A header image that reads: Diana Thater Yes, there will be singing

The third presentation in the gallery’s Offsite series, Yes, there will be singing is a new sound, video, and light piece by Diana Thater, accessible exclusively online via a multichannel livestream on the David Zwirner website.


Responding to the global pandemic that has left people isolated and disconnected, Yes, there will be singing is viewable twenty-four hours a day, upending the spatial and temporal constraints of the traditional exhibition format and allowing anyone anywhere to experience the work live.

“Silence, and isolation in both time and space, made me think about … Whale 52. It seems likely that he cannot understand, nor be understood by, other whales. The wonderful thing about him is that he sings nonetheless.”


—Diana Thater

A digital image featuring an underwater landscape, dated 2020

At the center of the installation are audio recordings of the distinctive songs of “Whale 52”—likely a male blue whale, or a hybrid of fin and blue whales—who is identified by the unique pitch of his vocalizations, which pulse at fifty-two hertz, a range outside that of normal whale song. Like human language, whale song—the intricacies of which scientists are only just beginning to understand—has complex linguistic characteristics and dialects.


Whales use their songs to locate and communicate with one another and, importantly, to find mates. Sound is how they “see.” Though Whale 52 has never been photographed or even seen, some scientists have suggested that the odd frequency of his songs may be due to his being deafened by Navy sonar testing and other kinds of human sound pollution. It is likely that Whale 52, who has been called “the loneliest whale in the world,” cannot hear—or be heard by—other whales.


The deep rumbling sound you hear is Whale 52’s continuous rhythmic call. The high-pitched solo singing is that of several humpback whales. The humpbacks, their calls, and their responses stand in stark contrast to Whale 52’s pulsing song.

In a rectangular exhibition space, four speakers are encircled by security cameras mounted on tripods. Thater installed theatrical lighting fixtures throughout the room and programmed them to slowly shift through the color spectrum over the course of the day. The remote location of the installation corresponds to the underwater isolation of Whale 52.


The cameras record the room in 360 degrees, capturing the surfaces, equipment, and changing effects of light and color. Thater has programmed the video to automatically switch between feeds, creating an immersive spatial effect that simulates the feeling of spinning.

An installation view featuring Diana Thater, Yes there will be singing, dated 2020

Artwork: © Diana Thater. Photo: © Fredrik Nilsen

Artwork: © Diana Thater. Photo: © Fredrik Nilsen

“I started to think, what can I do with nearly nothing? What can I do isolated in my own space, and how can I speak to people who are isolated in their own spaces? I wanted to make a work that was meant to be online, in order for everyone to be able to see it.”

—Diana Thater

An installation view featuring Diana Thater, Yes there will be singing, dated 2020

Artwork: © Diana Thater. Photo: © Fredrik Nilsen

Artwork: © Diana Thater. Photo: © Fredrik Nilsen

“Water is to Whale 52 like space is to us. It’s nothingness, right? But we need to feel it as a medium. We want to feel space as a medium, want to feel it as a volume like water, so I filled the space with color, and I’ve done that throughout all my work, fill space with color so that it feels like a volume almost like water.”

—Diana Thater

An installation view featuring works by Diana Thater at ICA Watershed, Boston, dated 2018

Installation view, Diana Thater, ICA Watershed, Boston, 2018

Installation view, Diana Thater, ICA Watershed, Boston, 2018

An installation view featuring Diana Thater's The Sympathetic Imagination at LACMA, Los Angeles, dated 2015

Installation view, The Sympathetic Imagination, LACMA, Los Angeles, 2015. Photo: © Fredrik Nilsen

Installation view, The Sympathetic Imagination, LACMA, Los Angeles, 2015. Photo: © Fredrik Nilsen

An installation view featuring Diana Thater's The Sympathetic Imagination at LACMA, Los Angeles, dated 2015

Installation view, The Sympathetic Imagination, LACMA, Los Angeles, 2015. Photo: © Fredrik Nilsen

Installation view, The Sympathetic Imagination, LACMA, Los Angeles, 2015. Photo: © Fredrik Nilsen

For decades, Thater has created video installations that transgress the boundaries of the exhibition space—immersing viewers in the depths of the sea with dolphins, or in the nuclear ruins of the Chernobyl power plant. She has pioneered the use of 360-degree video through her panoramic installations, subverting the medium to approximate the complexity and contradictions inherent to the human experience.

An installation view featuring Diana Thater: Chernobyl at David Zwirner, New York, dated 2012

Installation view, Diana Thater: Chernobyl, David Zwirner, New York, 2012

Installation view, Diana Thater: Chernobyl, David Zwirner, New York, 2012

An installation view featuring Diana Thater: Chernobyl at David Zwirner, New York, dated 2012

Installation view, Diana Thater: Chernobyl, David Zwirner, New York, 2012

Installation view, Diana Thater: Chernobyl, David Zwirner, New York, 2012

This new work, Yes, there will be singing, is a transposition—rather than a video presented as a physical installation, the installation is exhibited as video. Through this innovative approach, Thater offers an original and somatic encounter with a world of sound and color that viewers can bring into their homes and lives during this period of protracted isolation and physical distance.

An installation view featuring Diana Thater's A Runaway World at The Mistake Room, Los Angeles, dated 2017

Installation view, A Runaway World, The Mistake Room, Los Angeles, 2017. Photo: © Fredrik Nilsen

Installation view, A Runaway World, The Mistake Room, Los Angeles, 2017. Photo: © Fredrik Nilsen

Thater’s work has continually emphasized the fraught relationship between the natural environment and mediated reality and, by extension, between tamed and wild, science and magic. She has long subverted the conventions of technology to explore speculative modes of consciousness, encouraging viewers to conceptualize and empathize with animals without anthropomorphizing them.

An installation view featuring Diana Thater's The Sympathetic Imagination at LACMA, Los Angeles, dated 2015

Installation view, The Sympathetic Imagination, LACMA, Los Angeles, 2015. Photo: © Fredrik Nilsen

Installation view, The Sympathetic Imagination, LACMA, Los Angeles, 2015. Photo: © Fredrik Nilsen

An installation view featuring Diana Thater's The Sympathetic Imagination at LACMA, Los Angeles, dated 2015

Installation view, The Sympathetic Imagination, LACMA, Los Angeles, 2015. Photo: © Fredrik Nilsen

Installation view, The Sympathetic Imagination, LACMA, Los Angeles, 2015. Photo: © Fredrik Nilsen

“This animal [Whale 52] is heroic, because he speaks whether someone is listening or not. And that’s where we are right now. We don’t know if anyone is really listening to us, or if we can be heard.”

—Diana Thater

Yes, there will be singing is on view through November 28, 2020.

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