Stunning videos pull viewers into animal and plant life

Be immersed in color, movement and animal life with “The Sympathetic Imagination,” a short retrospective of the work of video/film artist Diana Thater. Organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Thater’s installations take up the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago’s fourth floor exhibition area now through Jan 8, 2017.

Diana Thater, Oo Fifi, Five Days in Claude Monet's Garden, at 1301PE,Los Angeles, 2012 (c) Diana Thater. Photo (c) Fredrik Nilsen
Diana Thater, “Oo Fifi, Five Days in Claude Monet’s Garden,” at 1301PE, Los Angeles, 2012 (c) Diana Thater. Photo (c) Fredrik Nilsen

In the past that MCA space showcased several works but then you enter and appreciate how Thater has set up her installations.

Important pieces such as “A Cast of Falcons” take up a whole room. Using four video projectors, (among other materials) what you see are some  results from Thater’s empathetic work with California falconers plus a nod to Horus, the Egyptian falcon god.

A moon is at one end of the room and a sun at the other as the symbols often used to indicate Horus’ eyes. What do the eyes see?

If you wait until the end of the film you should see an owl looking straight out. What do you think it sees? Thater explained the questions that arise as “What do I see when I look at the other, and what does it see when it looks back at me?”

Another large installation was filmed in India. Room 10, “Life is a Time-Based Medium” shows sacred rhesus monkeys in their cliffs near Jaipur. The images are framed by a room-wide mockup of Galtaji, a Hindu temple for Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god.

However, those rooms are on the left side of the fourth floor’s bridge/balcony. The exhibit’s lobby there presents six video colors:  three primary and three secondary that you should know before starting the exhibit on the right.

Diana Thater, still from "Delphine," 1999 (c) Diana Thater
Diana Thater, still from “Delphine,” 1999 (c) Diana Thater

Remember Thater’s primary video colors of red, green and blue because when you walk into the fifth room where “Oo Fifi, Five Days in Claude Monet’s Garden” is projected you will see her interpretation of the garden with the colors separated but viewed through one projector in Part 1 and then reassembled using three projectors in Part 2.

Also, don’t forget the secondary video colors of cyan, magenta and yellow. In Room 3, “China,” a video of two wolves supposedly undergoing training, 360 degrees of images surround you as they move through the six colors.

Thater’s videos are stunning works of art. But just as important, they should make you see feel as if you are experiencing the world more intimately.

In Room 4, “knots + surfaces,”  you are now in a bees’ hexagonal honeycomb. In Room 11, “Chernobyl,” you are again in a six-sided space. It is the rubble remains of a movie theater in Pripyat but it also shows what Thater discovered in the countryside:  animals and life returning to the site of the nuclear meltdown.

Your shadows will show up because the projectors are out in the open. Don’t worry. You are supposed to become part of what you are viewing. “Diana gets you to imagine what it is like to be another species,” said Joe Orr, MCA Andrew W. Mellon postdoctoral Fellow.

Take your time wandering through the exhibit. But even so, it is a lot to take in at one viewing. Diana Thater’s work is worth another visit. Fortunately, the show goes until early next year.

Details: “Diana Thater: The Sympathetic Imagination” is at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, 220 E. Chicago Ave., Chicago, IL now through Jan 8, 2017. For other information call (312) 280-2660 and visit mcachicago.


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