Diana Thater is an American video artist born in 1962 in San Francisco, California and works in Los Angeles, California. In 1984, she received her Bachelor of Arts in Art History at New York University, and in 1990, she received her MFA at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. Since then, she has produced many solo exhibitions, group exhibitions, screened and performed her works, and also curated exhibitions herself.
Thater’s Oo Fifi, Five Days in Claude Monet’s Garden (1992) chronicles her time in Giverny in the gardens that inspired the artwork of Claude Monet. As Thater says herself, she was not originally planning on making any artwork during her six-month stay that she was awarded from a grant application (1). However, she was asked to do a show at a gallery called 1301, and she decided to sample some footage from one day out of each month that she stayed in Giverny (2). The title came from a cat, Fifi, who would get in the way of Thater’s videos, and, according to Thater, there was no way of editing Fifi out of the work, so she kept the cat in the project (3). The video itself, which is projected onto the walls of the exhibition space, uses Lee Filters and separates the video into three-beam colored projectors: red, green, and blue (4). Thater describes the process of separating the video into the primary video colors in her second installation:
“I took my whole inventory of three projectors and put them on the floor of the gallery in a semicircle. On each projector, I turned on one lens, so each projected a single color – one red, one green, and one blue. In the first installation, I tried to take the image apart, so here I wanted to put that broken image back together”. (5)
Thater’s approach to the simple subject really interesting and innovative. Relating back to the beginning of our class, Thater is commenting on the early television and video styles, where the three colored channels, red, green, and blue, helped to create a composite, full-color image. The deconstruction and reconstruction of the image is an aspect only found in video art, and this changes how the viewer interprets and understands the piece. The gallery elaborates, writing that “the viewer is also made aware of their own presence and participation in the work, as their body interrupts the construction of the image”. (6)
In Broken Circle (1997), Thater takes advantage of the installation space, utilizing a 12th-century medieval tower to display six video projectors all over the interior. (7) In addition to the inside of the tower featuring the work, colored films were attached to the windows, providing an intriguing and enticing colorful arrangement. (8) The video itself features trained, performing horses on a ranch in California, and, as Peter Lunenfeld writes, “addresses both watching and being watched”. (9) Looking at the installation video and stills, it is impossible to see the work in its entirety. Broken Circle becomes another form of abstraction and deconstruction for Thater, and she calls her viewers to question what it means to observe a video. Author Poyin Auyoung elaborates that this work is Thater’s “attempt to demonstrate that the construction of meaning of visual images depends greatly on the physical relationship between the projected image and the site of its projection”, an interesting concept to consider. (10) In Broken Circle, as well as Oo Fifi, Thater is engaging with the notions of narratives. As viewers make their way up the tower, piecing together the story, they realize they need to assemble the timeline themselves. In Oo Fifi, Thater does not present a storyline at all, leaving the viewer to understand the work as they will, without clear instructions.
One of Thater’s more recent works, Between Science and Magic (2010), addresses the theme of “movie magic” and the interplay between the technical side of video art and the seemingly “magical” effects it produces. As seen in the installation views, the set-up is fairly simple. The room is devoid of any decoration, the plain walls providing a smooth canvas upon which the video is projected. The only other decoration in the room is an unorganized array of chairs for viewers to sit and watch the spectacle unfold before them. The two channel work features a pretty simple magic act – a man pulling a rabbit out of a hat. The video begins with the left channel showing a cameraman filming what is most likely the action being performed on the right channel; then, both channels show the action simultaneously. As the video progresses, the left side presents a slightly different point of view of the action as both channels continue to play synchronously. Then, elements such as the camera and the cameraman begin to reappear, adding to the disillusionment of the magician’s trick and confusion as to what is real, what is magical, and what is being constructed in the video. David Pagel of the LA Times explains that “Thater’s clinical dissection of movie magic speaks the language of analytic detachment to make a place for itself apart from the evils of commerce and risks of general accessibility. In the process, it pushes pleasure, surprise and insight out of the picture, never mind fun or comfort”. (11) The video ends in a mirrored reflection of the beginning, a different cameraman (most likely a woman, considering the haircut) on the right channel as the left channel features the magician at a different angle than when the video began. The surrounding frame of the stage, which is a part of the video, adds to the theatricality of the piece. Speaking to the dramatic elements of this work, Thater talks about what pulling a rabbit out of a hat actually means in the art world:
“The phrase ‘pulling a rabbit out of a hat’ is used when you need to do something that seems impossible […] but also, pulling a rabbit out of a hat seems to be the most apt metaphor for making a work of art, because it does the same thing an artwork does. You take an object like a top hat […] and you pull something entirely unrelated and surprising out of it”. (12)
Again, Thater works closely with the concepts of abstraction and narration. The narrative is very loose; it appears like a loop and is cyclical, with no real end. The physical separation of the act from itself through the two channels creates another layer of ambiguity, as well as the stage-like frame that adds distance from the viewer and can also be considered as another magical but unreal part of the video.
I found each one of Thater’s works to be really interesting. I believe that the way in which she works with abstraction and narration will be influential to my future artwork. I can already see my inspiration from her through the way in which I am planning to complete my final video project, with text physically separated from the visual part of my video. My work will also be very similar to Oo Fifi in which I will present a very non-linear narrative. I enjoyed having the opportunity to research an artist such as Diana Thater; her work is equally compelling and exciting.
(above three) installation views of Oo Fifi, Five Days in Claude Monet’s Garden (1992 and 2012)
(above three) installation views of Broken Circle (1997)
(above) watch the installation video for Broken Circle
(above) installation view of Between Science and Magic (2010)
(above) watch the installation video for Between Science and Magic
*once again, WordPress cannot show Chicago style footnotes. Here are the annotations:
(1) “Diana Thater,” in California Video: Artists and Histories, ed. Glenn Phillips (Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2008), 231.
(6) “Diana Thater: Oo Fifi, Five Days in Claude Monet’s Garden, Part I and Part II, 1992,” 1301PE Gallery, accessed April 03, 2017, http://www.1301pe.com/exhibitions/detail.asp?EID=114.
(7) Poyin Auyoung, “Narration and Intervention,” Afterimage 25, no. 3 (1997): 16, accessed April 03, 2017, http://web.a.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail/detail?sid=f3efba39-28e5-460a-bec7-bcd7d27bfdca%40sessionmgr4009&vid=0&hid=4101&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZSZzY29wZT1zaXRl#AN=9711162324&db=aph.
(8) Peter Lunenfeld, “Diana Thater: Constraint Decree,” in Snap to Grid: A User’s Guide to Digital Arts, Media, and Cultures (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2000), 138.
(10) Poyin Auyoung, “Narration and Intervention,” Afterimage 25, no. 3 (1997): 16, accessed April 03, 2017, http://web.a.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail/detail?sid=f3efba39-28e5-460a-bec7-bcd7d27bfdca%40sessionmgr4009&vid=0&hid=4101&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZSZzY29wZT1zaXRl#AN=9711162324&db=aph.
(11) David Pagel, “Art review: ‘Diana Thater: Between Science and Magic’ at the Santa Monica Museum of Art,” Los Angeles Times, last modified January 28, 2010, accessed April 03, 2017, http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2010/01/art-review-diana-thater-between-science-and-magic-at-the-santa-monica-museum-of-art.html.
(12) “These Tricks Are Not Easy: A Conversation with Pernilla Holmes and Diana Thater,” in Diana Thater: Between Science and Magic, ed. Diana Thater (Santa Monica: Santa Monica Museum of Art, 2010), 14.