In ARKEN's Art Axis, you can come face to face with Paola Pivi’s feathered polar bears in life-size. Give yourself plenty of time to study them closely and use your own body as a yardstick.

29 February 2020 to 10 January 2021


Paola Pivi, We are the Alaskan tourists. ARKEN. Photo: David Stjernholm. Courtesy the artist & Perrotin

Meet the Alaskan tourists

Fifteen polar bears covered in brightly coloured feathers cavort inside ARKENs 150-metre long exhibition space. The Alaskan tourists are engaged in a conversation, a dance or a challenging yoga exercise – at least that is how it may look. If you get close to the bears, their animal features become clearer – with the pitch-black oval eyes, long sharp claws and pointed white teeth, they are true to life, beastlike and intimidating. But first and foremost, it is the polar bears’ life-size bodies that make an impact and make us realize that we are standing in front of the world’s largest terrestrial predator.

Paola Pivi, I was here before you, 2014, and I never danced before, 2013. We are the Alaskan tourists. ARKEN. Photo: David Stjernholm. Courtesy the artist & Perrotin

The King of the Arctic

One can easily imagine the big bears coming to life – wrinkling their noses, blinking their dark eyes, shaking out their lush plumage. And a thought arises: how would the bears act if they could simply resume their actions? Would they speak and move as human beings? Or would they move around on all fours and roar like predators?

The surreal scenario has been created by the Italian-born artist Paola Pivi. With her ambiguous rendition of the polar bear, she challenges our usual views on the Arctic predator and invites us to think along with her. In myths and popular culture, animals are often presented stereotyped: the polar bear is The King of the Arctic, majestic and powerful, just as other tales present the owl as wise and the snake as sneaky. But how do we perceive the polar bear when its thick white fur has been replaced by light feathers in gaudy colours – and what new meanings does this add to such a well-known animal? Today, the polar bear lives in regions where the Arctic ice cap is diminishing, and it has become a popular symbol of a changing world. Seen in this light, the exchange of fur with feathers points to a fragile and uncertain future. Perhaps it is precisely the feathers that enable the bears to survive as the snow melts in the cold north.

Paola Pivi herself offers no clear-cut explanation, and she sees no purpose in explaining or elaborating on her art. It must speak for itself, and we must draw on our own ideas and experiences, born out of our own dealings with living animals and their representations. All people – regardless of age, gender and ethnicity – have a relationship with animals, and we see them everywhere. However, we rarely encounter them in such unfamiliar situations as those staged by Pivi. With these works, she surprises and startles audiences, making us reflect on the complex relationship between us, the animal world and our shared planet. In the Art Axis, the feathered flock could be regarded as both majestic fable-like animals, and it could evoke images of a new hybrid species, one that has adapted itself to the climate of the future.

About the artist

Paola Pivi was born in Italy in 1971. For several years, she lived a nomadic life, which has led her to many different parts of the world. Today, she lives and works in Alaska and Milan together with her family. As a multi-media artist, Paola Pivi’s practice is diverse and contains works that span across several media, from sculpture and installation to photography and performance. Her enigmatic art abolishes the distinction between the familiar and the alien, blurring the boundaries between reality and fantasy. Animals are a recurrent motif in Paola Pivi’s art. For example, she has had 84 goldfish board a passenger plane that flew across New Zealand, transported two horses up the Eiffel Tower and photographed a crocodile consuming a pile of whipped cream. The animals are placed in strange situations, given new colours and a new tactility, and she infuses them with human characteristics and gestures that challenge our view of animals we thought we knew so well. Like the polar bears, these works offer new perspec­tives on animals and ourselves and stage a complex relationship between nature and culture.


Paola Pivi, Here it comes the hunter, 2013. We are the Alaskan tourists. ARKEN. Photo: David Stjernholm. Courtesy the artist & Perrotin

We are the Alaskan tourists forms part of ARKEN’s exhibition Animals in Art, which besides Paola Pivi presents works by Cory Arcangel, John Baldessari, Richard Barnes, Sophie Calle, Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg, Maurizio Cattelan, Mark Dion, Martin Eder, Michael Elmgreen & Ingar Dragset, Annika Eriksson, Daniel Firman, Laura Ford, Douglas Gordon, Damien Hirst, Candida Höfer, Tim Noble & Sue Webster, Patricia Piccinini, Paul McCarthy, David Shrigley, William Wegman and many others.

The exhibition is supported by:




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