Artist Diana Thater Documents the Last Northern White Rhinos on Earth

"It's the saddest thing I've ever done," she told us.

Diana Thater, shooting on location at Ol Pejeta, Kenya
Photo: T. Kelly Mason

Artist Diana Thater has just arrived back from Kenya, where she documented the last three remaining northern white rhinos in the world as part of a project for Los Angeles’ non-profit Mistake Room.

Thater, currently subject of a retrospective at LACMA, works in film and creates works concerned with nature, our relationship with it, and how that changes over time. She is currently interested in the idea of the Anthropocene, which explores the impact that humans are having on the ecosystems and the geology of the Earth.

She had worked with animals in previous works, documenting tigers which had been trained to perform, dolphins, and also butterflies. Her work “Life is a time based Medium” was about the Galtaji Temple (or “Monkey Temple”) near Jaipur in India, where monkeys have free reign.

But after Thater completed her project “Chernobyl”—which centered on Przewalski’s horses, the last wild horses on Earth, and which was shown at Hauser & Wirth London in 2011—she found herself thinking increasingly about endangered species.

Because Thater’s aim is to create a multifaceted work about how we regard animals and how they may, or may not, view us, her works often feature several points of view, shown simultaneously on different screens. The work she has made in Kenya with Sudan, the 43-year-old last male northern white rhino, will more than likely be shown in a similar way.

 Diana Thater, shooting Pedro on location at Ol Pejeta, Kenya <br> Photo: T. Kelly Mason

Diana Thater shooting on location at Ol Pejeta, Kenya. 
Photo: T. Kelly Mason.

“I think it’s going to be a four projector installation. I filmed Sudan every day for a week and I filmed him at sunrise and sunset, but I’m not sure what the installation is going to look like yet, because I haven’t designed it yet,” Thater told artnet News over the phone from LA.

Sudan, the last of his kind, can no longer mate and Thater was concerned with capturing some of the last moments of his life as part of a species that is essentially extinct.

“It was thrilling and amazing to be with him. I remember the last day we filmed, we packed up and we were walking away and I looked out on the savannah and he was standing there by himself and the moon was rising over him and it was just profoundly moving,” Thater recalled.

“It was almost too much, and I didn’t film it. I just sort of stood there and looked at him and tried to remember for myself and that’s kind of the feeling I want people to have. To look at him and see what he is, who he is, and the profound loneliness of being the last of your species,” she added.

The work is intended to be part of a series of three works that will be concerned with endangered species, although Thater is yet to confirm the subjects of the next two works she will make.

“I am trying to deal with them not as objects, but as living subjects deemed to have as much to lose in the world as we do, if not more,” she told artnet News.

“Each animal and its perspective represents not only a way of being in the world and part of an ecosystem. But they’re also a world unto themselves with history, with family, with ancestors, and progeny. They have a way of living in the world that’s about to disappear, and that’s tremendous loss for us, whether we realize it or not. I think it’s the saddest thing I’ve ever done. It’s probably the darkest thing I’ve ever done,” she added.

The work, as yet unnamed, will be on view at the Mistake Room in 2017.

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