Polar Bear Attempts Self Portrait

A wide angle vertically-oriented digital photograph documenting a performance in a white gallery with cement floors. In the center of the image two blocks of ice rest on a white easel. A human arm with a sock puppet-like polar bear arm attachment holds a paintbrush and reaches through a white curtain to paint the blocks of ice. Water and acrylic paint can be seen dripping down the easel and onto the plush white carpet below.Medium angle a performance documentation still. Two blocks of ice both roughly the size of a shoe box rest atop a white easel. A costumed polar bear arm with claws hold a medium size paint brush and can be seen applying big gobs of white paint onto the surface of the ice where it is melting. A human spectator stands in the foreground watching the performance. A white curtain protects the human puppet master wearing the polar bear arm from being seen but the outline of their forehead pressed up against the sheet can be seen.Medium angle a performance documentation still. Two blocks of ice both roughly the size of a shoe box rest atop a white easel. A costumed polar bear arm with claws hold a medium size paint brush and can be seen applying big gobs of white paint onto the surface of the ice where it is melting. A human spectator stands in the foreground watching the performance. A white curtain protects the human puppet master wearing the polar bear arm from being seen but the outline of their forehead pressed up against the sheet can be seen.Closeup of a performance documentation still. Two blocks of ice both roughly the size of a shoe box rest atop a white easel. A costumed polar bear arm with claws hold a medium size paint brush and can be seen applying big gobs of white paint onto the surface of the ice where it is melting.

 

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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?