- Artist: Per Maning
- Creation date: 1996
- Object type: Video installation
Photographer and video artist Per Maning has been using animals as subject matter since the mid-1980s. His video 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 a subject’s personality. Maning’s animal portraits question identity and roles. We project human qualities unto animals. Eye contact becomes a metaphor for our encounter with the other. The animal’s gaze functions like a mirror; we see ourselves in the other.
In giving the animals in his portraits soul, Maning follows in a art historical tradition. The Spanish painter Francisco Goya (1746– 1828), German Frans Marc (1880–1916) and Norwegian Edvard Munch (1863–1944) all did the same. What Maning has in common with these artists is that their portrayals surpass those of the conventional animal genre. The artists identify with the portrayed animals’ psyches with respect and empathy.