D.A. Therrien, described by cultural theorist Arthur Kroker as a priest of high technology, is an obscure but internationally acclaimed performance artist and technologist, presenting large scale spectacles of technological splendor worldwide since 1983. Born in Phoenix, AZ, he has lived and worked in Asia, Europe, the United States and Mexico.
Therrien makes use of various technologies to create large scale electro-mechanical spectacles that combine the human body with machines and information systems. Previous sponsors of his work include Apple, Phillips, Warner Brothers, MTV and the Rockefeller Foundation. His projects have been presented in locations as varied as factories and ancient cathedrals to New York's Rockefeller Center and Toronto City Hall.
Therrien's work is a collision at the intersection of the human body, language and technology. It is massive in scale and involves robotics, giant information displays, video, medical technology, surveillance and electrified human bodies as the controlling interface.
Therrien's earliest performance work involved setting bodies of water on fire and observing the fire from below, submerged beneath the water's surface. Later endurance works involved electrifying his body while suspended by the ankles, closing circuits as he was raised up and down by an electric hoist. During this series of work, he began interfacing his physiology via EKG and EEG in performance environments. In 1982, he attended U.S. Army boot camp in Ft. Knox, Kentucky as an 8 week performance piece, covertly capturing material for documentation. Language and symbol related work began in the mid 1980s, with his appropriation of the 16 segment "Union Jack" display as a model for a universal messaging system. The first of these works was installed temporarily in a remote region of the Navajo Nation. Wire was electrified with car batteries, making it visible to infrared satellites orbiting above. Later versions of this piece evolved to quartz and neon light arrays, which were more visible to the naked eye. These visible arrays were eventually incorporated into his COMFORT/CONTROL performance series, initially as neon information displays, and later as high power quartz arrays.
Work with information arrays lead to coding systems devised for the 4 LETTER WORD MACHINE, a piece initially imagined as an installation on cliff walls in Monument Valley, Arizona, inspired by language spoken as coded systems of communication, and in particular, the Navajo Code talkers of WWII.
For a brief period in the late 90s,Therrien was employed as a technology consultant at Stanford University's ISS think tank, where he dialogued with world leaders such as Lee Kwan Yew, George Schultz and Condoleezza Rice. From 1997 through 2003, Therrien primarily traveled throughout Asia, working on a long form film project about Burma. He has also worked on rural education, water, and electrification projects in Asia, designing simple and innovative power and water distribution systems in addition to a "viral" book and laptop distribution project that continues to this day (distributing English language books and old laptops to rural schools).
Living most of the year in downtown Phoenix, Arizona, he has been active in the community through art-space development, founding three of the city's major art spaces over the last 23 years, CRASH, the ICEHOUSE and Arizona Testing Laboratories (Chemlab). His efforts played a major role in the revitalization of the formerly blighted and culturally vacant downtown area. These artspaces fostered an arts community by acting as incubators for emerging artists, beginning with CRASHarts. CRASH offered technical assistance to exhibiting artists free of charge. This practice resulted in installations that increased each artist's skill set, allowing many of them to go on to show their work in museums worldwide. The Icehouse, famous for Alternativas Phx-Mex, the first ever NAFTA-associated exchange exhibition, operates as an artspace with a similar "incubator" concept. The Icehouse, now directed by Helen Hestenes, remains as the longest-running premier performance and installation space in Phoenix to this day.