Dimensions of “The Sympathetic Imagination”

For all we know, they could’ve just landed here on this blue-green planet that we call “home.”

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Words and Photographs by Katie Smythe

Katie photographed Diana Thater’s “The Sympathetic Imagination” exhibit at LACMA for The Los Angeles Times High School Insider in December 2015. Here, she dives into one aspect of the exhibit in particular and shares what inspired her to photograph it.

I decided to focus on my favorite piece from this exhibit— a vacant room containing only giant, odd colored planets projected onto a blank wall. When I walked into this room I felt small, unimportant. It immediately evoked emotion, which is why it was my favorite part of the exhibit. It gave me that familiar feeling in my stomach, that knot that continues to tighten as you realize that you’re not sure if anything in your life is real, if you mean anything within the entirety of our expansive universe. When I took the pictures above, I wanted to make sure they evoked the same emotions I felt when I walked into that room. I included a silhouette of a family with the large beige-orange moon in the background to create an atmosphere of unknown. No one knows who these people are, we can’t see their faces— only the shapes of their black shadow bodies. Do they know who they are? For all we know, they could’ve just landed here on this blue-green planet that we call “home.”

My other favorite part of the exhibit was the room that held the TVs with fluorescently colored planet-like objects inside of them. This is the first thing you see when you enter the exhibit. The first thing that makes you question the meaning of it all. With the “Sympathetic Imagination” I don’t think Thater’s goal was to necessarily make us feel anything at all, but rather see what we are blind to a lot of the time. To inspire us to take the chance to look around at the people and places that surround us every day. Too many of us live on the surface, simply skimming the top layer of existence. Too afraid to delve beneath the known, to discover what’s beneath the mundane, beneath the routine we’re all so constantly sucked into. I think that Thater wanted us to see this. I’d like to think that’s why she titled it “The Sympathetic Imagination.” It exaggerates the entire theme of the collection. It heightens the idea of the fake, synthetic, materialistic lifestyle that consumes the entire human race.

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