Diana Thater (b 1962, USA) has been a pioneer of video and film installations for over ten years, and her works explore the nature and possibilities of these media. Thater describes her work as Neo-Structualist Installation, and aims to make viewers look anew at architectural environments, and the way they perceive at once the mediums (and the possibilities inherent in the mediums) she uses, and the natural world. Through a repertoire of techniques, "the erased video rectangle, upturned monitors, and oddly placed equipment, all as choreography," says the artist, "I create sculpture with images of nature in space."
The natural world has been a recurring motif in Thater's work since the early 1990s, bringing the outdoors into the gallery, and addressing the relationship between modern technology and notions of beauty and the sublime. The sublime: the terrified response of the individual in the face of the grandeur of the natural world, met only by the realization of his or her own power. The technological sublime: the nineteenth century conviction that technology has taken over for nature, that the terrifying creation that could overcome its creator, but then does not. Thater's work invests in this relationship between man and nature, man and machine, but she does not privilege the mediums she uses: the technology of the camera, projector, or film. Rather, as recently written on the occasion of the artist's exhibition at Printemps de Septembre in Toulouse, France: "While theorists posit that technology is replacing nature as the place in which man recoils from the sublime, Thater insists that the presence of technology only makes the natural sublime stand out more starkly: in the presence of the computer, the flower becomes an alien." An alien on the gallery walls. Like her 2001 installation, 'Orange Room (Wall flowers)' for the David Zwirner Gallery in New York which featured the image of over-sized pink chrysanthemums floating, projected against a sea of orange light, the 2005 exhibition in France did not simply present the natural world in the gallery space, but rather presented nature as a phastasmorgia, enabled and mediated by technology. In this latter case, entitled 'Perpetual Motion' (2005), when installed in London, portrays the seemingly erratic flight of the bright orange Monarch butterfly, filmed in its winter habitat of Michoacan, Mexico. However natural it appears, the insect's path in this installation has been altered by the artist, through a careful process of editing, dropping frames and then accelerating the film. The resultant hyper reality of these natural creatures is rendered all the more estranged and awe-inspiring when projected in against a blue background as exhibited in Toulouse. When installed at the Haunch of Venison, the manipulated footage was presented in a video wall of nine monitors, where the butterflies flit from screen to screen, in a room bathed in orange light. On the opposite wall, a projection presented the butterflies in slow motion and extreme close up.
Not site-specific but specific to each site, Thater's work seeks to render the gallery space a landscape. She interrupts and dissolves its architecture with multiple seamless projections; she filters incoming natural light through coloured gels to reposition even the building's exterior as an integral part of the work's composition. Moving through the gallery, viewers step into and become part of the work, their shadows creating a direct relationship between themselves and the video images. "I want the viewer to not stand still, to feel the work moving and to understand it in motion."