The Alien Wonder of Animal Worlds

Curator's Note

The camera wheels across sparkling light as if looking at the night sky. The sound of deep breaths fills the air. After initial disorientation the viewer begins to see the sparkles are shimmering reflections of light on the snow in the dark of night. The breath? A blur of fur, a dog crosses the visual plane. The dog then disappears into the night. Then from a different direction he appears, approaches and is off again, into the dark.

What is out there? What is it we can’t see in the darkness? The dog sees things we cannot. In part because his eyes are more keenly attenuated physiologically to see in the dark but also, and importantly, because he occupies a different place. He, over there, is seeing something that we—tethered to the point of view of the camera—cannot see.  This is, for me, the shocking and simple power of Per Maning’s Now You See Me. Now You Don’t.. The animal in this piece occupies a position of seeing and knowing that is inaccessible to the human. That is to say, the animal is eccentric to us. He occupies a point of view which is not ours. He enters as a silhouette into our world and our view—a small sphere of light in the darkness—but as swiftly leaves it and is at home in an unknown, dark world. Dark to whom? Primarily to us, to the curious viewer who wants to open up this darkness: wants to see and in seeing know. The lacunae in our vision is important. There is a subjectivity to the animal—an animality to the animal—that we know exists but which we cannot access. This sort of knowledge is not an absence, an omission, waiting to be present by the light (a light of human civilization). Indeed, this dog experiences the earth differently from us and so occupies a place—not just physical place but a different world with different meaning and way of being. In the video he runs with seeming intoxicating speed and we are left with glittering snow, a flurry of fur and wonder.


What a beautiful piece, Ron, both the video and your reading of the video.

I think you're spot on when you describe the world presented in the video as "alien" and "inaccessible."  Like the piece yesterday by Dominic, I see a similar density in the images you've presented.  Watching the video, I experienced a simultaneous desire to enter into the image - and, by extension, the subjectivity of both the dog and the camera -  and an almost magnetic repulsion to the image.  The image both invited me into its world and rebuffed me.  In an effort to "see" with the eyes of the camera and dog, I dimmed the lights in my office, but to no avail.  As you argue, the subjectivities are inaccessible to us, glorious in all their alterity.

I am also struck by the numerous points of light in the video.  Each point of light presents a different vantage point from which to view the scene, and I think this is a nice metaphor for how you're reading the video.  Just as we can understand, but not access, the subjectivities of the dog and the camera, so too can we understand the points of light as being tiny worlds unto themselves.

As a fun comparison, I'm reminded of these "pet eye" cameras that attempt to show what our pets "see."  This, to me, is symptomatic of our desire to access the unknowable subjectivity of the alien worlds you describe.

What a wonderful piece! For me the distance between human and "animal" in this piece is really magnified by the camera. Standing in the snow sharing an experience with the dog, I can imagine feeling much closer to the dog's "otherness" by virtue of being there. But looking at the recorded (and edited) video images afterwards, I'm aware of the otherness in a specifically different way: otherness mediated by the machine. We use technology to provide access to the "unknowable subjectivity of the alien worlds", as Drew writes, but the technology actually distances us from inhabiting them. The other thing I love about this video is how you can't see the dog... just a black silhouette, the absence of dog. It would be nice to use technology to inhabit the dog, but if we did so we'd get nothing...

Yes - a mesmerizing video and absorbing piece. Thanks Ron. It makes me wonder if there's a limit point in McLuhan's notion that the camera is an extension of the eye, in which it becomes fully amputated from its human origins, and thus mutates into a third term. Someone must have written about the phenomenology of the camera itself, in a systematic fashion, but I'm afraid I haven't stumbled upon it yet. But the indication of darkness as something other than the absence of light here is extremely evocative. Perhaps even - as you suggest - beyond our languages . . . back into the animal or terrestrial sublime?

Add new comment

Log in or register to add a comment.