Los Angeles

Diana Thater

Dorothy Goldeen Gallery

The title of Diana Thater’s latest video installation, Dogs and Other Philosophers, 1991, refers to Thomas Hardy’s meditation on “the untoward fate which so often attends dogs and other philosophers who follow out a train of reasoning to its logical conclusion, and attempt perfectly consistent conduct in a world made up so largely of compromise.” In Hardy’s novel, Far From the Madding Crowd, 1874, from which the phrase was lifted, logical conclusions are disclosed as tragically wrongheaded; in fact, the earnest young sheepdog pursues his flock so diligently that he ends up herding them over the edge of a cliff. Thater suggests that a more appropriate logic would be one based on contingency and indeterminacy, in which duration and perpetual change are acknowledged.

Thater’s theoretical mentor would appear to be Henri Bergson, who, in Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience, (Time and Free Will, 1889), defined duration as a type of multiplicity. Bergson distinguished two kinds of multiplicity—one actual, spatial, and discontinous, the other virtual, temporal, and continuous—and Thater employed both types simultaneously in her installation. The temporal, continuous multiplicity was suggested by an hour-long videotape of an ocean tide flowing back and forth across tidal pools. Though the suggestion of real time created a durational simultaneity of perception, mechanical projection, and the movement of the tide, in reality the image was highly synthetic, discontinous, and disjunctive. The flowing tide was actually composed of two overlapping sequences. One, reduced to its blue color track, was taped at a different time of day from the other, projected in green. Mixed together and projected simultaneously on the same screen, they gave an impression of virtual continuity.

However, we quickly discovered that this continual, homogenous flow could be dislocated through spatial and bodily transgression. Because the video was back-projected onto a suspended Plexiglas screen placed at the entrance to the gallery, it was possible to walk behind it, enter the room, and confront the video projector/image source itself. By turning around, we could see the same image front-projected onto the gallery walls on each side of the entrance. Moreover, because one’s body was now in the projecting cone of vision, it cast silhouettes and shadows, bifurcating the blue and green “tracks” and creating an index of their separate flows. We thus became aware of a new, extremely complex durational multiplicity: the overlapping of two tidal flows, the duration of the projected tape, as well as the real-time duration of perception and bodily movement. Instead of generating a gestalt of movement-image and perception, the body now served to deconstruct it, releasing a spatio-temporal image of perpetual becoming.

One could also observe this spatial, discontinuous multiplicity through analogies to Renaissance perspective. The initial back-projected image merely reinforced traditional cone-of-vision, single-eye perspective, in which the image’s imaginary vanishing point symmetrically mirrored the eye’s cone of vision vis-à-vis the screen. By allowing us to physically enter this projected space, Thater forced us to confront this vanishing point (the projector) and discover the contingency of the spatial and temporal illusion it creates. We turn around, look out of the space, and discover another, wider cone of vision framed by the gallery walls themselves. We thus stood in a no-man’s-land of competing, reversed depths of field; what was inside was suddenly outside, and vice-versa.

With our visual and bodily center disoriented, we now saw the almost miraculous event of a surfer emerging from the ocean, a mirror image of our real and silhouetted bodily presence, as if we too had emerged from the primordial ooze of a durational becoming. Instead of a logic in which the subject is central, temporal, autonomous, and godlike, Thater created a decentered viewing experience contingent on duration, discontinuity, and spatiality. Unlike Hardy’s dog philosophers, we learn not to conquer space through false logic but to transgress (and be transgressed by) it through a logic of multiplicities. In this way, totalities cease to be marked by treacherously fixed limits (like the edge of Hardy’s cliff), but are understood instead as benign, ever-changing wholes, in a constant state of dispersal.

Colin Gardner