Fresh off his Public Art Fund Commission “Tear of the Cloud” at New York City’s Riverside Park last October, multimedia artist Tony Oursler has installed his exhibition “Water Memory” at Guild Hall in East Hampton. On view through July 21, the exhibition delves into the subject of water and notions of magical thinking. Recently, Mr. Oursler shared his insights and thought-process that goes into his work. On Saturday, July 6, Mr. Oursler presents a gallery talk at 3 p.m. at Guild Hall. A private members reception follows.
Q: You grew up in Nyack near the shores of the Hudson River in the era of PCB pollution courtesy of General Electric and Pete Seeger’s environmental education sloop Clearwater that was designed to combat all that. Did growing up near the river influence your relationship with water?
Completely, I feel best when near the water. I grew up with the politics of ecological and was a total river rat, floating, swimming, sailing, rowing, rafts, floating on ice flow (much to my parents’ chagrin). The Hudson’s banks were an escape for the local kids, I spent a lot of time daydreaming out in that ever-changing space.
There is some connection there in the water to how art happens, but I’m not sure what it is. People who spend time around large bodies of water know about the beauty that needs to be treasured regardless of any political trend. Nyack also had a great history of art — Joseph Cornell, Edward Hopper, Thomas Wilfred, Constance DeJong, Karen Finley all called it home. Now, I adore Long Island and the North Fork and New York City, all different kinds of water worlds.
Q: Is “Water Memory” at Guild Hall only about the past, or is it also referencing our relationship with water in the future?
“Water Memory” invites the viewer to explore their preconceptions in the present and perhaps that affects the future. I want to know what you think now. The theme of the exhibition developed out of a personal rethinking of the ubiquitous element of water. That’s how I make art, by taking a second or third look at something until suddenly, some new relationships emerge. The waters are a mirror of human actions, belief systems, ecological, spiritual, scientific, psychological — it’s all in there. Holy water, hormones, micro-plastic. There is a good dose of humor and poetry as well. I love the work of a Dr. [Masaru] Emoto who spoke words like “love” to one tube of water and played “heavy metal” to another, froze them and studied the crystal patterns.
Q: Does the show have a particular relevance to the East End given our precarious relationship with water and sea level rise?
Absolutely. That area of the world is like a big hand reaching out into the ocean. It’s some of the most spectacular landscape in America. I was amazed to find a New York state cactus thrives there. But I’ve also found medical waste on the beach from hospitals in Connecticut. This is nothing new, it’s just now people are ready to take steps to preserve and to recognize interconnections that were perhaps ignored before.
It’s an American tradition, our first art movement was the Hudson River School. They were problematic in that they ignored the people who were here before us, that we’re are all immigrants, but on the other hand that art movement was directly responsible for the first land preservation and the establishment of the public park system.
That’s what art can do, suggest patterns, some beautiful but others on the darker side.
Tony Oursler’s “Water Memory” is on view through July 21 at Guild Hall, 158 Main Street, East Hampton. For details visit guildhall.org. For the complete Q&A with Tony Ourseler, visit sagharborexpress.com.