The polar bear – the world’s largest and fiercest land predator, used to be emblematic of the cold. But today, it is a symbol of warmth.
Images of polar bears, such as Arne Naevra’s Polar Meltdown (2007) of a polar bear teetering on a small piece of ice, have been photographed, illustrated, produced, reproduced, misappropriated, circulated and re-circulated, continuously with minimal contest or understanding of the effect for over a decade. As the atmosphere inches toward a potential +2˚C temperature increase, the polar bear as a ubiquitous icon of climate change has prevailed and now peaked. Main Attraction is a video work, that explores the popular, potent and political problematics of selecting this animal from a specific geographic region to represent a global phenomenon, one that is highly complex and human-induced. The sentimental anthropomorphic representation devalues polar bears as keystone predators, distracts from the larger issues of carbon in the atmosphere affecting their habits, and fails to provide justice to the broader picture and complexities of climate science, politics and culture.
The unfurling reality is that without drastic human intervention now, populations of polar bears will be extinct within this century along with 70% of the world’s species in a mass extinction event. The flickering effect in Main Attraction alludes to this tipping point, like the moment before a fluorescent lamp burns out forever. The polar bear in this frame is caught in a quasi-suspended animation, literally insane from her manufactured cement and chlorine environment. A disruption in the third rotation brings the viewer face-to-face with the defeated.
Listen to the soundscape:
Jen Rae is a Canadian Métis (Indigenous)/Australian artist-researcher engaged in the discursive field of contemporary environmental art and a scholar in arts-based environmental communication. Her creative practice and research interests centre around food systems knowledge, disaster scenarios and ecological futures thinking via transdisciplinary collaborative methodologies and community engagement.
Jen is a multi-art-form artist including public art, drawing, animation and cookery. She is also the Co-founder The Riparian Project and Fair Share Fare, a collaborative, multi-platform art project focused on future food security in a time of climate change. Highlight projects this year include partnering with Yup’ik artist Emily Johnson on SHORE in NARRM: Feast for the Yirramboi First Nations Festival, Flow at the Counihan Gallery for the CLIMARTE: Art + Climate=Change Festival, and Arts House’s REFUGE project in November 2017.
Jen is a board member of the Creative Recovery Network and lectures in the faculty of VCA/MCM, University of Melbourne.