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Rad Radar: The Sympathetic Imagination


It’s no surprise technology has influenced everything around us. Machines have most certainly affected art: we can design graphics, alter photos, record works on video, and edit visuals to look even more magnificent. We have evolved into a society that preserves the physical into digital.Museum of Contemporary Art’s (MCA) newest installation, The Sympathetic Imagination by Diana Thater, merges tech with the most organic physical of all, nature.


“…continuous disruptions of the American landscape document my refusal to see the land as backdrop for man’s heroic conquering of the wild; instead I see it as a foreground, a subject to be contemplated for itself and for which wilderness is a state of grace.” Abyss of Light (1993)


“…when viewers walking into the projections, they penetrate the bee space; the one picture breaks into five, and the surrounding bees become and vision of chaos.” Knots + Surfaces (2001)


“Framed by the moon and the sun, this work makes reference to the Egyptian falcon god, Horus, whose eyes were said to represent the two celestial bodies… Here we see beings who cannot look back at us – that is, until the final subject of the film appears… evoking the unanswered questions: ‘ What do I see when I look at the other, and what does it see when it looks back at me?'” A Cast of Falcons (2000)


“…there are three kinds of bodies in space: dolphins moving through volumetric space; the sun spinning in a vacuum of black space; and then the  viewer, moving through ‘real’ space made volumetric by the artificial magenta light” Delphine (1999)


“…the forests of Michoacan, Mexico, become the overwinter home for tens of millions of monarch butterflies… This broken video wall focuses on one butterfly slowly flapping its wings” Untitled Videowall (Butterflies) (2008)

“At the heart of Thater’s work is the tension between the natural environment and mediated reality and, by extension, between the domesticated and wild, the scientific and the fantastical or magical… Thater layers imagery onto architectural surroundings to create complex relationships between time and space.”

The accompanying pamphlet sets the concept as an intimate experience with scenes of the wild we wouldn’t normally experience if it weren’t for technology. The set up of projectors reflecting on the blank walls of the gallery create a situation where, no matter what, you are bound to cast your shadow on the film. This is a nod to Thater’s want to have the viewer interact with the outdoors. Monitors displaying parts of a butterfly are arranged in a floral way, while others show tinted versions of our planet Earth. Creamy lights of neon and pastel mingle with the projections to be a reminder that though you are connecting with nature, it is all but a virtual encounter.

If you want to get immersed in an ambient wilderness or just love magnificent visuals, take a trip to Thater’s exhibit. The Sympathetic Imagination is stationed in the MCA till January 8, 2017.

Work Cited:

Thater, D. (2016). The Sympathetic Imagination [Brochure].

Chicago, IL: Museum of Contemporary Art.



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