An immersive video installation, Diana Thater: The Sympathetic Imagination, that opened Saturday at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) creates a whole new lens through which to observe the natural world.
For the past 25 years, Los Angeles–based artist Diana Thater has traveled the world in order to depict a range of natural phenomena–some joyful such as dolphins and honeybees in their habitat; some devastating such as the catastrophic nuclear accident in 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.
The primary emphasis of Thater’s work resides in the tension between the natural environment and mediated reality, and by extension, between the domesticated and wild, and science and magic.
Thater draws on a wide variety of sources, including literature, animal behavior, mathematics, and sociology, her evocative and layered imagery engages its surroundings to create complex relationships between time and space.
Rather than to just look at her work she invites the viewer to step inside it where they can view the world kinetically, viscerally, and psychically rather than by observing passively from a distance.
Color also plays an important role in her installations. Special attention has been given to the intense color tones and tints in relationship to what is being shown in each room and even the side panels between the rooms.
In addition projectors flood many of the exhibition spaces creating interesting shadows on top of the video installations of visitors viewing and walking through the spaces.
Greeting visitors to the exhibition is a Six-Color Video Wall (2000), which presents astronomical footage of the roiling sun split into red, green, blue, cyan, magenta and yellow channels, playing on six stacked monitors.
The MCA exhibition showcases 22 of Thater’s works from the early 1990s through 2015.
Among the standouts in this 25-year survey are:
knots + surfaces
Early on in the exhibition, we enter a room knots + surfaces (2001)–an immersive, five-channel piece projected across the floor, walls and ceiling that was inspired by the dance of honeybees.
Here the worker bees signal the availability of, and distance to, food sources to their fellow bees.
The bees’ movement becomes abstracted as the bees buzz erratically across colored hexagons that are distorted into a play of colored shapes.
A counterpoint to these projections is a “video wall” displaying an orange flower.
This impressionistic video of Claude Monet’s garden, Five Days in Claude Monet’s Garden, Part 2 (1992) was created from footage shot at the Fondation Claude Money in Giverny, France by Thater over time.
The video’s primary colors were partially reconstructed or projected separately in order to enhance the medium’s impressionistic effects.
Thater’s Delphine (1999), filmed in the Caribbean, depicts dolphins in their natural habitat. Shot both from above and from a diver’s perspective, the footage has been divided into four projections.
In addition to the projected images, the installation includes a discrete video wall comprising nine monitors that shows an image of the sun shot from a NASA telescope.
Life Is a Time-Based Medium
Thater’s work questions distinctions between the tame and wild as is the case in her most recent work Life Is a Time-Based Medium (2015) focusing on the behavior of resident monkeys at the Galtaji Temple–a Hindu pilgrimage site–in Jaipur, India.
The installation is contained in two rooms with a static shot of the temple serving as a doorway to a smaller gallery containing projections of the rhesus monkeys. Projected, beneath the monkeys, is a row of movie theater seats, one occupied by the artist.
Diana Thater: The Sympathetic Imagination will be on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago now through January 8, 2017. The exhibition is free with museum admission.
About Diana Thater
Born in 1962 in San Francisco, Diana Thater studied art history at New York University, before receiving her MFA from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, where she is currently the faculty chair of the Graduate Art department. Over the past decade, her work has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions at prominent institutions that include the Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane (2011); Santa Monica Museum of Art, California (2010); Kunsthaus Graz, Austria; Natural History Museum, London (both 2009); Kunsthalle Bremen, Germany; Museum für Gegenwartskunst Siegen, Germany (both 2004); Dia Center for the Arts, New York (2001); Secession, Vienna (2000); and the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago (1995).
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