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Naked eye

Someone suggested I might like The Conversation, an online publication discussing diverse stuff affecting our planet. And they were right! I’ve just read an interesting article about the possibility of seeing the world through the eyes of another animal.


The article, Animals see the world in different colours than humans – new camera reveals what this looks like dated 25 January 2024, is about a group of scientists specialising in colour vision who have devised a camera system and software that has an ‘ability to accurately record animal-perceived colours in motion’. They provide images to illustrate (see below).

Image: The Conversation (2024). A museum specimen of Phoebis philea seen using false colour imaging. Vasas et al. (2024) PLOS Biology. 

Image: The Conversation (2024). An estimation of the colours a bird may perceive compared with our vision (inset). Vasas et al. (2024) PLOS Biology 

This kind of thing is of great interest to me and important to my art practice. It’s an area I’ve been exploring since 2008, when a herd of cows hijacked my art practice at Devil’s Dyke, East Sussex. I had constructed a makeshift dwelling comprising net curtains, kitchen chairs and a small table. A number of the cows moved in for a closer look. Soon they began to engage physically with the work – sniffing at and grasping the materials in their mouths, and ultimately dismantling the installation. In that moment, the power relation shifted. The cows seized control and I found myself caught up in a maelstrom of otherness and a collapsing of boundaries.

Piddington, K. (2008). Installation, interspecies collaboration at Devil’s Dyke, East Sussex

Piddington, K. (2008). Installation, interspecies collaboration at Devil’s Dyke, East Sussex

I’ve discovered many theories and opinions relating to nonhuman perception over the years. Although it is not possible to understand or experience another’s perception, I’ve experimented intensely on this intangible inner world of animality, largely through using film technology. I’ve accumulated a collection of varied experimental clips, exploring nonhuman perception from various angles.


For me, manipulation and embellishment is key to this. It’s a method I use predominantly during the editing stage, with chroma and luma keying being my ‘go to’ tricks (see images below). These disintegrate familiar lines, shapes and tones to somehow create a shift, an unpredictability.


In addition, I manipulate the direction and temporal flow of footage. This allows for discreet movements and hidden aspects to be revealed and distorted. Whilst making and editing films, I’m always conscious of other perspectives of nonhumans - other ways of seeing, experiencing and being in the world.


For example, small animals have an ability to perceive time in slow-motion, enabling them to observe movement on a finer timescale (McNally, 2013). For humans, it’s all about the visual. John Berger reminds us ‘animals are always the observed. The fact that they can see us has lost all significance’ (Berger, 2009. p.27).

Piddington, K. (2018). Lady in the butt. Film still.

Piddington, K. (2017). Slug culture. Film still.

An article in Science Friday, by Ed Yong entitled, How science came to see ultraviolet light in animals dated 24 June 2022 charts the history of scientific theories on nonhuman vision and indeed how new discoveries are still being unveiled. According to Yong, in the 2010s Glen Jeffery found that some mammals such as cats and dogs can detect UV with their short blue cones; in fact most animals that can see colour can see UV – except most humans.


I’m interested to test out the new camera and software mentioned above. Apparently, I can make it from scratch – all the necessary codes and plans are provided in the article. If only I could understand what they all mean!  


Berger. J (2009) Why look at animals? London: Penguin.

McNally, L. (2013) School of Biological Sciences, University of Edinburgh: 

Yong, E. (2022) How science came to see ultraviolet light in animals. Science Friday.

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