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The Politics of the Polar Bear

December 7, 2009 Artists No Comments

Ice Bear in Copenhagen (from Haja Nirina's Flickr Photostream)

Ice Bear in Copenhagen (from Haja Nirina's Flickr Photostream)

When it comes to global warming, no other image captures the public’s sympathy and empathy like the polar bear.  This week’s Climate Conference in Copenhagen is no exception.  Mark Coreth’s ice sculpture of a life sized male polar bear is a case in point.  Finished this past Saturday, December 5, the Copenhagen Ice Project (there is a second ice bear sculpture scheduled for December 11 in London’s Trafalgar Square’s Northern Terrace) measures 1.8 metres high, the same height as the average thickness of the ice that floats in the Arctic Ocean.  Once again art mimics life – the melting away of Coreth’s bear a symbolic reference to the Arctic ice melt.

The public is invited to touch the sculpture.  The physical action of touching the ice sculpture becomes the re-enactment of our individual impact on the environment.  This can be either positive or negative, depending on our environmental integrity – Do we touch to reach out and help or do we touch to take?

Even more striking, however, is the idea of the bronze cast skeleton lying within the ice sculpture.  In the words of Mark Coreth, “When the skeleton begins to appear, it’s going to become terrifying.”

Ice Bear Project's plaster skeleton before being bronzed (See: http://preview.tinyurl.com/yjpl9l2)

Ice Bear Project's plaster skeleton before being bronzed (See: http://preview.tinyurl.com/yjpl9l2)

Commissioned by the WWF International Arctic Program, the ice bear is part of the World Wildlife Fund’s Arctic Tent and Exhibition.  Coreth, himself, got the idea for the ice sculpture while on a visit to Churchill, Manitoba, in November.  An accomplished sculptor renowned for his bronze animals in motion,Coreth’s commissioned works include a flying albatross for The Faulklands Memorial Chapel; a large figure of a boatman for the opening of The Globe Theatre; and the life-size charging elephants in Rome.  In his own words:  “I have always been totally committed to conservation. The more I have travelled to various parts of the world, the more I realize the pressures that the world’s species are under, pressures that are almost invariably imposed upon them by man. I want so badly through my sculpture to raise awareness of these issues and one way or another to support our environment and its species before problems become irrecoverable.”

Good art is supposed to make us think.  Great art leaves us no choice but to reflect seriously upon what we have seen.  What we see in Coreth’s ice bear is art in progress, but this, alone, is not the genius of the work,  the genius is the skeleton left behind.  There can be no mistaking the message – we must act now before the skeleton becomes the embodiment of all that is left of our global footprint.

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