A ‘Watershed’ Moment: Artist Diana Thater on the Challenges and Rewards of Inaugurating ICA Boston’s New Harbor Space
Thater says the project was the most difficult installation she's ever done.
The Los Angeles-based artist Diana Thater has been dazzling audiences for decades with her ambitious large-scale video and sculptural works. So it was hardly a surprise that she was handpicked by ICA Boston chief curator Eva Respini to inaugurate the museum’s striking new space—a once-condemned building in Boston Harbor that has been transformed into a satellite called ICA Watershed.
Thater has transformed the space, which opened last month, with Delphine (1999), her sprawling installation that shows humans interacting with dolphins as a springboard to explore the fragility of the natural world. The latest version was custom designed for the Watershed space with several bespoke touches.
We talked to Thater about the challenges of installing her work at the Watershed, the year-long preparation it required, and how the experience has further deepened her practice.
Tell us about your first encounter with the ICA Watershed.
Over a year ago, Eva Respini invited me to do the opening show and soon after that, I went to visit. It was a dilapidated building that had been condemned and no construction had started yet, so I just visited a wreck of a building.
How did you work around that for planning purposes?
Eva had some ideas and we knew we wanted to show Delphine. I went through four iterations of the exhibition in order to get it exactly right and to deal with the changing architectural plan for space. Every time a new change came to the building, we had to make changes to our design. Those were all produced as 3-D computer animations. So the only thing I’d seen, until the recent visit for the opening, was my own animations.
What made Delphine such a good fit to inaugurate the space?
We wanted to include a variety of physical/emotional experiences with the work. So there’s work which is sculptural and sits on the floor and another large immersive projection piece. There are two sculptural pieces that stand up that are human-size and there are three video walls.
What kind of special touches did you add for this iteration of the work?
They wanted me to feature the architecture of the building—a big part of why Eva invited me, I think. I did that by doing a color-spectrum fade down the entire length of the space.
Given all the remote and “virtual” installation, what was the final physical install process like?
When I arrived to install, the building was still being finished. We were installing in hard hats and construction workers were finishing the building all around us, so that was a challenge, but we worked through that.
What kind of feedback have you received so far?
Everyone seems really happy and excited. I’m glad that people think the work meshes so well with the space. I was really thinking about featuring the space in the installation and I think I did that without sacrificing the work.
What has it meant to you to be invited to create this inaugural Watershed installation?
It was an honor to be asked to do this. I appreciate that they entrusted me with the space and that they felt strongly enough about my work and my ability to work through architecture, that they believed I could do it. I think it is the most challenging project I have ever dealt with. It took us over a year to get the show really, really right.
What was it like seeing the final product?
The only time I ever got to see the show complete was at the gala dinner because we finished at about 5 p.m. I saw my show with the space completely clean and perfect at the gala dinner. While everyone was eating, I snuck back in and walked around and could actually see it. I was very happy with it. It came out exactly the way Eva and I envisioned it.
“Diana Thater” is on view at the ICA Watershed in Boston until October 8.
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