On Poliquin's 'Breathless Zoo'
One example is a recent exhibition of taxidermied polar bears culled from homes, museums, and collections around the U.K. Long a powerful symbol of strength and solitude, now a mnemonic for the losses wrought by climate change, the polar bears in the exhibition, “briefly together but solitary,” illustrate for Poliquin the emotional potency of preserved dead animals and the inexorable intellectual and cultural ideologies that determine how and why they are killed, prepared, and displayed. In this exhibition, she sees our attention drawn critically to both an outdated British cultural imaginary of conquest and mastery as well as to the uncanny displacement of the natural world, which serves as a reflection of the “wistfulness,” “waiting,” “loneliness,” and “absence” that filters our relationship to the environment in crisis. These two moments of history called up by the doubly displaced polar bears crystallize some basic questions of taxidermy as practice and artifact: is it symbolic or individual? Victimized or saved? Animal or object? Poliquin suggests that it is the polar bears’ “ambiguity that makes them such potent objects.”