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LACMA Presents Film and Video Artist Diana Thater’s First Career Retrospective

"[Thater's] expansive practice pulls the moving image out of the screen and off the wall," says the museum.

Pioneering film and video artist Diana Thater is getting her first career retrospective at LACMA, running from November 22nd through February 21st, 2016. Diana Thater: The Sympathetic Imagination marks the museum’s largest exhibition dedicated to a female artist.

The primary emphasis of Thater’s work resides in the tension between the natural environment and mediated reality, and by extension, between the domesticated and wild, and science and magic. Drawing on a wide variety of sources, including literature, animal behavior, mathematics, chess, and sociology, her evocative and layered imagery engages its surroundings to create complex relationships between time and space.

Diana Thater, Delphine, 1999; four video projectors, five players, nine-monitor video wall, and Lee filters; dimensions variable; installation view, Kunsthalle Bremen, Germany, 2004. Photo by Roman Mensing/

Drawing on video’s artistic potential by magnifying the medium’s lo-fi and composite qualities, Thater often exaggerates synthetic color and pixilation until the effect approaches the hand-painted. In her breakthrough work Oo Fifi, Five Days in Claude Monet’s Garden, Part 1 and Part 2, created from footage shot at the Fondation Claude Monet in Giverny, France, video’s primary colors (RGB) were partially reconstructed or projected separately in order to enhance the medium’s impressionistic effects. As in other works in the exhibition, Oo Fifi also introduces an interactive dimension, by overlaying visitors’ shadows rendered in various hues onto the projected imagery.

Thater’s Delphine (1999), filmed in the Caribbean, depicts dolphins in their natural habitat. Shot both from above and from a diver’s perspective, the footage has been divided into four projections. The sun provides an important orientation point: all underwater shots directed upward are shot with video while the downward-facing angles are documented with film, subtly underscoring differences in vantage point. In addition to the projected images, the installation includes a discrete video wall comprising nine monitors that shows an image of the sun shot from a NASA telescope. While the video wall adds an additional conceptual element to the installation, it also helps to ground the viewer in the seemingly unbounded environment, a luminous counterpoint to the expansive and potentially destabilizing projections.

Explain Michael Govan, LACMA CEO, and Wallis Annenberg, Director, “[Thater’s] expansive practice pulls the moving image out of the screen and off the wall, creates multiple perspectives, and merges image and architecture in surprising ways. The Sympathetic Imagination is a rare opportunity to see the full spectrum of Thater’s impressive body of work.”

Some of Thater’s work is available to view online on her Vimeo channel.