Dead Horse 1998, the video installation by Tim Macmillan, is the most visceral and perfect use of his Time-Slice® technique. At the moment of its execution in an abattoir, a horse is photographed simultaneously by an arcing bank of still cameras. The photos are then ordered into a filmic sequence. The result is a static world traversed by a moving gaze. Although it feels strikingly contemporary, the technology for doing this is as old as cinema, if not older. If Muybridge had fired all his cameras at once and animated the results via his Zoopraxiscope, we might have had a century of Time-Slice. That it appeared only relatively recently is less an anomaly than a sign of the fact that for any image form to come into being it must be first imagined or desired. Imagination and desire are historically grounded. Nobody wanted Time-Slice in 1879. The basic structures of photography and cinema have existed for a long time, but they have proved flexible enough to accommodate ever-newer conceptions of time, space, movement and stillness. That is why they are still with us rather than belonging to the nineteenth century. Macmillan’s video alludes to this historical delay with a clear reference back to the work of Muybridge’s very first studies of horses in motion.
With their parallel lives, animals offer man a companionship which is different from any offered by human exchange. Different because it is a companionship offered to the loneliness of man as a species.
Such an unspeaking companionship was felt to be so equal that often one finds the conviction that it was man who lacked the capacity to speak with animals – hence the stories and legends of exceptional beings, like Orpheus, who could talk with animals in their own language.
The eyes of an animal when they consider a man are attentive and weary. The same animal may well look at other species in the same way. He does not reserve a special look for man. But by no other species except man will the animal’s look be recognized as familiar. Other animals are held by the look. Man becomes aware of himself returning the look.
The animal scrutinizes him across a narrow abyss of non-comprehension. This is why the man can surprise the animal. Yet the animal – even if domesticated – can also surprise the man. The man too is looking across a similar, but not identical, abyss of non-comprehension. And this is so wherever he looks. He is always looking across ignorance and fear. And so, when he is being seen by the animal, he is being seen as his surroundings are seen by him. His recognition of this is what makes the look of the animal familiar. And yet the animal is distinct, and can never be confused with man. Thus, a power is ascribed to the animal, comparable with human power but never coinciding with it. The animal has secrets which, unlike the secrets of the caves, mountains, seas, are specifically addressed to man.