Lina Tharsing, Natural History I, 2011, Oil on canvas, 36 x 48 inches
March 31 - May 28, 2011
Institute 193, Lexington
The American Museum of Natural History proclaims, “The viewer of a habitat group diorama is able to travel not only across continents, but also, in some cases, through time.” We can view habitats that are thousands of miles away and environments that were destroyed long ago through complex constructions that employ false perspective and curved painted backdrops, tricking the viewer into believing he is looking through a window to the natural world. The original diorama paintings created by James Perry Wilson were a sort of virtual reality engineering. According to Steven Quinn, senior project manager of the restoration of the museum’s diorama,
“They were windows onto other worlds and landscapes, and the engineering that went into making them completely convincing is still astounding now,” adding that when the hall opened in 1942, just after America’s entry into the Second World War, “the dioramas became a kind of patriotic pageant, a picture of our land and our values. ey stood for America.”
For over seventy years these masterworks of American art and engineering have captured the imaginations of lmmakers, photographers, painters, and artists from all over the world, including Lina Tharsing. Unlike the original museum installations, her paintings do not attempt to mimic a natural reality but serve as points of departure to explore the complexities of perception, blurring the boundaries between imagination and reality and speaking to the inherent tensions embodied by those environments.
The artist Hiroshi Sugimoto chose to document the museum with a camera, capitalizing on its ability to skew perspective and create reality from fiction. By choosing to work in oil paint, Tharsing forces us to further question the verisimilitude of our own existence. She observes: “Paintings lie. In photographs, things feel documented, but paintings can’t help but be symbolic.” What better medium to comment on our perception of reality than one that by its intrinsic nature distorts the truth?
Tharsing’s paintings seek a precise moment in both time and space when the lines of fiction and reality intersect. At that instant anything is possible. The traditional limits of belief and understanding are called into question and replaced with a deliberately composed tension of multiple truths. The viewer of these works is asked not to study the individual painted figures, animals, or props, but to look through a window onto other worlds and landscapes, across place and time, and to find their own truths.