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From the extinction of species to long-lasting environmental disasters such as the nuclear fallout of Chernobyl, Diana Thater creates immersive video installations that poetically grapple with threats to the natural world. By often submerging the viewers in a colorfully lit, sensory space, her work provides a window into animal subjectivity through the use of atypical camera angles and dramatic shifts in scale. Thater’s ambient works are abstractions of time which diverge from the linear narratives humans use to make sense of themselves and the cosmos.
On show here is Thater’s early work Untitled (Butterfly Videowall #2) (2008), as part of the “Butterfly” chapter of the exhibition. We ask the viewer to reflect on the butterfly as a metaphor that speaks to the dialectical relationship between life and death. Our desire to possess and preserve butterflies’ magic and wonder is fulfilled by acts of killing, archiving and exhibiting them. With this museological approach, death seems to be immortalized. At the same time, humans continue to destroy the ecosystem and generate threatening conditions for these creatures. Thater filmed the monarch butterflies at El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary in Michoacán, Mexico, where millions of monarchs hibernate after their long migration from Canada. Due to the lack of foliage in which the butterflies normally take refuge, their only option was to gather together on the forest floor—an extremely vulnerable position. Taking the shape of a flower, this installation focuses on one butterfly slowly flapping its wings. By tinting the room orange to match the vibrant hue of the butterfly’s wings, and placing the monitor facing upwards, the artist places the viewer both within and outside of the work for a meditative experience through which to consider the lives of other creatures who share this planet.