White Bear (2014-)

photographs (120 x 150 cm), videos, documents

"White Bear" depicts polar bears on display in artificial habitats; the project attempts to engage with dilemmas concerning captive animal programs. It has been executed in 38 sites across Europe and Asia.  

"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 — painted icebergs, fake seals, grasslands, pools, tires, boulders, yachts, planes, and even skyscrapers. Under limited space and resources, there are various issues lurking beneath their surfaces.  

As natural habitats are diminishing, it is reasonable to keep certain species in controlled environments; however, it remains questionable whether most cases reflect their causes. The existence of captive polar bears portrays this ambiguity. Promoted as exotic tourist magnets (mega fauna), the bears stand at the singularity point which challenges the institutions' contemporary justifications — conservation, education and research.

*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).

Installation, Lianzhou Foto Festival, China, 2016

Installation, Lianzhou Foto Festival, China, 2016

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.

Locations & year visited:

Europe (2014, 2016):

Zoo De Mulhouse, France
Highland Wildlife Park, Kincraig, Scotland
Diergaarde Blijdorp / Rotterdam Zoo, The Netherlands
AquaZoo Friesland , The Netherlands
WILDLANDS Adventure Zoo Emmen, The Netherlands
Dierenrijk Nuenen, The Netherlands
Ouwehands Dierenpark Rhenen, The Netherlands
Monde Sauvage, Belgium
Zoom Erlebniswelt, Gelsenkirchen, Germany
Wuppertal Zoo, Deutschland
Tiergarten Schönbrunn Freunde, Wien, Austria
ZOO Brno, Czech Republic
Zoo Praha, Czech Republic
Zoo Berlin, Germany
Hagenbeck - Tierpark und Tropen-Aquarium, Germany
Bremerhaven Zoo, Germany

China (2015, 2016):

Xi'an Qujian Polar Ocean Park, China
Wuhan Haichang Polar Ocean World, China
Nanjing Underwater World, China
Quancheng Ocean Polar World, China
Qingdao Polar Ocean World, China
Beijing Zoo, China
Dalian Forest Park, China
Changchun Zoological and Botanical Garden, China
Harbin Polarland, China, China
Guangzhou GrandView Mall, China

Japan (2018):

Osaka Tennōji Zoo, Japan
Kumamoto City Zoological and Botanical Gardens, Japan
Kōbe Ōji Zoo, Japan
Himeji City Zoo, Japan
Hamamatsu Municipal Zoo, Japan
Higashiyama Zoo and Botanical Gardens, Nagoya, Japan
Zoorasia (ズーラシア), Yokohama, Japan
Shizuoka Municipal Nihondaira Zoo, Japan
Oga Aquarium GAO, Japan 
Asahiyama Zoo, Asahikawa, Hokkaidō, Japan
Sapporo Maruyama Zoo, Hokkaidō, Japan
Ueno Zoological Gardens, Tokyo, Japan