Diana Thater: The Sympathetic Imagination

Video

Diana Thater, Delphine, 1999. Four video projectors, nine-monitor video wall, five players, and four LED Wash Lights; overall dimensions variable. © Diana Thater. Art Institute of Chicago, Donna and Howard Stone New Media Fund, 2005.93.

exhibition description

Diana Thater: The Sympathetic Imagination presents a series of immersive film and video installations that push the limit of these media to imagine animal experiences in natural habitats. In Delphine (1999), for example, LED lights activate the space, while projected film and video footage of dolphins from many angles simulate the animals’ underwater environment, including the ways they perceive it through sonar and sight. The intersection of film and video with installation practices in Thater’s work, which often incorporates viewers’ bodies and even the projectors themselves, is one of the artist’s major contributions to the field of contemporary art.

The colorful installations break out of the video rectangle—often falling somewhere between sculpture and architecture—to imagine fluid worlds of dolphins, dancing bees, and the animals that inhabit the irradiated explosion site at Chernobyl. The most comprehensive survey of the artist’s work to date, the exhibition includes early work Oo Fifi, Five Days in Claude Monet’s Gardens (1992), which breaks footage into the primary colors of video (RGB), as well as the recent work Life is a Time-Based Medium (2015), in which the architecture of the gallery converges with the Galtaji Temple in Jaipur, India, and is populated with monkeys.

Since the early 1990s, Diana Thater (American, b. 1962) has been a pioneer of film and video. Influenced by 1960s films that prioritized medium over narrative and content, she has forged meaningful connections between her subject matter and media to push the physical, optical, and conceptual boundaries of how moving images are experienced. Thater studied art history at New York University and received her MFA from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. Her work has been collected by major institutions across the United States.

This exhibition was organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The Chicago presentation is coordinated by Joey Orr, Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellow, and presented in the Griffin Galleries of Contemporary Art on the museum’s fourth floor.

Images

  • A gallery installation featuring three videos of dolphins underwater projected on the walls and floor. The projectors are visibly suspended at varied heights in the magenta-colored room.
  • A room, lit up bright orange, contains five flat screen monitors and their cables on the floor. Each screen shows a close-up image of a butterfly wing.
  • An open gallery has two large, wall-size video projections. One shows a luminous blue planet floating in black space; the other features a brown feathered falcon with a red mask on its head, as it undergoes falconry training.
  • Installation view of a dark room with high ceilings that has three projectors on the floor projecting onto two gallery walls videos of birds swimming on the right and a female hunter aiming a gun on the left. A woman stands in the middle the installation watching the videos.
  • An image of daffodils is projected on the wall of an empty gallery. The image covers the entire wall, and is made of three overlapping projections in red, green, and blue, creating a picture that distorts the flowers.
A gallery installation featuring three videos of dolphins underwater projected on the walls and floor. The projectors are visibly suspended at varied heights in the magenta-colored room.
  1. Long A view of a spacious gallery that is dark magenta and lit by blue video projections. Three videos of dolphins swimming in the water are projected on the walls and floor from suspended projectors, creating the impression that the viewer is swimming below and looking up at the dolphins. A fourth projection on the floor shows the silhouette of an ambiguous person swimming in scuba gear.
Diana Thater, Delphine, 1999. Four video projectors, nine-monitor video wall, five players, and four LED wash lights; dimensions variable. Installation view, Diana Thater: The Sympathetic Imagination, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2015–16. © Diana Thater. Photo: © Fredrik Nilsen.
Diana Thater, Life is a Time-Based Medium, 2015. Three video projectors, display computer, and one player; overall dimensions variable. Installation view, Hauser & Wirth, London, 2015. © Diana Thater. Photo: Alex Delfanne, courtesy of Hauser & Wirth.
A room, lit up bright orange, contains five flat screen monitors and their cables on the floor. Each screen shows a close-up image of a butterfly wing.
Diana Thater, Untitled Videowall (Butterflies), 2008. Six video monitors, one player, six 48-inch fluorescent light fixtures, and Lee filters; overall dimensions variable. Installation view, 1301PE, Los Angeles, 2008. © Diana Thater. Photo © Fredrik Nilsen, courtesy of 1301PE, Los Angeles.
An open gallery has two large, wall-size video projections. One shows a luminous blue planet floating in black space; the other features a brown feathered falcon with a red mask on its head, as it undergoes falconry training.
  1. Long A person walks into an open gallery with large, wall-size video projections shown on two walls. One projection shows a luminous blue moon or planet floating in black space. It produces an ambient glow, reflecting off the surface of the floor. The other projection features a brown feathered hawk or falcon with a red mask on its head, as it undergoes falconry training. Both projected images are considerably larger than the viewer.
Diana Thater, A Cast of Falcons, 2008. Four video projectors, display computer, and two spotlights; dimensions variable. Installation view, Diana Thater: The Sympathetic Imagination, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2015–16. © Diana Thater. Photo: © Fredrik Nilsen.
Installation view of a dark room with high ceilings that has three projectors on the floor projecting onto two gallery walls videos of birds swimming on the right and a female hunter aiming a gun on the left. A woman stands in the middle the installation watching the videos.
Diana Thater, Chernobyl, 2011. Six video projectors and six players; dimensions variable. Installation view, Hauser & Wirth, London, 2011. © Diana Thater. Photo: Peter Mallet, courtesy of Hauser & Wirth.
An image of daffodils is projected on the wall of an empty gallery. The image covers the entire wall, and is made of three overlapping projections in red, green, and blue, creating a picture that distorts the flowers.
Diana Thater, Oo Fifi, Five Days in Claude Monet’s Garden, Part 1, 1992. Video projector and player; dimensions variable. Installation view, 1301PE, Los Angeles, 2012. © Diana Thater. Photo: © Fredrik Nilsen, courtesy 1301PE, Los Angeles.

