Carlee Fernandez: Bear Studies

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“This… work is about cracking a bear open and seeing this human inside, like one of those Russian dolls,” says the artist of this series, called Bear Studies.

Humans have worn animal skins to take on the character or traits of those animals for a long time. This series is no exception: before the photos were taken, the artist spent two months experimenting with “finding her inner bear” while wearing the pieces of bearskin. While the austere white-and-grey background of the photos does not exactly suggest an environment common to human and bear, it certainly does make the line between the artist’s body and the bearskin more stark and  bizarre.

Some of the photos seem darkly humorous (a common mood in Fernandez’s work), such as a burly, hairy, bearish torso supported by thin human legs. Standing out as more poignant, the first one I’ve selected of the bear/human divide being down the middle of the body in a vertical line seems to me to show the most unity between the two bodies – the “cracking open” of the bear to find the inner human.

While the artist describes her intent as “to try out for being a bear,” the photographs do a lot more. There are both vulnerability and power implied in the combination of the nude human body and the dead bears’ skin. The photos seem to show the humanity, and fragility, of the bear beside the power of the naked human, when we might often expect the opposite. The bear that Fernandez becomes is an odd one – equal parts languorous and awkward; powerful and pathetic. Possibly the greatest success of this work, to me, is that it shows that it is seldom possible to rid ourselves of human trappings, body language, cultural contexts, and power over other creatures – that when we audition for the part of a bear, we can only become an odd and confusing hybrid, both human and animal, and neither.

More of Fernandez’s work can be found on her website.

An article about Bear Series that offers information about the artist’s process and intent can be found here.

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