Diana Thater: The Sympathetic Imagination

Among the most important figures to emerge during the 1990s, Los Angeles–based artist Diana Thater creates groundbreaking installations that push the physical, optical, and conceptual boundaries of how moving images are experienced. Depicting a range of natural phenomena—such as the weightless, seamless, underwater world of dolphins; honeybees who communicate through dancing; and the surprising fortitude of animals in Chernobyl in the aftermath of the worst nuclear meltdown ever—her works explore the subjectivity of animals and the complex relationships humans have constructed with nature. Thater’s dynamic, immersive installations challenge and invert accepted positions and realities through the deployment of color, movement, scale, and architecture.

The most comprehensive exhibition of her work to date, Diana Thater: The Sympathetic Imagination offers visitors an unprecedented opportunity to survey the artist’s film-, video-, and installation-based works. The exhibition takes its point of departure in the artist’s 1992 breakthrough work Oo Fifi, Five Days in Claude Monet’s Garden, Part 1 and Part 2, in which footage shot at the Fondation Claude Monet in Giverny, France, was broken into the primary colors of video (RGB) and partially reconstructed or projected separately. While the fragmentation of imagery recalls Monet’s own interest in breaking up visual experience, Thater’s work incorporates an interactive dimension, as viewers’ shadows are repetitively rendered in the three hues. The show’s most recent inclusion, Life Is a Time-Based Medium, filmed at the Galtaji Temple in Jaipur, India, is a monumental installation that conflates the actual architecture of the temple with the gallery in which it is shown. Focusing on the behaviors and interactions of the resident monkeys, Thater draws attention to the blurring of distinctions between tame and wild, which is further complicated by the divine status of the animals in Hinduism. Expansive in its scope, Diana Thater: The Sympathetic Imagination traces the evolution of the artist’s celebrated practice and solidifies her standing as a pioneer of film and video art.