Video

Video

Diana Thater, excerpt from A Cast of Falcons, 2008. Four video projectors, display computer, and two Source Four lights; overall dimensions variable. © Diana Thater. Courtesy of the artist and David Zwirner, New York/London.

Video

Diana Thater, excerpt from Six-Color Video Wall, 2000. Six video monitors and six players; overall dimensions variable. © Diana Thater. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Purchase, with funds from the Contemporary Committee and the Film and Video Committee.

Installation Images

  • You are in a room with four projections of similar images of two wolves in muted, jewel tones. Two projectors on the floor project at you. In the middle of the room is a door leading to another brightly lit gallery.
  • Five brightly colored hexagons swarming with bees are being projected against the end of a barrel-vaulted gallery. The door on the right glows orange.
  • Four trapezoidal projections of a pod of dolphins in varying shades of blue and green are projected onto three red walls and the dark floor of a large gallery. Three of the cameras projecting the videos are visible, suspended from the ceiling.
  • Three projectors on the floor project three different images on the opposite wall: a southwestern desert landscape, a car in golden light, and a small moon on a blue sky. The images are projected on the corners of the room, creating irregular viewing frames.
  • A large owl with glowing orange eyes appears on the wall of a dark gallery, next to a bright yellow-orange full moon.
  • The facade of a temple in ruins is projected onto three walls. A scalloped doorway in the middle reveals a close-up projection of a monkey's face in the room beyond.
Installation view, Diana Thater: The Sympathetic Imagination, MCA Chicago, Oct 29, 2016–Jan 8, 2017. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.
Installation view, Diana Thater: The Sympathetic Imagination, MCA Chicago, Oct 29, 2016–Jan 8, 2017. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.
You are in a room with four projections of similar images of two wolves in muted, jewel tones. Two projectors on the floor project at you. In the middle of the room is a door leading to another brightly lit gallery.
  1. Long You are in a room with four similar images of two wolves, all in muted jewel tones. These colors correspond to the primary and secondary colors of light. Two projectors are on the floor. They are projecting directly at you. In the center of the wall in front of you is a doorway, so you can see through this gallery into the brightly lit gallery beyond.
Installation view, Diana Thater: The Sympathetic Imagination, MCA Chicago, Oct 29, 2016–Jan 8, 2017. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.
Five brightly colored hexagons swarming with bees are being projected against the end of a barrel-vaulted gallery. The door on the right glows orange.
  1. Long There are five hexagons in different bright colors being projected on the end of a barrel-vaulted gallery. The hexagons mostly take up the end of the gallery but also fall on adjacent walls, the ceiling, and the floor. Bees are swarming around them, making them seem like a hive. There is a dark door leading to another gallery on the left. A second door, leading to a gallery on the right, glows orange.
Installation view, Diana Thater: The Sympathetic Imagination, MCA Chicago, Oct 29, 2016–Jan 8, 2017. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.
Installation view, Diana Thater: The Sympathetic Imagination, MCA Chicago, Oct 29, 2016–Jan 8, 2017. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.
Four trapezoidal projections of a pod of dolphins in varying shades of blue and green are projected onto three red walls and the dark floor of a large gallery. Three of the cameras projecting the videos are visible, suspended from the ceiling.
Installation view, Diana Thater: The Sympathetic Imagination, MCA Chicago, Oct 29, 2016–Jan 8, 2017. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.
Installation view, Diana Thater: The Sympathetic Imagination, MCA Chicago, Oct 29, 2016–Jan 8, 2017. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.
Three projectors on the floor project three different images on the opposite wall: a southwestern desert landscape, a car in golden light, and a small moon on a blue sky. The images are projected on the corners of the room, creating irregular viewing frames.
Installation view, Diana Thater: The Sympathetic Imagination, MCA Chicago, Oct 29, 2016–Jan 8, 2017. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.
A large owl with glowing orange eyes appears on the wall of a dark gallery, next to a bright yellow-orange full moon.
Installation view, Diana Thater: The Sympathetic Imagination, MCA Chicago, Oct 29, 2016–Jan 8, 2017. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.
The facade of a temple in ruins is projected onto three walls. A scalloped doorway in the middle reveals a close-up projection of a monkey's face in the room beyond.
  1. Long An image of the facade of a temple is being project on a gallery wall. The image falls on the gallery walls on either side, making them a little distorted. In the middle of the center wall, there is an elaborately carved, scalloped doorway. On the other side is a smaller gallery. There is a projection of someone seated in a theater looking at a large, close-up of a monkey's face.
Installation view, Diana Thater: The Sympathetic Imagination, MCA Chicago, Oct 29, 2016–Jan 8, 2017. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.
Installation view, Diana Thater: The Sympathetic Imagination, MCA Chicago, Oct 29, 2016–Jan 8, 2017. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.
Installation view, Diana Thater: The Sympathetic Imagination, MCA Chicago, Oct 29, 2016–Jan 8, 2017. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.

Funding

Lead support for Diana Thater: The Sympathetic Imagination is provided by the Harris Family Foundation in memory of Bette and Neison Harris: Caryn and King Harris, Katherine Harris, Toni and Ron Paul, Pam and Joe Szokol, Linda and Bill Friend, and Stephanie and John Harris; and Donna Stone in honor of Howard Stone.

Major support is provided by Julie and Larry Bernstein and David Zwirner, New York.

Additional generous support is provided by Hauser & Wirth and Sylvia Neil and Daniel Fischel.