Diana Thater's 'Chernobyl' On Display at Chelsea, New York Gallery

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David Zwirner gallery in New York presents an exhibition by Diana Thater entitled Chernobyl, on view at 519 West 19th Street through December 22nd. Framed around the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster, the 2010 video installation spotlights the consequences of manmade catastrophes on the natural world. The urgency of its subject matter resonates in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and the damage it wrought within the Chelsea art district and beyond.

Chernobyl features imagery from the “zone of alienation,” a nineteen mile (30 km) wide exclusion area created around the site of the Chernobyl nuclear explosion in northeastern Ukraine (then officially Ukrainian SSR) in 1986. Over one hundred thousand people were evacuated from the area within a short time span, leaving behind all but a few of their personal belongings. The zone has since been a no-man’s-land dotted with abandoned villages and decaying infrastructure, largely untouched since the day of the disaster. It remains accessible only to special teams and researchers, though temporary visitor permits are granted.

To create this work, Thater stayed within the exclusion zone. Chernobyl takes its point of departure in the ghost city of Prypiat, which was purpose-built in 1972 to house workers at the nuclear plant. Using the desolate remains of Prypiat’s movie theater as a pivot, Thater’s footage focuses on the area’s wildlife, and in particular the endangered Przewalski’s Horse, a subspecies of wild horse released into the area following the catastrophe and now roaming freely, undisturbed by human interaction. Other animal populations have since returned to the area, yet according to most studies, their numbers remain severely depleted.

In Chernobyl, Thater juxtaposes pastoral scenery with destruction both apparent and implied, and in the process highlights the relationship between Western industrial civilization and the regenerative potential of nature left to itself. It mirrors a tension between the natural environment and mediated reality that can be seen throughout the artist’s work. The shape of the installation copies that of the movie theater in Prypiat. The work is made from a video re-creation of the theater with images of the zone of alienation layered over it, asking the viewer to see the world in the theater and the theater in the world.

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