Portrait of the artist apologizing, with signage, to two adolescent, mercury-crazed polar bears on melting ice. – Paul Roux – 2009, oil on canvas, 40 x 106 inches. Private Collection.
I completed the above painting in 2009. Obviously it is an extension of the idea of the need for acknowledgment of our impact on the planet. Conceptually, it is also a hybrid of project apology and another ongoing performance project of mine – I’m busy being busy, but here’s my card.
The painting was inspired partly by a documentary about the increasing number of attacks by polar bears on humans in the arctic circle, thought by science to be brought on by a combination of high mercury levels (as a result of the accumulation of man-made pollutants in the marine system), global warming, accelerated by human activity and population levels, and which functions to shift bear and prey migration patterns on account of shorter winters and shifting and diminishing ice packs. These factors, individually and collectively, bring individuals with no previous human contact into contact with human settlement. And then sometimes ‘perpetrators’ are individuals who have had experience with humans and yet are just plain desperate or crazy, or a combination of both.
The syndrome of increasing attacks attributed to high levels of mercury in the food chain is also illustrative of the idea that the biosphere is a single highly complex organism. Since the ocean is ultimately one body of water (and as such a great metaphor for symbiotic nature of the biosphere), waterborne pollutants ultimately end up in the ocean, which means that even the most seemingly pristine environments are contaminated.
We as a species are ultimately responsible for these attacks, we can not blame the bears! We have been shitting in our own backyard on a grand scale since the start of the industrial revolution. Now that we are aware of it, there’s no use complaining about the consequences, of which the Polar Bear’s plight and its sometimes gory impact on humans is one of the more high profile examples. Nor is there any excuse for governments not to legislate and monitor sustainable non-toxic industry and alternative energy policy and to severely punish offenders. Because the issue is no longer about political popularity and profitability, it is about the sustainability of all life on the planet and can not be separated from our immediate quality of life. Ask your local and national government representatives about what they are doing along these lines and talk to environmentally focused non-profit organizations about what you can do to speed up the process.
If you are lucky, or unlucky, enough to live in a part of the world where the bubble hasn’t burst just yet, you can bet on the fact that one day it will, so its important that we all take action today, both individually and collectively.
Because of their size, handsomeness and highly specialized nature, polar bear represent one of the luckier species in terms of human impact, awareness and potential future intervention. While it’s high profile gives it a higher chance of survival, if there is no ice at some point in the not too distant future, how will it adapt to new environments and increased interaction with humans?
These days, more and more Polar Bears are reportedly being found drowned at sea because arctic ice packs, the specific environment to which the polar bear is adapted, are shifting and disintegrating at alarming rates. Also, because they are the apex predators in their ecosystem and the cumulative effect of toxins is magnified as it climbs up the food chain they are particularly vulnerable, especially since many toxic pollutants, like mercury, bond particularly well to fat cells and these animals require a high fat diet for survival.