This October, Public Art Fund will present Tear of the Cloud, a dynamic three-week-long exhibition by New York-based artist Tony Oursler at Riverside Park South. A pioneer of video art in the early 1980s, Oursler is one of the most innovative and experimental artists working today and this will be his most extensive installation yet. On view in the evenings, this new multimedia work will be projected directly onto the historic West 69th Street Transfer Bridge gantry, the Hudson River, and the surrounding landscape creating a dramatic visual and auditory experience inspired by what Oursler describes as the “the mnemonic effect of the river and the many intertwined tropes associated with the Hudson Valley region.” This orchestrated, immersive work will illuminate the park with a roving cast of characters and iconography, referencing the Hudson River School (the country’s first regional artistic movement which gave birth to the initial land preservation movement), social media bots, inventor Samuel Morse’s final painting, The Muse, The Headless Horseman, IBM’s chess-playing computer Deep Blue, Mary Rogers’ infamous murder at Sibyl’s Cave in New Jersey, the 19th century utopian society of Oneida, and experimental music developed in the South Bronx and Lower Manhattan, among others. The exhibition will create a lyrical exploratory experience for audiences as they move through the area, inviting them to make multiple readings between the past and the present. Tony Oursler: Tear of the Cloud will be on view October 10 – 31, Tuesday – Sunday, 7:00pm – 10:00pm in Riverside Park South (between 68th and 70th Streets) near Pier I on New York City’s Upper West Side.
The wide-ranging artwork will explore the transitory space between the river and the city using spectral projected superimpositions focusing on the cultural, social, ecological, and technological data of the region, inviting the audience to draw connections across time and space, and encouraging multiple readings of our current landscape and relationship to it. The composition of Tear of the Cloud is a “visual palimpsest, depicting the layering of information associated with unforeseen legacies of the waterway,” says artist Tony Oursler. Technological developments in the region provided significant source material for the artist. The structure of the Internet, which blurs the boundary between culture and technology, is evident in the production of millions of bricks in Haverstraw, New York and the long-distance communication of the talking drum as a precursor to the invention of Morse code. The artist explores the composition of Samuel Morse’s last painting, The Muse, depicting his daughter Susan Walker Morse, uncannily foreshadowing the prototype of his first telegraph. “The Headless Horseman and his horse are important references in Tear of the Cloud, as they gallop towards artificial intelligence, the chess-playing computer Deep Blue’s famous knight sacrifice, facial recognition technologies, and bots which have provoked significant questions about our future,” according to Oursler. He suggests connections between the recent DNA CRISPR-Cas encoding of Muybridge’s Horse in Motion, the birth of the film industry at the Black Maria studio, the actress and proto-feminist Pearl White’s early silent films created on the Palisades, and the first transistor invented a few miles away at IBM’s Bell Labs. Mining progressive social movements, the work touches on the mid-19th century Oneida community, their attempts at free love and highly successful manufacturing of silverware and animal traps; the Seneca Falls Convention; counterculture musical and psychedelic experimentation at Woodstock; and the remixing of nascent hip-hop culture in the South Bronx. The river is also characterized by darker connotations including pesticides, PCBs, Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant, and Sybil’s Cave, where the infamous Mary Rogers murder occurred. Oursler will bring these images – and more – to life, through the meticulously produced digital projections that evoke the scenarios with kaleidoscopic wonder.
“Tony Oursler’s Tear of the Cloud combines countless references to the region’s many obscure histories into a powerful, expansive, and transformative experience,” says Public Art Fund Associate Curator Daniel S. Palmer. “With this new work, Oursler rethinks how we learn, explore, and share our complex narratives by interweaving the past and the present. In this way, the artist’s multivalent allusions to the region’s stories flow together and offer their vitality like the many tributaries that feed into the Hudson River, coalescing into a source of creativity and inspiration.”
The focal point for the exhibition is the landmarked 69th Street Transfer Bridge (Gantry) – an industrial relic that formerly facilitated the movement of trains from railyards to river barges — a salient reminder of the river’s important industrial past. The artist’s large-scale videos will be projected on the gantry’s surfaces, river, and surrounding area, and will be accompanied by an eerie soundscape along the park, creating a phantasmal and ambient experience which will invite visitors along the waterfront to engage with different aspects of the multimedia work. It will encourage a new creative relationship to this storied body of water, while providing the artist with an entirely new “canvas” for his innovative and groundbreaking work.
The exhibition derives its title from the highest water source for the Hudson River in the Adirondack Mountains called Lake Tear of the Clouds, named in 1872 by conservationist Verplanck Colvin. Oursler’s title sets the tone for his new site-specific commission, evoking the flow of the river and natural phenomena; suggesting both the tragedy and success of the stories of the valley; and offering a nod to new technological advancements, such as today’s ever ubiquitous digital “cloud.”
The Hudson River also has personal significance to the artist. Oursler was born in New York City, grew up on the banks of the river in Nyack, New York, and has long been fascinated with many of the themes that its history evokes. Ourlser’s practice has included a combination of projections, video screens, sculptures, and optical devices, used in innovative and experimental ways. His films are conceptually based, oftentimes employing unconventional dramaturgy, stop motion, live action, and draw inspiration from mystic and spiritual phenomena, science, and technological advancements, creating a dialogue between perception, communication, and language. Representing a pivotal point in his career, Oursler’s first artwork with outdoor projections was co-commissioned by Public Art Fund and Artangel, London at Madison Square Park in 2000. Titled The Influence Machine, it featured ghostly projections of historic and contemporary large-scale faces onto smoke, trees, and buildings with corresponding narratives. Exactly 18 years later, Tear of the Cloud, is the artist’s second exhibition with Public Art Fund and furthers Oursler’s exploration of the use of video projections in the public realm and on natural elements.