Last Chance: The Magic of Diana Thater

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Published March 12, 2010

INSTALLATION VIEW COURTESY DAVID ZWIRNER

 

Diana Thater’s latest film installation, Between Science and Magic, closing this Saturday, is a layered study of process in keeping with the artist’s two-decade investigation into timeless dialectics: human and animal; culture and nature; and now science and magic. The looped 12-minute projection records a projection being done at a French Rococo film palace in Los Angeles. The frame captures the ornate proscenium and the screen it encloses, which features two figures on soundstages separated by a central, white-on-white seam.

The film starts just before curtain up. Once it’s risen, the internal film begins: the left side of the screen shows an over-the-shoulder shot of a camera operator; the right, a head-on shot of a tuxedoed magician. While the camera operator records, the magician displays his tools (top hat, table, cloth) and recites the gestures that culminate in pulling a white rabbit out of his hat. He repeats the trick, and each time he begins anew, the orientation of the camera operator changes. Either side of the frame is a recording taken simultaneously from different angles. The right maintains its angle, fixed on the magician frontally, and the left orbits the scene, hitting 16 stations for the 16 repetitions of the performance. This choreography is not unlike the routes of planetary bodies. The motions are slow, certain, and difficult to grasp from a static vantage point.

In Thater’s work, the concept for the piece arises from theory, here Claude Levi-Strauss’s writing on science and magic as opposing forces whose combination can be called art. The film is academic to the extreme, light years away from enacting the kind of moving aesthetic experience it takes as a subject. However its purity of thought approaches zen, and by its austerity of purpose and concept, the piece transcends its visual nature to become textual. The magician of Between Science and Magic mingles technique and performance to produce art: an illusion of the impossible in the sudden appearance of the white rabbit. Thater doesn’t seek to expose the artifice of the magician’s work. At the moments that come closest to spilling the beans, she cuts to an image of the camera. It is, after all, the instrument whose science is really being probed as magical.

BETWEEN SCIENE AND MAGIC CLOSES MARCH 13. DAVID ZWIRNER IS LOCATED AT 519 WEST 19 STREET, NEW YORK.