Imponderable: The Archives of Tony Oursler

Tony Oursler’s Imponderable is a two-part project: a book and a film that investigate the artist’s extraordinary collection of objects, photography and ephemera relating to the occult, séances, magic, optics, fairies, mesmerism, and many other areas of intrigue.
Since the mid-1990s, the artist has developed a number of optical timelines, tracing the development of ephemeral mimetic devices like the camera obscura, the magic lantern, and television; for Oursler, it constitutes a parallel art history.
His timeline — which has served as an instrument of inspiration for numerous artworks — was drawn from his interest in overlaps between the histories of science, optics, entertainment, and religion, which ultimately also led him to begin the collection of documents that now form his archives.

Tony Oursler’s fascination with the material is rooted in his own family history: his grandfather, Fulton Oursler, was a famous author, publisher, and friend of magician Harry Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes.
Fulton took a particular interest in debunking the fraudulent claims of spirit mediums and disproving the so-called evidence (often photographic in nature) that was presented in support of their incredible assertions. While the Imponderable book documents Oursler’s extensive collection of 19th century spirit photography, thought photography, UFO sightings, stage magic ephemera, and much more, the film follows the journey of Fulton Oursler on his quest to debunk trickery and deception in the early to mid- 20th century.

Commissioned and produced by the Luma Foundation for the Parc des Ateliers, Arles, France.

Curated by Tom Eccles (Director, Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, New York) and Beatrix Ruf (Director, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam).

The exhibition was part of the photography festival Les Rencontres d’Arles in 2015.

Video: Tony Oursler’s Imponderable