Immersive Space with Diane Thater

November 11, 2016 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

If you know my work, then you know why THIS is the show of the year! How wonderful to experience Diane Thater’s The Sympathetic Imagination, as I am just beginning to work with projections and immersive environments.

To quote the MCA introduction, “At the heart of Thater’s work is the tension between the natural environmental and mediated reality and, by extension, between the domesticated and wild, the scientific and the fantastical or magical. Drawing on a wide variety of sources, including literature, animal behavior, mathematics, and sociology, Thater layers imagery onto architectural surroundings to create complex relationships between time and space. A hallmark of Thater’s groundbreaking installations, tis nuanced wedding of projected imagery to architectural site literally immerses viewers into her works. Experiencing these installations kinetically, viscerally, and psychically rather than by merely observing passively from a distance, visitors enter into an active dialogue with work that is consistently challenging, disciplined, and intellectually rigorous.”


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Breaking down spatial barriers to create a sympathetic relationship between us and animals.

“Bringing us into their space/Sharing their space”

“Living in a world without boundaries or borders”

On “bee time”

Cyclical time

Using the abstract, not the narrative to connect us – Language of light and color

Immersed, part of a layer of depth: “dolphins moving through volumetric space; the sun spinning in a vacuum of black space; and then the viewer moving through ‘real’ space made volumetric by the artificial magenta light filling the gallery and framing the projections.”

“the space within the image, the space of the temple and the space of the museum itself merge”

Layering of Space and Time

Deconstruction into elements of color and light

The work encircles the viewer

My Notes:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In our Art Ideas class, after reading Miwon Kwon One Place After Another, I am even more analytical about site-specific art and locational identity. Such serendipity as I think about Thater.

  • “More than just the museum, the site comes to encompass a relay of several interrelated but different spaces and economies, including the studio, gallery, museum, art criticism, art history, the art market, that together constitute a system of practices that is not separate from but open to social, economic, and political pressures” p 14
    • Thater’s work, though not overtly politicized, has such implication because she is challenging our perceptions and understanding of the animal in its environment, not as an “other” but as we are part of its world. A Post-humanist idea that we can interact sympathetically and of the same stuff. She speaks a bit of this when she talks about her interest in animals and abhorrence of zoos (which I share passionately).
    • Diane speaking about this work in Art 21 video
    • Kwon talks about today’s site work being a pursuit of a more intense engagement with the outside world, integrating art more directly in to the realm of the social (such as the ecological crisis). While Thater’s work does not directly address this, it is essential. By immersing us sympathetically into the world of the animal, we are small their world is large, we can better understand and correct ecological issues as a part of the animal world, rather than the old humanistic view as the “rulers” of the natural world.
  • “Art, whatever else it may be is exclusively political” Buren 1970
  • “the physical condition of the exhibition space remained the primary point of departure for this unveiling (art being political that is). “the material fact of the gallery walls as ‘framing devices'”
    • Thater’s exhibit deals with framing in an interesting way. Each gallery visually leads into the next, 1.  physically projecting through a doorway into other galleries and installations of projections (overlapping), 2. As we stand in one, looking into the gallery beyond, it is also part of our experience. Each environment overlaps the other.
    • Thater uses the museum space to construct her installation environments in a very interesting way. She creates models elsewhere to perfect her installation meticulously. Then the museum installs each piece to her specifications. I am interested in her insistence that the projectors be seen as part of the exhibit, not hidden. She speaks about there being nothing to hide, no mystery, the making of the image is apparent to the viewer.
  • Kwon talks about contemporary site-specific works being temporal pieces in “non-art spaces” like performances in public spaces. p. 24 While this work is clearly part of the museum space, I find it interesting that Thater transforms the space. It feels like she took over the museum, the museum became part of her work. As opposed to her work being displayed in the museum. It is both immersive and performative, in that the viewer walks through, disrupts, and becomes another layer in the work. The viewer moving through the space performs in the space.
  • Thater’s work brings us to more than just appreciating the animal world. Overlapping this are cultural issues and historical issues as we are immersed in a perception different to what we are used to (as biped humans doing as we please in our own world). This work is discursive as it alters our perception, throws us into an alternative reality and asks us to still be ourselves, but our better selves. A self that is sympathetic and uses our imagination to understand and become part of a bigger space than our own. This is something I very much am doing with my own projections.
  • Thater’s work has overlapping understandings of space, as not just a physical object installed in space: but a intertextual understanding of space. Her installations offer us the moment to connect with the animal’s view of their own environment, immersing us in overlapping video and images, interior and exterior views, an altered reality due to the colored ambient lights, and our own bodies being swallowed up by the projections as we move through the space reflecting images and movement. We exist in their space, on their time, and make connections we can never achieve looking at animals the way we are used to (in books, on TV, in zoos). I thought of this line from Kwon “It is an informational site, a locus of overlap of text, photographs, and video recordings, physical places and things….It is a temporary thing; a movement; a chain of meanings devoid of particular focus” (p. 29)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s