White Bear (2014-)
Medium: photograph (110 x 138 cm), videos, documents
"White Bear" depicts polar bears on display and their artificial habitats globally; the project attempts to engage with dilemmas concerning captive animal programs. It has been executed in 26 sites across Europe and China.
"White Bear" is not about polar bears — it studies the visible symptoms amid animals on display and their artificial habitats by focusing on one specific species. These habitats are designed to satisfy both the spectators (audience) and the dwellers (animals). With their effort to mimic the arctic environment, the uncanny structures combined “nature”, "home" and “stage”. Juxtaposed with man-made backgrounds, the enclosures and their furry protagonists formed visions decorated with contrasting elements — grasslands, plateaus, swimming pools, car tires, fake seals, stone stairs, painted icebergs, yachts, airplanes, and even skyscrapers. Under limited space and resources, there are various issues lurking beneath their surfaces.
As natural habitats are being destroyed, it maybe reasonable to keep certain species in controlled environments; however, it remains questionable whether some results reflect their causes. The existence of captive white bears portrays this ambiguity. Promoted as exotic tourist-magnets (mega fauna), the bears stand at the singularity points at which the institutions' contemporary justifications falls into question — the mission of conservation, research and education seem challenged by the interest of entertainment.
*In this context "zoos" includes aquariums, wildlife parks, conservation parks, bioparks and all institutions that meets the definition from the World Zoo Conservation Strategy (1993).
Video - "The March of the Great White Bear", 3'29"
These are videos based on the "behavioural stereotypes (repetitive, functionless behaviours)" of polar bears in captivity.
Ethological studies have shown that stereotypical behaviours stem from limited captive environments that do not satisfy the animals' normal behavioural needs. It is also seen as a sign of psychological distress in animals, and therefore is an animal welfare issue. It should be noted that stereotypes does not necessary correspond to poor welfare at the moment -- it can stem from poor welfare in an earlier time and space in the course of the animal's life.
In this web version of "The March of the Great White Bear", the footages were recorded in four different city zoos in Europe: Gelsenkirchen (Deutschland), Rhenen (Netherlands), Praha (Czech Republic), and Brno (Czech Republic).
*Kendy Tzu-Yun Teng/ PhD Candidate, Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney
*I-lly Cheng/ Composer-Live Electronics, Conservatorium van Amsterdam