New York – Tony Oursler: “mAcHiNe E.L.F.” at Lehmann Maupin Through March 25th, 2023

March 14th, 2023

Tony Oursler, SpEcTrUm (2023), via Lehmann Maupin

Compiling a body of new work this month, Lehmann Maupin presents mAcHiNe E.L.F. by Tony Oursler, the pioneering new media artist whose diverse combination of multimedia projects, immersive environments, expansive outdoor installations, and dynamic dolls, ghosts, and bots that liberate video from its traditional two-dimensional format and bring it into the realm of sculpture have long served as a powerful and expressive exploration of modern culture. 

Often taking the human form, especially the face, as his subject, Oursler examines psychological states, the interaction between technological progress and society, and the history of science, pseudoscience, spiritualism, and religion. For this show, the artist has created a series of “electrified” silhouettes that feature painted and printed collages interspersed with embedded digital displays, as well as an immersive, large-scale installation of optical crystal structures that act as reflecting screens for a kaleidoscopic digital projection of otherworldly performers and hand drawn and AI-generated animations. Exploring the body and the silhouette as a screen for the presentation of cultural images, as well as a mode of currency in modern image culture, Ourlser identifies a creative space between scientific inquiry and occult belief where new paradigms can be generated, but where the risk of conspiracy theorizing is high.

Tony Oursler, MHz (2023), via Lehmann Maupin


Across each collaged panel, the artist embeds iconography from conflicting conspiracies, environmental concerns, and subcultures—including in one instance the United Nations emblem, which is believed by some to contain a hidden version of the flat earth map. These “easter eggs” are identifiable by in-the-know viewers and simultaneously reflect the belief that a deeper truth is hidden just beneath the veneer of the conventional world.

In the second gallery, Oursler has created a large-scale installation inspired by the seven fundamental crystal structures that occur in nature. For the artist, these geometric forms contain two coexisting extremes: hard science and the mythic. In telecommunications and electronic circuitry, crystals are prized for their resonant quality, which allows them to synchronize signals with a high degree of accuracy. When used in mobile phones and computer CPUs, these organic structures coordinate timing, functioning as the “heartbeat” of modern technology. Crystals are also valued for their aesthetic and pseudoscientific properties, which some believe to have healing effects. In New Age discourse, different types of crystals are assigned particular psycho-spiritual or protective properties, and are thought to carry specific energies that can be amplified by exposure to the light of the full moon.

Tony Oursler, Azimuth (2023), via Lehmann Maupin

Oursler’s work here draws in particular on the “machine elf” as a frequently alluded to vision during psychedelic trips on the drug D.M.T., turning that spectre into a totem for negotiations of media, image and the human spirit. The show closes March 25th.

– D. Creahan

Read more:
mAcHiNe E.L.F. [Exhibition Site]