Polar Bear in Zoos (2014-)
Medium: photo, video
In 1986, a pair of polar bear cubs was introduced to the city zoo of Taipei from Canada. The zoo used ice and air conditioners to simulate the arctic environment; however, the subtropical weather soon began to leave marks on the white bears. Despite the effort of numerous experienced veterinarians, they developed symptoms that made them virtually unrecognizable — visitors thought they were giant stray dogs suffering from severe skin diseases. The bears died in agony in 1996.
The photographic project Polar Bears in Zoos depicts the status of polar bears and their captivity environments around the world. With a typological manner, the series constructed an array of uncanny artificial landscapes that are unique to our times. The project also attempts to shed light on the corresponding contemporary zoological issues.
Polar Bears in Zoos is not about polar bears — it studies the visible symptoms amid animals and manufactured landscapes by focusing on one specific species in large format quality. These enclosures are audacious contemporary architectures designed to satisfy the dwellers (animals) and the audience. These homes, constructed to mimic the original habitat, are bizarre combinations of “nature” and “stage”. Juxtaposed with urban backgrounds, the structures and their furry protagonists formed visions filled with complex details and vastly contrasting elements — grasslands, swimming pools, stone stairs, painted icebergs, fake seals, buildings, yachts, sometimes even airplanes. Under limited space and budget, the zoological landscapes are disturbingly beautiful, with various issues lurking beneath their surfaces.
Maintaining the welfare of zoo animals is an intricate task that juggles the constraints of expense and enclosure sizes — a delicate balance that may easily be disrupted. The existence of polar bears in captivity portrays the ambiguity of modern zoos. Almost always promoted as exotic tourist-attracting stars, the bears are often the singularity points at which contemporary justifications of zoos fail — the shining notions of conservation, research and education overshadowed by the intension of public entertainment.
Sheng Wen Lo
Jan. 7, 2015
Jan 06, 2015
architectural, environmental, fine art, geology, landscape, nature, photojournalism
zoo, Polar Bear, animal welfare