to president John Fitzgerald Kennedy to Queen Elizabeth II. Federico Fellini defined him "baffling", and entertained a close friendship with him.

In the long interview included in the catalogue, Paolo Colombo discusses with Tony Oursler several aspects of his collection and artistic practice, also in connection with Rol’s paintings. Apparently some of the latter’s works would come to life, like that landscape with a man walking down the road that in time happened to move around the painting. “That story is key to me and this project, the moving image. It connects to the technological leap and technology is the contemporary trauma I am looking at […]: human vs machine” – claims Oursler. A trauma intertwined with the dramatic events described in the ex-votos at the Sanctuary of the Consolata in Turin, a source of inspiration for Tony Oursler’s latest works made especially for this exhibition. “In this series the handmade image and the machine come together. I spend so much time in front of the computer that I love to actually paint or make anything or do anything manually. […]. You can see older ex-votos depicting earlier technology gone wrong, explosions of war, car crashes; one I love shows a man whose clothes gets stuck in a machine, he is being mangled. From there it’s a hop, skip and a jump to my new works and our current traumas: artificial intelligence, nuclear waste, magical thinking, […].”

The exhibition design is by Marco Palmieri. In the display, Tony Oursler’s video installations are presented alongside Gustavo Rol’s paintings, as well as the apports and testimonies of what happened in Gustavo Rol’s presence, and Oursler’s collection on the paranormal. This story by images allow visitors to observe – and perhaps try and understand – unexplainable phenomena from a new point of view.

The exhibition catalogue has been published by Corraini.

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