This summer, large-scale works by the pioneering film, video, and installation artist Diana Thater inaugurate the ICA Watershed, a new satellite space of Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) housed inside the 15,000-square-foot space of a former copper pipe factory in the East Boston Shipyard and Marina. The show is being organized at the ICA by Eva Respini, Barbara Lee Chief Curator, with curatorial project manager Cara Kuball.
Thater’s immersive work fills the space, enveloping museumgoers. The exhibition begins with the annual migration of monarch butterflies from Canada to Michoacán, Mexico, in Untitled Videowall (Butterflies) (2008). Displayed on what the artist calls a "broken video wall" of six glowing screens on the floor of the exhibition space, this installation has been conceived to place the viewer simultaneously both inside and outside the work. Thater’s multichannel video, sound, and light installation Delphine (1999) has been reconfigured for the Watershed’s industrial interior to create an environment that unfolds across a corner, the floor, and multiple walls. Filmed using two handheld digital video cameras and two Super 8 cameras, Delphine explores the interaction of humans and wild dolphins in the Caribbean, an underwater world which is juxtaposed with an image of the sun captured by a NASA telescope. The exhibition also features As Radical as Reality and A Runaway World (both 2017), recently shown at Borusan Contemporary in Istanbul and The Mistake Room in Los Angeles, who commissioned the work. Filmed in Kenya and presented on intersecting screens designed by the artist, these works explore the lives and habitats of two species that are close to extinction—rhinos and elephants—and the illicit economies that threaten their survival. Completing the show are three works from the artist’s Day for Night series (2013), in which layered footage of flowers and rain, shot using 16mm film with a "day for night" filter to simulate evening during the day, is presented on separate nine-monitor video walls.
Collectively, the works on view in the Watershed reflect a primary emphasis of Thater’s practice: the tension between the natural environment and mediated reality, and, by extension, between the tamed and the wild, science and magic. Explaining the museum’s choice, ICA director Jill Medvedow told the Boston Globe, "We selected Diana Thater for the inaugural installation because her focus on the fragility of the natural world seemed a perfect fit for this new waterfront location and because we’ve seen her ability to transform unconventional spaces through her strategies of intensified color and visually stunning moving images."
In November 2018, A Runaway World will be presented at the Guggenheim Bilbao, where it will be curated by Manuel Cirauqui. This year’s major institutional presentations of Thater’s work in Europe and America follow Diana Thater: The Sympathetic Imagination, a midcareer retrospective organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2015, which traveled to the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in 2016.
Cover Image: Installation view, Diana Thater: The Sympathetic Imagination, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2015. Courtesy LACMA. © Diana Thater. Photo © Fredrik Nilsen.