Looking at Zane….
The formidable gaze of Zane, an Amur Leopard filmed at Edinburgh Zoo, follows us around the white cube space, vying for our attention amongst the other works. Our eyes are drawn into an encounter with an animal trapped in a never-ending loop.
The gaze of an animal makes us aware of being seen. We see the animal as the animal sees us. We become more aware of ourselves within the space as we are watched carefully and continually.
John Berger’s essay Why Look at Animals? explores this idea closely:
‘The eyes of an animal when they consider a man are attentive and wary. The same animal may well look at other species in the same way. He does not reserve a special look from man. But by no other species except man will the animal’s look be recognised as familiar. Other animals are held by the look. Man becomes aware of himself returning the look.’
Berger writes about the beginning of public zoos – where people would go to observe animals and their habits – and how instead of creating a closeness to the animals they only exemplified the impossibility of such an experience.
The response of the animals has changed as they have grown accustomed to their new environment. This is not the same animal that once lived in the wild. The passion and hunger of their gaze has been stilted and replaced with a vacant stare, not present in their distant, natural habitat.
As Zane stares down at us trapped in the gallery space, there is a distance created in its silence that we cannot neglect.
Image: Chris Park