He is not a mortal beast but an anachronism – a phantom out of a dead time, the invincible epitome of the old wild life. That is roughly how Faulkner outlines the myth of the virtuous Old Ben, whose hunt embodies the crossing from one existence to another: from man to bear. Hunting becomes a symbol of existence, a self-sustaining desire to explore, which is less about the catch than the obsessive chase.
Isole Faraguna, On A Pink Planet, Good Will Hunting, Dead Dolphin and Praise Shadows. In a prancing, marching pose and with an enraptured smile, five life-sized bear figures are hanging on the wall. From head to toe, they are decorated with cultic body painting and hippiesque motifs – flowers, sun, moon and stars or ghostly silhouettes in a trance. On a blue, golden or whitewashed ground they appear like cutout-relics of a jerky collage animation. It would be fatal to dismiss them as camouflaged clones, as they are way more than that – ancestor-like doubles, ecstatic super-egos.
Out of the depths of the Deadhead fan blogs, these reincarnations of the psychedelic rock band The Grateful Dead (1965-95) are elevated to linchpins of a collective and personal identity and ultimately to patron saints for Braegger. Their names, appropriated Instagram pseudonyms, are firing paradoxical narratives and phantasms, which can be credulously held on to: fictional islands as heterotopic places of otherness; the painful search for benevolence in a cynically hard world; the shock image of a dead sea mammal on the be- ach as the transcendent experience between death and resurrection.
When projected onto the totem animal, they bring something parodistic into play. What becomes of a revolutionary myth in times when subculture has long been turned into the glamorous sublime and where a steady ostentation of virtuosity makes a mockery of the fanatic? It is precisely this metamorphosis from the niche cult to the omnipresent – borne by the nexus between the idol and her followers – which, above all, culminates in one thing: Pop that is less ironic than it seems.
Incendiary and far from condescending irony, Sturtevant’s “Krazy Kats“ are the bears’ kindred spirits. Originally created by Herriman and artistically digested by Fahlström – Sturtevant in an unwaveringly fertile process catapulted them from copy to original. The hunting of the bears internalizes that emancipatory gesture. It is precisely the mysterious aura of these figures that grows with its reproduction and distribution in the protected and yet porous space of art. Thus the illusion of its uniqueness survives. One might even imagine that there the bear pictures perform what is at once one oldest phobias and oldest hopes of man – developing autonomous life and, like Byzantine icons somehow giving the impression of having emerged in a divine way.
– Elisa R. Linn