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Absolute Installation

Per Maning

Photographer and video artist Per Maning (b.1943) has been using animals as subject matter since the mid-1980s.

© Per Maning, Til Oscar (To Oscar), 1996, videoprojection, loop, 25:05 min

His video Til Oscar (To Oscar) depicts seals in a tank at a zoo. The gaze is central to Maning’s art, and this video opens with a close-up of a seal staring back at the viewer. The four seals in the pool glide gracefully and effortlessly through the water and dance their meandering, silent dance. The video continues with pauses at regular intervals in black, creating a kind of rhythm. The bottom of the pool appears worn and scraped as the animals slide along the walls, up and down. There is a critical aspect to this work. Seals live freely in the oceans – these seals, however, are fated to swim round and round an aquarium for an audience’s entertainment. The animals’ direct gaze is a touch discomforting to the viewer.

In a classical portrait the focus is on reconciling a faithful reproduction with an interpretation of subject’s personality. Maning’s animal portraits question identity and roles. We project human qualities onto animals. Eye contact becomes a metaphor for our encounter with the other. The animal’s gaze functions like a mirror; we see ourselves and are struck by the further recognition of something else; ourselves in the other.

Maning follows in a long art historical tradition with his animal portraits, with giving animals soul. Edvard Munch (1863–1944), the Spanish painter Francisco Goya (1746–1828) and the German Frans Marc (1880–1916) also did the same. What Maning has in common with these artists is that their portrayals surpass those of the conventional animal genre. These artists are identifying with the portrayed animals’ psyches with respect and empathy. At the Venice Biennale in 1995 Maning’s black-and-white photographs of seals in pools garnered significant international attention. The shift from still photography to video has further vitalized his artistic production. Per Maning was born in Oslo in 1943. He lives and works in Oslo.

Anita Rebolledo