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Installation view of SIMON FUJIWARA’s Who’s Bærlines? (First Class Cabin Seat), 2021, wood, diorama trees, plastic, cardboard, fabric, aluminum can, and two videos: 31 min (wall monitor) and 11 min 12 sec (seat monitor); overall dimensions variable, at “Who the Bær,” Fondazione Prada, Milan, 2021. Photo by Andrea Rossetti. Courtesy the artist and Fondazione Prada.

Who the Bær

Simon Fujiwara

Also available in:  Chinese

“Who the Bær,” Simon Fujiwara’s exhibition at Fondazione Prada in Milan, brought his new cartoon character to life. During lockdown, Fujiwara began collaging his drawings with cut-outs of news articles and pictures sourced from the web. This body of work eventually coalesced into the tale of a genderless bear, whose boundless identities and forms are shared via the Instagram account @whothebaer. Materialized in an installation at Fondazione Prada, Who the Bær infiltrated and distorted all sorts of images and objects to create a Who-branded universe.

On the ground floor of the Podium, Fujiwara’s story unfolded inside a huge, bear-shaped cardboard labyrinth, in which viewers were immersed in an intense visual experience featuring more than 60 works, from assemblages to stop-motion animations, organized in eight thematic areas to illustrate chapters of the character’s life.

Who’s identity struggles surface in several pieces. For example, in the Vitruvian Man-inspired collage Who’s Who? (Da Vinci) (all works 2021), a pastel full-figure drawing of a cute Bær, their arms and legs dangling, is encircled by cut-outs from web questionnaires about gender, ethnicity, social status, and sexual orientation. From their harried facial expression, Who appears puzzled by the overload of choices.

Tapping into the idea of hybrid identities, two wall pieces titled Adam Who? and Eve Who? feature life-size reproductions of Albrecht Dürer’s iconic Biblical figures layered with scraps of jeans, print-outs with stereotypical definitions of gender-normative behavior, and pencil sketches of Who the Bær, turning the classical ideals of feminine and masculine beauty into Frankenstein-esque characters. Elsewhere, a humorous collage, part of a gallery of 15 works titled Who’s a Woman?, presents a pregnant Who with a cross-sectional diagram of a human fetus superimposed on their bump. A pencil note warns, “technical details need to be resolved!”

Attracted by trending figures in the news, the Bær impersonates climate activist Greta Thunberg (Who Is Greta?) and the Berlin Zoo’s famed polar bear Knut (Who Is Knut?) in drawings on tracing paper, overlaying popular photographs of these famed icons of environmentalism. 

Conversely, Who also fantasizes about luxuries that are ecologically devastating. Who’s Bærlines? (First Class Cabin Seat) reproduces the cabin of Who’s private aircraft, which is branded with a logo depicting a swarm of bees. The installation is complete with a “Who world passport,” headphones, soft drinks, and a pink reclining seat where one can relax and watch a documentary on the endangered Sun bear, and observe bear-shaped clouds from the window.

From issues mundane to profound, Who is unfit to take stances. As a consequence, their cheerful campaign for the United States presidency is nonpartisan. In a stop-motion animated video, paper cut-outs spell out vague promises such as “Who will bind us” and “Who will energize us,” respectively accompanied on screen by a tube of superglue and a sports drink can. Also installed in the room were a model of the presidential plane Who Force 1 and a collage portrait of the Bær emblazoned with the slogan “Whope.” 

Church of Who? wrapped up the show, tackling Who’s faith. A large organ made out of cardboard tubes acts as a backdrop to a miniature cardboard cathedral on a raised rectangular box, whose front serves as a kneeler. Viewers are encouraged to peek inside the model cathedral, where the altarpiece is a rotating hologram of a question mark. The ethereal notes of Enya’s New-Age cult song “Only Time” (2000)—with its lyrical refrain “who can say?”—resounded in the gallery, creating a meditative atmosphere. In Who’s world of equivalence, spirituality and entertainment are one thing.

Fujiwara’s show was a clever and dystopic parody of today’s image-obsessed society, where the possibility of constructing multiple identities and narratives online is an inevitable part of a social-media-inflected, late-capitalist culture. It also sparked lingering reflections on how the market-driven illusion that we have the potential to become anything we like through our consumer choices bears little relation to how identities are negotiated against social constraints in real life.

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