For any of us who have been fortunate enough to spend time on a protected game reserve in Africa, you are seeing the last of many incredible species that most probably will not be on this planet past the end of the 21st Century. This is the subject of two videos brought into sharp technological focus at the always interesting Mistake Room, one of Los Angeles’s best galleries on the outskirts of the downtown Arts District. Both videos are presented on two sets of freestanding screens that intersect each other, creating eight viewing screens per station. They seemingly float, crisply lit in the large darkened space while viewers walk around these sculptural objects, approximating what Thater did with her camera shooting around the animals she videotaped. In the first, As Radical As Reality, she focuses on the last remaining White Male Rhino that is guarded so poachers do not kill it. It will not mate with the two female white rhinos, so the future of the line is ending with this solitary male. While the screening has the look of a tourist video, the contradiction of the armed guards and the banality of the Rhino eating and shitting all day long butt up against the realization that this is, literally, the End. It is hardly the National Geographic special we are used to, and it hits home much later after you leave the gallery, another loss as the world contracts.
The second video, A Runaway World, is of a herd of elephants foraging in the hills in Kenya. They are spectacular animals, and I was mesmerized again, just as I was in South Africa when in an open air Land Rover a herd of elephants suddenly came upon us. The car stopped, the ranger said, ‘stay still, they look safe but do not touch them or move” and for the next 30 minutes as elephants brushed by me, smelled me, and touched me, I realized I was in another time, another world, I was very small and insignificant, and that this was all passing and would never come again. Thater brings this sense of wonder and awe home in her video. But somehow being there, if you can while it still exists, makes you want to do something about it and not give in to what she posits as inevitable extinction. Yet, sadly I feel she is right t because god damn, human behavior being what it is, they are going to get slaughtered one by one by one until there are none left.
Diana Thater at the Mistake Room, Los Angeles, through June 3