Since the early 1990s, Diana Thater (b. 1962, San Francisco) has been a pioneer of video installation, combining new technologies of the moving image with forms that defy the narrative conventions of film and video. By manipulating color in the exhibition space and using projection screens and monitors as a medium, Thater’s works simultaneously engage in dialogue with key references in art history—from Impressionism to Minimal art—and address major concerns in contemporary culture. Her immersive, color-saturated video environments dramatically affect the hosting architecture. They stage a coalescence of beauty and criticality, or, in the artist’s own words, “the tension between science and magic”. Meanwhile, her installations skillfully point out the nuanced differences that distinguish seeing from looking.
Amongst key themes in Thater’s oeuvre are the life conditions of animal species as a result of human activity. A Runaway World (2016–17) features two twin video installations recently produced in Kenya, through which Thater explores the lives and habitats of two species that are close to extinction—rhinos and elephants—and evokes the illicit economies that threaten their survival. As Radical as Reality follows Sudan, the world's last living male northern white rhino, and the guards who protect him from poachers in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy. A Runaway World, the work that lends its title to the exhibition, portrays a herd of bull elephants and their habitat in Kenya's Chyulu Hills. Both works display a similar distant, descriptive, sometimes wandering gaze; both observe their subjects in silence, and tacitly invite us to consider their existence on earth, and their disappearance.
As a result of the ambient light filtering, each screen’s color is altered when reflected upon the neighboring one, and also when its light is mirrored by the gallery floor. Besides the suggestion of a certain magic, these effects emphasize the singularity of the artwork as a specific space for observation. Thater’s interest in color interaction manifests as strongly in Time Compressed (2017), a video wall that is presented at the threshold of the exhibition. Using a signature display mode in her work, the artist superimposes the abstract and the descriptive, confronting sheer color planes with documentary images.