White Bear (2014-)
photographs (120 x 150 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", 8'01"
These videos are not looped; they are based on the "stereotypical behaviors (endless repetition of a fixed sequence of movements)" of polar bears in captivity, recorded in 17 enclosures in Europe and China.
Ethological studies have shown that stereotypical behaviors stem from limited captive environments that do not satisfy the animals' normal behavioral needs. It is also seen as a sign of psychological distress in animals and therefore is considered a warning sign of poor welfare. However, it should be noted that stereotypes do not necessarily correspond to poor welfare at the time -- it can stem from poor welfare in an earlier stage in the course of the animal's life.
Special thanks to: Iris Tsung-huei Huang, Martine Stig, Chao-Liang Shen, Yungshih Lee.
Co-produced with 國家地理雜誌中文版 (National Geographic Magazine Taiwanese edition)