MCA Chicago Projects Artist Diana Thater’s 'Sympathetic Imagination'

Diana Thater MCA

Ethics, bio-ecology and the environment are among the many issues addressed (at least by one of the candidates) in the present presidential election. Yet artist Diana Thater has been focusing on these topics for years.

Now, more than 20 of her groundbreaking works are on view in “Diana Thater: The Sympathetic Imagination” at The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA). Curated with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), this is the first major museum exhibition in the country to showcase the artist’s moving pictures and interactive installations.

“Diana Thater is a pioneer in the field of film and video and has been producing significant works since the early 1990s,” says Joey Orr, MCA’s Mellon Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellow who organized the Chicago presentation of the exhibition with MCA Chief Curator Michael Darling.

“She was concerned with the structure of the medium rather than narrative or content from the beginning of her career,” explains Orr. “This means she was exploring the possibilities and limitations of film and video, putting the projectors right out in front of the viewer, including the viewer’s body, and breaking down projected light into its component colors.”

From 2008’s “Cast of Falcons” to 2011’s “Chernobyl,” the show focuses on Thater’s mid-career so museum visitors can see the shift in her approach from analytical to intuitive.

“While we stress her impact in the context of contemporary art history, she has also been an important animal rights activist,” adds Orr. “We are committed to exhibiting the work of women artists, and her contributions to her medium and commitment to exploring the natural world are very timely.”

Thater’s artistic exploration of the animal experience is evident in works of dolphins underwater, and honeybees communicating through dance. The museum also examines the way in which humans treat monkeys via Thater’s most recent work in the exhibit, 2015’s “Life is a Time-Based Medium,” which depicts India’s Galtaji Temple as well as the Hindu monkey god Hanuman and the rhesus macaque monkeys that inhabit it.

“The external façade of the temple is projected on an outer wall, and then visitors may enter through the temple door and encounter another projection of the monkeys closer up. This offers visitors the experience of actually entering the architecture of the temple to view the monkeys. In the West these monkeys are used as subjects of experiments, whereas in India they are sacred,” continues Orr.

“Although Chicago has played a meaningful role in exhibiting and collecting her work in the past, a general audience in this region of the U.S. may be less familiar with her….I am excited to see the galleries filled with visitors experiencing her immersive environments, some for the first time.”

The exhibition runs through Jan. 8, 2017, with Orr giving an “MCA Talk” from noon to 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, on the museum’s fourth floor. To learn more, visit http://mcachicago.org.

(Photo by Fredrik Nilsen)

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Ms. Arvia is a freelance writer, former filmmaker, artist and Janet-of-all-trades who is pleased to contribute to our magazine since she’s always been Rebellious.

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