Polar Bear Attempts Self Portrait

 

Polar Bear Attempts Self Portrait. 2019. HD Video. 66 seconds.

Image Description: A medium close-up fixed position video shot using a built-in laptop camera. A chunk of ice rests on an easel in the middle of the screen. From screen left a polar bear arm holding a paintbrush rigorously paints the block of ice. The video is sped up to show the rapid melting of the acrylic paint as it lands on the surface and then cascades downward with the melting water. There are brief moments where we see the representational image of a polar bear on the ice before it drips away.

Polar Bear Paints Attempts a Self Portrait is a laptop camera-recorded video of a polar bear, the unwitting mascot of climate catastrophe, desperately trying to paint and maintain its self portrait on a melting block of ice. The polar bear is a culturally located visual symbol for the largely invisible and/or masked human operations causing climate devastation. Its demise, connected so closely to the binary condition of its natural territory- frozen or not frozen- is more transparent than the economic imperatives that drive this process. I granted the polar bear the absurd agency to paint and record itself with some degree of realism, as if marking its territory in the neoliberal world of stark individualism, but offered it no stable surface for these skills to translate to anything other than diluted pools of pigment. The video makes a visual spectacle of its battle with the limits of fixed visual representation. If the climate to sustain the thing being visually represented is ill-suited to its continued existence, why should its image have any easier time fixing itself? This performance, simple as its setup and execution was, has continued to raise questions for me after I finished it about how to make work that uses visual representation and its limits as a catalyst for inventive forms of sustained empathy and engagement. If the climate to sustain the thing being visually represented is ill-suited to its continued existence, why should its image have any easier time fixing itself?