Program Diana Thater

Diana Thater: A Runaway World
April 1 - June 3, 2017


This Spring, The Mistake Room is pleased to present A Runaway World—a newly commissioned project by Los Angeles-based artist Diana Thater. The exhibition marks the first institutional presentation of a major new body of work by Thater in Los Angeles following her acclaimed retrospective organized by LACMA in 2015.

For decades Diana Thater has pioneered a practice at the intersection of time, space, and the moving image that explores the relationship between humans, other-than-human beings, and the environments they cohabitate. Through manipulations of light, color, and architecture, Thater anchors abstraction within formal conversations usually confined to representational media, thus challenging the narrative conditions of film and video. Over the years Thater’s work has also shed light on the complexities of animal subjectivity and transformed our understanding of the natural world and the threats it faces as a result of human actions. Collectively, Thater’s works forge an intricate conceptual framework that speaks to the interdependency amongst species and to the multiplicity of fragile ecologies whose viability will very much define the survival or dictate the extinction of living things.

For her exhibition at The Mistake Room, Thater will present two works she produced in Kenya in 2016 and 2017. Conceived as both portraits and landscapes, the works will be staged within a unique architectural environment of free-standing screen structures that the artist designed. The works give us glimpses into the lives and worlds of two species on the verge of extinction—rhinos and elephants—and the illicit economies that threaten their survival.

The first work, As Radical as Reality, revolves around Sudan—the world’s last surviving male northern white rhino. Protected from poachers by guards who accompany him at all times as he roams the grounds of the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Sudan represents the last hope of his species but he has shown no interest in mating with the two female rhinos who also live at the Conservancy. When he dies, at some point in the near future, so will the rest of his kind. Thater was given unprecedented access to film Sudan and his guards. Over the duration of a week, Thater filmed Sudan and his human companions in the wild during the day and at night—capturing their daily lives from a very intimate perspective. For Thater, a species is a world unto itself—a configuration of existence that is worthy of our contemplation. Thus, in this work, Thater attempts to metaphorically assemble a portrait not only of a species, but also of an entire world coming to an end.

The second work, A Runaway World, captures a herd of Elephants that Thater filmed in Kenya’s Chyulu Hills earlier this year. The elephants meander through on one screen as images of the terrain in which they reside are projected onto an intersecting one; gesturing to the relationship between the natural environment and survival. This changing landscape, forged by shifting images of majestic beings and the land between Mount Kilimanjaro and the Chyulu Hills, comes into focus only momentarily—reminding us of the fragility of the world and our complicity with its longevity.

Presented together in the space, this portrait of beasts and this landscape inhabited by beasts ask us to confront urgencies that are going to shape the well being of a future all species will inhabit and to accept a reality that too many today are attempting to frame as fiction. 

Diana Thater: A Runaway World is organized by The Mistake Room and curated by Cesar Garcia, Director and Chief Curator.

For more information on the Ol Pejeta Conservancy and Sudan, visit their website HERE.


The Mistake Room’s programs are made possible thanks to the generous support of its Board of Directors; Big Mistake Patron Group; International Council; and Contemporary Council.

Support for this exhibition is provided by T38 Studio, Tijuana/New York and form follows, Los Angeles. In-kind support is provided by VER, 4Wall, Piedmont Plastics, and LACMA.

Special thanks to Hauser & Wirth, David Zwirner, New York/London, and 1301PE, Los Angeles.

Image Credits: Fredrik Nilsen.