The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has invited Diana Thater to open her first U.S. retrospective, currently on view in the museum campus’s Art of the Americas building, and pulling a focused, yet nuanced exploration of much of Thater’s early work, tracing the intersections of her various aesthetic and conceptual interests as they converge in her environmental installations here.
Thater’s pieces and installations are nothing if not recognizable. Her spatial compositions draw frequently on flat-panel displays, video and film of natural occurrences, and intersecting projections of film and light itself, almost always emphasized by tints and gels placed over the light souces in the space, bathing the exhibition room in deep hues of blue, pink or other colors. Here, offered the opportunity to intersect and compliment each other throughout the building’s ground floor, they make for a strikingly cohesive environment, less a presentation of static works than a set of themes and their variations.
The show at LACMA is interesting for this sense of the work as modular, combining pieces in various iterations and combinations to explore Thater’s visual interests, planets in rotation, bees swarming a hive, or dolphins playing in the ocean, as they contend with others in the same space. Video of flowers alternate between a relaxing repose from the buzzing hive, or a metaphor for sexual proliferation in turn. In another room, the artist is showing a single piece, Untitled Videowall (Butterflies), spread across the floor with its neons and blurry video displays, almost as if it were a hub, the abstracted video on-screen only emphasizing the technological assemblage laying in the center of the space. In another space, Thater shows a video of dogs in the midst of a training exercise, shot from multiple perspectives and angles which are played back simultaneously. The choice is a striking one, offering a nearly 360-degree view of the animals as they are conditioned and disciplined in real-time. Through Thater’s multiplicity of perspectives, one finds themselves in the center of a scene turned outwards, watching a central point expand to surround them, and creating a perceptual shift inverts the act of human discipline on nature.
This point makes explicit Thater’s capability to explore vastly divergent threads in a single work, combining her notably self-aware critique of digital and analog medias of recording and display with the dialectical interplay of animal mechanisms and their equally free-flowing, organic movements and behaviors. Thater’s work, in each of its respective moving parts, initiates a multifaceted perspective not merely on the phenomena documented, but equally on the human inclination towards documentation itself.
The Sympathetic Imagination is on view through February 21st.
— D. Creahan
Diana Thater: The Sympathetic Imagination [LACMA]