Diana Thater

until May 8, 2023
Close Diana Thater, Chernobyl, 2011

In Gallery 2.

Images are projected on the walls of an architectural space that evokes the abandoned theatre in the town of Pripiat, close to Chernobyl. The images are of this very theatre, and of other visions, such as a statue of Lenin, deserted streets, forests, and then of those who appear as protagonists: a herd of Przewalski horses, an age-old sub-species of horse on the verge of extinction, brought here on an experimental basis.

Chernobyl was filmed in the Exclusion Zone, a 2,200 km2 area around the nuclear reactor in which radioactivity levels are deemed to be too high. Animal life has nevertheless developed in this irremediably damaged space that has nevertheless gone back to the wild. Lives have been weakened, transformed, and endangered by the toxic conditions, but they have also been encouraged by the disappearance of humans and the ceasing of their activities. From dawn to dusk, the film engages in a complex dialogue on this tangling of nature and artifice, beauty and toxicity, animal innocence and industrial devastation. The film establishes an unsettling counterpoint between observer and observed; at times, Diana Thater and her film crew appear on the screen, thus becoming inhabitants, passers-by, and protagonists.

The process immerses viewers in the heart of the irradiated architecture, providing them with a simultaneous proliferation of views and perspectives, as is often the case in Diana Thater’s work. The image of the infamous reactor, now encased in a concrete and lead sarcophagus, alternates with that of the wild horses, but this is something we figure out only later. Chernobyl brings viewers close to the catastrophe and its endless consequences, revealing the excesses of modern industrial societies and the interweaving and interdependence of life forms.

The piece White is the Color instead deals with notions of the sublime pushed to the point of a terrifying beauty. What initially appear to be two floating clouds, as if in a painted landscape, are instead images of the devastating fires that have ravaged California’s forests. Here the outdoors floats indoors, the image ghostlike, the limits tenuous, as in the light beaming from neons—in homage to Dan Flavin—that always overflows from its source.

Since the mid-1990s, American artist Diana Thater, who moved to California in 1991, has created “sculptures with images of nature in space” to deconstruct the unresolved tensions between the natural environment and the culture of technology, between wilderness and domesticity. She also explores the tensions between scientific knowledge and magical thinking, between institutions and the body, and between the exhibition as a system and the gaze. Diana Thater’s favorite topics are what we would call environmental subjects, specifically non-human flora and fauna, which she always frames with a meditation on the video format and its formal, structural, and temporal properties.

The best outside is the inside is highly representative of Diana Thater’s work. Two video monitors show the same subject, a forest at night (in the Los Angeles Arboretum), in different ways: one shows a fixed view, while the other shows a series of reverse shots, some of which show the film crew filming the first view. The closed-circuit installation thus offers different perspectives on the same object and in this endless loop, the illusion of being able to pass freely from one viewpoint to another. Diana Thater is questioning the supposed neutrality of the viewer, who in turn becomes the object of someone else’s attention. The presence of two screens expresses the need to approach the same object from different viewpoints. What if the forest is watching us this time? The film deconstructs our relationship to the landscape. It no longer is the medium of our aesthetic intentions, rather an environment in which a set of relations play out, of which we are just one link.

Among the major figures in video art, American artist Diana Thater (born in 1962) has become known for her hybrid installations involving multiple video projections that enhance the exhibition space in which they are set up. The creation of a close relationship between the spatial and temporal dimensions of the video generates a deeply immersive experience for viewers, whose presence is factored into the layout of the exhibit. Diana Thater’s video pieces explore the tensions between natural environment and technological culture, between the wild and the domestic, and between science and magic. She looks simultaneously at the artist’s ability to construct an illusion using multiple sources, from sociology to literature, chess, mathematics, NASA images, and the study of animal behaviour. Thater explores the relationships of dominance between humans and nonhumans, even within the process of fabricating and showing images. In faithful witness to Diana Thater’s artistic practice in the last twenty years, the work Chernobyl held in the Pinault Collection was shown as part of the collective exhibition À Triple Tour at the Conciergerie in Paris in 2013.

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