Image: Production Still; ©Diana Thater
Growing up in New York in the 1960s and 70s was bound to leave its mark on self-confessed film fanatic and artist, Diana Thater – most notably in that the word impossible doesn’t seem to register in her mind. Constantly pushing technology to its limits, this acclaimed video installation artist has just tackled her most difficult project to date: an abstract look at the post-nuclear landscape of Chernobyl.
Chernobyl – a village in northern Ukraine – is today a shell of it’s former self. Twenty-five years ago, in the midst of a bustling purpose built Soviet city, Pripyat, a nuclear power plant exploded, registering level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale (the only level 7 event in history). It allegedly released 100 times more nuclear debris than Hiroshima did and is responsible for the deaths and illnesses of thousands of its former inhabitants. Today, the area stands completely deserted of humans, but in a remarkable feat of nature wild animals are slowly settling there. This is what attracted Diana Thater to the area – her interest in the conflict between human life and the natural world meant Chernobyl was the perfect place for her and her camera to explore.
Dazed Digital: How did you decide to become an artist?
Diana Thater: I honestly don’t know! I just was an artist. I didn’t make any conscious decision to become one. I grew up in New York and went to the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art from when I could walk. I always loved art from when I was really little.
DD: Where do you get your inspiration from?
Diana Thater: There are two things I love, one is art and the other is film. I take inspiration from wherever I can – I read, I watch films, I look at art. I’ve made work that was inspired by Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, John Ford’s Westerns, shots of Dolphins – literally any number of places. I get ideas from everything.
DD: You’ve said in the past how interested you are by the relationship between the human and natural world. What is it that you find so fascinating?
Diana Thater: The natural world is the only true unknown. There is always this discussion of the Asian person, or the black person, or the-this-or-the-that person being the ‘other’. But they are not ‘others’ at all. The only ‘other’ we actually have is animal. They are completely unknowable – we don’t know anything about their consciousness. We can speculate, but we don’t really know.
DD: Is this interest the reason why you decided to do a project on Chernobyl?
Diana Thater: Yeah, of course. Chernobyl is the only post-apocalyptic, or post-human landscape on earth. Today it’s falling into ruins, but it still looks like a city; there’s stores, apartment buildings, schools. And even though it’s completely deserted and falling apart, animals are moving into the city. So, on the one hand you have this perfectly preserved Soviet city from 1970, and on the other hand you have this post-apocalyptic landscape where animals are living.
DD: How long where you there filming for?
Diana Thater: Seven days, and a preliminary visit of two days in the summer.
DD: While you were there what kind of feelings did you experience?
Diana Thater: It was one of the hardest things I’ve done. I’ve worked in Central Africa, I’ve worked with tigers and done things that people consider ‘dangerous’, but this was the hardest. When you go to Chernobyl it’s incredibly depressing. It has something of a concentration camp feeling because there are things like piles of children’s shoes and rusted baby beds in maternity hospitals. My assistant had to leave – it was too much for her. She was living in Chernobyl in 1986 when the explosion happened, and we went back to her apartment and found a calendar from that year. She remembered it all.
DD: Is this piece political? Does it say that something good can come from such a horrific and terrible event?
Diana Thater: I think it’s both political and cultural. Chernobyl represents the failure of lots of things – a massive political system, a way of life, of science. Yet even with the human failures, nature continues to persist. Not because it wants or chooses to, but because it must.
DD: Is the video trying to say that nature will always persist then?
Diana Thater: That’s a hope!
DD: Why do you choose to convey your art through video and motion picture?
Diana Thater: I think that film is the only place – other than music – where you can experience duration, and I am very interested in that. I also like to invent little techniques and make cameras do what they’re not supposed to. When I think of new work I’m thinking about what I’m going to do with a camera or edit system that I’ve never done before.
DD: What’s next for you?
Diana Thater: Have a long nap! No, but seriously, I’m always thinking about the next thing. As soon as a piece is done, I’m always thinking about what’s next.
Chernobyl shows at Hauser & Wirth London, Piccadilly, 28 January – 5 March 2011
(If the video doesn't work go to - http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6444453634416523444# - to see it)
Boyle, a Scottish comedian best known for his shocking and dark humour, has been a panellist on the BBC’s popular comedy show Mock The Week, and currently has his comedy stand-up show Tramadol Nights aired on Channel 4. This past year saw several of his sketches scrutinised by the public and media at their outrageous content.
One incident occurred when Boyle referred to the British Olympic gold winner, Rebecca Adlington, as someone whose face resembled the reflection you get when looking into the back of a spoon. This dig, made on the satirical and often offensive Mock The Week, was magnified in the media’s response to Adlington’s public call for an apology from the BBC and the comedian himself. The public, on the issue of the apology, were split. Many were supportive of Adlington’s claim, but thousands of people also thought that because the athlete is in the public eye, she has to accept that she is now open to public observation.
With this understanding, because she is by trade a swimmer who happens to have won international recognition for her abilities, is she now anyone’s game merely for the fact that she has been on TV a few times? More importantly, does she now have to accept that she can be made fun of on national television for something entirely irrelevant to her ‘fame’ in the first place?
This bizarre logic was used last month when Katie Price’s (aka Jordan) heavily disabled son, Harvey, was picked on once again by Boyle. His quips ranged from “Jordan and Peter Andre are still fighting each other over custody of Harvey – eventually one of them will lose and have to keep him” to him assuming that the reason why Price married a cage fighter was because she “needed a man strong enough to stop Harvey from f*****g her”.
The ‘price of fame’ logic would suggest that because Harvey has appeared in Jordan’s many reality TV shows he too now has to accept being publicly attacked because he is in the ‘public eye’. But why is it that even a disabled child, who has no means of defending himself, is not off limits? If we allow bullies, of which I would classify Boyle to be, to appear on TV and online for the world to see, what is stopping a child in the playground to laugh at a disabled or ‘different’ looking classmate? We would have to respect what the child had to say, and allow him to continue to say it, if we are to follow the example set by the BBC and Channel 4. And this example isn’t being set on obscure channels that no one watches, they are happening on mainstream television, and more disturbingly, these comedians are being paid to say these remarks.
I find it humiliating that in our society we still have set-backs to social progression in the form of bigots like Frankie Boyle and the bosses of institutions like Channel 4, and it is my biggest hope that in 2011 our moral compass will begin to re-align itself.