Snæbjörnsdóttir and Wilson, "nanoq: flat out and bluesome," installation at Spike island, 2004
Bryndis Snæbjörnsdóttir and Mark Wilson conduct their collaborative practice from bases in the north of England and Reykjavík, Iceland. With a strong research grounding, their socially engaged projects explore contemporary relationships between human and non-human animals in the contexts of history, culture and the environment. Their practice sets out to challenge anthropocentric systems and thinking that sanction loss through representation of the other, proposing instead, alternative tropes of "parities in meeting." Their work is installation based, using objects, text, photography and video. In Norway and Alaska they are researching the architecture of polar bear dens to develop a major video and installation work.
During a residency in Svalbard we focused on the maternity dens of polar bears in Svalbard – being as they are, a perfectly adapted model for habitat in the arctic environment. We are particularly interested in the specific architecture and ergonomics of these structures, so in addition to our discussions with biologists we’d appreciate an understanding of their functionality from the perspective of physicists. In the late 60’s and 70’s research into polar bear dens was conducted in a much more physical way than today where DNA samples supposedly give answers to many of the questions asked about the animal and its habitat. Despite this, scientists still take measurements and photograph the dens as well as mapping them using GPS technology. Thus, given the right circumstances, it is not difficult to visit a den having been given the exact location. The maternity den however does not last long and is often occupied again by other polar bears for different purposes (harborage etc.) than to hibernate and give birth.
The Polar Bear species is under threat from global warming, largely through the depletion of ice and shortened winters. Through this study we will look for examples of adaptation to changing environmental circumstance as a basis for contemplation and re-appraisal of accepted knowledge, through the processes of discussion with experts in the field, empirical enquiry and ultimately, art-driven initiatives. It is thus our belief that by recreating the den in the way we propose will produce truer and more holistic image of this unique animal and its environment than the endless flow of polar bear images that are more prone to misrepresent the animal and its nature, than give a realistic view. It is after all, impossible for us to imagine the polar bear experience without anthropomorphizing – and turning the animal erroneously by default into a domesticated creature either through the photographic image, the cuddly toy or the stuffed specimen.