Tony Oursler is an intriguing, if not perplexing artist. His work is often difficult for the average person to embrace. I would bet even some art lovers find themselves standing in front of his work asking "What I am supposed to be getting out of this?" Just recently the Modern installed Oursler's The Sum of Its Parts from 1997 in the elliptical gallery on the first floor. This is the first time I have seen the work on view at the Modern since moving to Fort Worth in the summer of 2005. And I must admit I have had some bewildered moments when spending time with the work. The first question that comes to mind is why the VCR and projector are displayed so blatantly, almost intrusively, in the gallery. It seems Oursler's work might be more visually stimulating if the method of projection was not so openly available to the viewer. But, (after doing some research on Oursler) making the individual parts of the sculpture/video/installation visible to the public is part of the point.
Oursler's installation consists of a white round sphere, on which the image of a human eye is projected. Upon close examination, a reflection of a television screen is visible in the pupil of the eye. Playing on the reflected TV is the film Frankenstein. As Modern Curator Andrea Karnes has suggested, it seems that the title of the work, as well as the piece itself, is meant to be a commentary on Dr. Frankenstein's monster (after all he too is the sum of incongruent parts). A recurrent theme in Oursler's work, though, is also the influence of TV on our society and its ability to dominate our environment. Carol Rosen points out in her essay "'What Are You Looking At?': The Sculpture of Tony Oursler", that we, the human race, have seemingly lost control of the role media holds in our culture. Doesn't then the visible presence of the VCR and projector also become a commentary on television's dominate role in contemporary society?
Certainly the impact of media on our lives is undeniable. For most of us, our days are inundated with the internet, radio, and television. We, particularly Americans, can almost not escape it. The fact that Oursler chose to have Frankenstein playing on the reflected television in the pupil of a disconnected eye (the soundtrack of the movie is also audible) appears to also be an observation of our often technologically overridden lives. The larger than life-size eyeball projected onto a round sphere is perhaps meant to draw our attention to the amount of time we spend taking in various forms of media and propaganda. Oursler's Sum of Its Parts is a critical commentary on the state of cultural and societal priorities. Maybe the title itself is also a clever assertion that we too are the sum of our parts. Every bit of information (useful or not) that we observe and take in, directly or indirectly, shapes who we are as individuals. By using the very medium he is critiquing, Oursler effectively draws our attention to mediaâs intrusive presence in our society and the resulting negative impact it appears to be making.