Image used with direct permission of the artist, Robert Bissell.
Description: Bear figures dominate the visual space of the art, with some featured prominently in the foreground and many others emerging from the background in a seemingly endless stream coming towards the viewer out of the water. The soft muted blue colour gradient highlights the approaching bears and their calm yet demanding eye. EMERSION challenges the viewer to consider what these bears could be asking of us.
I’m so struck by this painting. It speaks to the question: what are the bears asking of us, as individual people and collectively as a human species? Worldviews are colliding over Grizzly Bears, just as they are over pipelines, dams, ideologies, etc. And worldviews conflict over the meaning of “conservation”.
Edward O. Wilson, the American biologist, researcher and naturalist observes that we’re all living in a bottleneck right now of rising populations, depleting resources and disappearing species; that we must try and get through this time with as much of the living earth intact as possible. He states: “If global biodiversity is given space and security, most of the large fraction of species now endangered will regain sustainability on their own.”* Wilson popularized the hypothesis of Biophilia, which is a natural, biological love for life that helps sustain life. It is one way of framing a lens of conservation that is personal, intimate, compassionate relationship with other species. Such a view works with personality, character traits, personal anecdote ….
A conflicting lens views Grizzly Bears, and other wildlife, as commodities, or marketable components of a resource-based economy that serves human beings; it presents conservation in terms that strive for emotionally distant connection to other species, so as to maintain objectivity in decision making. Such a view works from models, extrapolations, numbers, estimates ……
What is certainly true, however is this:
“In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.” (Baba Dioum, 1968.)
* Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life by Edward O. Wilson