simon fujiwara presents who the bær at milan's fondazione prada

May 05, 2021

fondazione prada’s milan headquarters presents who the bær, a new site-specific project by the berlin-based, japanese/british artist simon fujiwara. taking over the ground floor of the podium, the mixed-media installation introduces who the bær, a cartoon character that inhabits a fictional universe.

in an interview with designboom, fujiwara addresses the inherent contradictions of image and narrative making – from social media and self presentation to marketing and history formation – and revels in the complexity and paradox of our simultaneous quest for fantasy and authenticity.

throughout his diverse artistic practice, simon fujiwara explores the concept of contemporary individuality and self-representation. he surveys the deeply rooted mechanisms of identity construction for both individuals and societies, and in fact, who the bær – who is a cartoon without a clear character – seems to have not yet developed a strong personality or instincts, has no history, defined gender or even sexuality. known as who, the bear is only aware that they is an image, and they seeks to define themselves in a world of other images.

designboom: there was once a little bear… who seeks to define himself by investigating the culture we consume.  you designed a character and his world…

simon fujiwara: yes (laughs) I’m happy to present you ‘who the bær’, a cartoon character with no clear identity, no sexual orientation, no clear design, no gender distinction, no race. he/she/it/they live in a flat world, an online world of pictures, yet one filled with infinite possibilities. my fairytale is set within a large labyrinth, that looks frank gehry style inspired and is made almost entirely from cardboard and recycled materials, forming the shape of a giant bear. with a lot of drawings on the walls and some sculptures, videos and animation.

DB: ‘who’ is destined to remain an image?

SF:  yes, but ‘who’ is able to transform or adapt into any image they encounter, boasting the attributes and identities of those in the image. as always with fairy tales, there is the opposition with something sad. the tragedy lies in the fact that, even with all this freedom, who the bær may never overcome the challenge of being just an image. they may become human, animal, or an object. and just like this, the world of who the bær becomes a depiction of freedom as who can be whoever they wish to be, they can transcend time and space and can be either subject or object.

SF continues: we follow the story of the bear as they encounter different images, most of them ‘met’ online, they seek an identity to be actualised, to become ‘someone’. (the world is actually very shitty now) there is no place for fantasy, we’ve no ability to believe in politics. any traditional form of identity has broken down. we can’t really believe in that all without feeling bad about it and denying something else. I figured, a bear could believe in everything and took it to an extreme level in which the bear believes in things so much that they can actually become them. become a ship. a car. we are trapped in such a capitalist logic and it applies to ecology too. they become a polar bear, greta thunberg…

DB: the exhibition is very articulated, when did you start? when did you know you would show at the prada foundation?

SF: the project came to life almost a year ago, during the first lockdown. isolated, I tried to work and as it was just me, no assistant, no collaborations, I started with drawings. no, I actually started with collages. a lot of images taken from the internet. a lot of news that were happening at that time when the current pandemic was beginning. I suffered isolation and being completely in a mediated world. not seeing anyone but images of the world, through phone, TV, the internet. the world became a collagistic experience for me. then I got the chance to do an exhibition about it and in such a short time frame I prepared everything. lots of sleepless nights (laughs).

DB: the pandemic and everything that came with it was kind of a rapture?

SF: like in a collage, things that don’t belong to each other were butting up together. I started out of this desperation and hopelessness, feelings that many people were having: my reaction was printing images out and drawing over them. in a moment full of ‘news’, developments in race discussions and gender questions… I could not bear that, could not adapt to the situation and I wanted to see how a cartoon character could process and react to all these things, because I certainly was not able to.

DB: is identity being an icon?

SF: cartoon characters are based on an idea and I was interested in a character that could contain ‘thinking’. our world is already cartoonified – things are reduced and simplified. everything is fighting and has to be somehow iconic to survive and to make it through the noise. there is a kind of violence and pressure on us individuals to simplify ourselves, to make it through this chaotic landscape.

DB: why has that been the case?

SF: there seems to be this general simplification happening and I wanted to look at the very complex issues through an incredible simplistic lens of what a cartoon would do with this. so, who travels, goes to egypt, to africa, in a search for identity, culturally appropriating different cultures. the process shows how colonized we already are – through images. images and places that have been created for us. same as our gender representations, the way we dress, family, the ethical life…

set within a giant labyrinth made almost entirely from cardboard and recycle materials and forming the shape of a giant bear, fujiwara presents the world of who the bær as a flat, online world of pictures, yet one filled with infinite possibilities. overall, the exhibition introduces the public to a coming-of-age story composed of both cheerful and traumatic events. from focus groups to therapy sessions, from plastic surgery to global travels, from sexual fantasies to dystopian dreams, simon fujiwara portrays the formative process of a fictitious character as they interpret and appropriate the real world of images, distorting everything they see into the absurd logic of their personal universe.

the project will continue to develop into a digital platform aimed at sharing and exploring, through the instagram account @whothebaer, animated by fujiwara, and a web app also conceived by the artist. who the bær will be also completed by a publication by fondazione prada that will include a conversation with the artist.

who is googeling a lot, tries to understand


exhibition info:

name: the world of who the bær

artist: simon fujiwara

location: fondazione prada, milan headquarters

dates: 29 april – 27 september 2021