Moving the Medium Forward

By Shauna Skalitzky
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.
Joyce Pensato, Silver Batman II, 2012. Enamel on linen; 72 ¼ × 64 × 2 in. (183.5 × 162.6 × 5 cm). PG2012.3. © 2012 Joyce Pensato. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.

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One of the many ephemeral materials created by the Guerrilla Girls was a photocopy of a dollar bill divided by a dotted line into one-third and two-thirds, with the caption, "Women in America earn only 2/3 of what men do. Women artists earn only 1/3 of what men do." While sexism continues to pervade the art world, female artists in two exhibitions currently on view at the MCA are challenging this boys-only sensibility with the mastery, experimentation, and innovation of their chosen medium.

Diana Thater, whose exhibition closes Sunday, is a Los Angeles–based video and installation artist, who revolutionized film and video in the 1960s and 1970s. Rather than working with the technological constraints of the media like many of her contemporaries, she pushed the mediums beyond their limits, pulling projectors out from their hiding places, playing with a limited spectrum of seven colors, and rejecting the rectilinear framework imposed by standard monitors. Thater’s works blur the lines between architecture, sculpture, and video, and her installations challenge how video can and should be experienced. Listen to her discuss the role art history played in her artistic choices in the audio excerpt on this page.

Similarly, the 10 artists featured in Riot Grrrls have rejected the masculine associations of abstract art, creating big and unapologetically bold nonrepresentational paintings of their own. Named after the feminist punk movement of the 1990s, the exhibition pairs pioneering artists who worked in the 1970s and 1980s with a younger generation of artists they influenced, continuing a conversation whose spirit is captured in this statement from the Riot Grrrls’ manifesto: "BECAUSE viewing our work as being connected to our girlfriends-politics-real lives is essential if we are gonna figure out how [what] we are doing impacts, reflects, perpetuates, or DISRUPTS the status quo."

Diana Thater Audio

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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.

A large owl with glowing orange eyes appears on the wall of a dark gallery, next to a bright yellow-orange full moon.
  1. Long At the end of a long gallery is the projection of a full, yellow moon. The end of the gallery is rounded at the top and echoes the shape of the moon. To the left on an adjacent wall is a large scale projection of an owl looking out at you. The owl's eyes are the same color as the moon. It is significantly larger that the gallery door it sits beside.
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.
  1. Long In a brightly purple colored room, someone is watching four watery blue, trapezoidal projections of a pod of dolphins. The dolphins are projected around the far corner of the room, appearing on the walls and floor. The projectors are hung at various distances from the gallery ceiling, with one appearing in the middle of a projection in the upper corner and another appearing in the middle of an image projected onto the floor.
Installation view, Diana Thater: The Sympathetic Imagination, MCA Chicago, Oct 29, 2016–Jan 8, 2017. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.


Diana Thater, excerpt from 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.

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