Diana Thater / interview
[Kwon] The exhibition ‘Chernobyl’ should mean a lot to you and the Chelsea district, especially after the hurricane Sandy has battered the New York region. Please tell me about the story behind the exhibition.
[Thater] The show was originally scheduled to open in January 2013. The gallery called the Thursday after the storm, which occurred on Monday evening, and wanted to open the exhibition the following Friday. After I voted in the presidential election that Tuesday in Los Angeles, I flew overnight to New York and immediately began installing the exhibition. David Zwirner asked me to do this because the imagery in the piece resonated with the hurricane destruction in New York. The staff repaired one main gallery space very quickly and I installed the work even as they were tearing down walls in the other parts of the building. I think David was right: the work really did, and does have meaning in Chelsea at this moment. I do not think a nuclear disaster and a hurricane should be compared, however both the meltdown at Chernobyl and the increasingly massive hurricanes and tsunamis caused by climate change are man-made and are therefore our responsibility. Fukushima is, for example, a “perfect storm” of these two kinds of man-made destruction at work in the world.
[Kwon] You have been adapting the artificial world and the untouched nature as your main subjects. What are the elements that you focused to contain in your video while working in Chernobyl, which remains as a zone of alienation even after twenty-five years after the nuclear accident?
[Thater] Since the beginning of my career as an artist, my subject has been the sometimes functional and sometimes dysfunctional relationship between humans and nature. Chernobyl is the only post-apocalyptic landscape on earth. Prypiat, the city that was purpose-built by the Soviets in 1972 to house the workers at the power plant, has been completely abandoned, yet all its buildings still stand. Nature is taking over this place as it decays. The landscape has been emptied of humans and human activity, with the exception of the workers who continually shore up the sarcophagus that encloses the reactor where the meltdown took place.
My interest in this landscape stems from the knowledge that flora and fauna are re-inhabiting what is called by the Ukrainians “the zone of alienation.” Horses and wolves live in the abandoned city and in the surrounding buildings as well as the poisonous forest itself. The animals have no knowledge or understanding of the nuclear damage they suffer. Therefore, Chernobyl is a work that is about the failure of the scientific system and the political system that brought this upon the world and the animals that inhabit its dangerous landscape.
[Kwon] The color in your video/light installation is very intense. What is the role of color in your work?
[Brooks] I have used intense color in my work in order to make space visible to the viewer. Space is something that is invisible to us. We live within it as we live within time. It is like living inside a house but never seeing it from outside and so we can never understand the shape and look of it – we can never step outside of time and space to look at them and really see them. My use of intense color to tint space within the work makes the viewer aware of the space that surrounds the images. That space is filled with color and, as the viewer looks at it, or steps into it, it becomes a visual presence and she/he can see what space looks like.
[Kwon] Since you project images which incorporates the architectural space, I am wondering if you have an experience with reconstructing the exhibition space. Also, please tell me about the project <gorillagorillagorilla>.
[Thater] In <gorillagorillagorilla>, I used the complicated space of the Kunsthaus Graz in Austria to shape the work. The ten projections of this work developed a complex and unique shape because of the nature of the architecture. In Chernobyl, I knew I had a simple white box in which to install the work. Therefore, I decided to use the architecture of the Prypiat movie theater in order to shape the work architecturally. In other words, I put the work inside the Chernobyl movie theater and then transplanted the entire piece, with the theater, into the gallery. The gallery is built as a scale version of the movie theater, with six walls used as the screens. A work such as <gorillagorillagorilla> utilized a given architecture, whereas <Chernobyl> has its architecture incorporated into the video itself.
[Kwon] You shoot a video of the nature and edit those landscape images in an abstract way. During the editing process, how do you technically convey your artistic ethos?
[Thater] I believe that art is the will to communicate. My ethos, my belief system, is one in which moving images can impart a new idea of the world. Film and video are not inherently narrative. Yes, a reel of film has a beginning, a middle, and an end but those things do not imply meaning or a progressive trajectory toward the resolution of a story. Abstraction in painting and sculpture is derived from the abstraction of things in the world, while moving images are made with time and can therefore be an abstraction of time, which is itself a thing in the world.
The natural world, the landscape and animals, recognizes no narrative process in its life. Animals operate within in a different kind of time that we cannot know or comprehend. Therefore, in my working process, I concentrate on an intense observation of nature and animals with the hope that both my viewer and I can try to see their world as a subject within its own time and space as opposed to it being an anthropomorphized system mirroring our own.
Born in 1962 in San Francisco, Diana Thater studied Art History at New York University, and received her M.F.A from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. She has created pioneering film, video, and installation based works. Her primary emphasis is on the tension between the natural environment and mediated reality, and by extension, between tamed and wild, and science and magic. Over the past decade, her work has been the subject of solo exhibition at the Institute of Modern Art in Brisbane, Australia(2011); the Kunsthaus Graz, Austria (2009); Kunsthalle Bremen, Germany, and Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Siegen, Germany (2004); Dia Center for the Arts, New York (2001).
She recently received a 2011 Award for Artistic Innovation from the Center for Cultural Innovation, Los Angeles.
Image Courtesy of David Zwirner, New York/London
This interview was published in bob Magazine Vol. 101 (December 2012) pp. 120-125