On display at Fondazione Prada until September 27, the showcase immerses us in a fairytale atmosphere where Who, a cardboard bear in search of identity, fights to become more than one of the thousand images composing reality.

Text by: Gilda Bruno

Simon Fujiwara – Ph. Andrea Rossetti

“There was once a little bear…” are the words that curator, editor, and professor Barbara Casavecchia used to kick start yesterday’s Instagram live with Simon Fujiwara: the mind behind Fondazione Prada’s newest exhibition — running until September 27 — and its curious cartoon protagonist, Who the Bær: a genderless cardboard bear “seeking to define themselves through a world of images.” 

As COVID-19 restrictions forced the organisers to postpone the press preview of the showcase until further notice, Fujiwara joined Casavecchia in an hour-long conversation on the ideas that shaped the figure of Who and the meaning they hold for the current scenario. “The project started almost a year ago, during the first lockdown,” the Berlin-based artist said on Instagram. 

“Back then, I was gathering inspiration from a lot of images taken from the internet as well as from the news that was happening at that time. One of the things I was responding to was the isolation of being completely in a mediated reality, not seeing anyone but images of the world.” 

Courtesy of Fondazione Prada

A gigantic bear-shaped labyrinth installation located at the ground floor of Fondazione Prada’s podium, Who the Bær is an artistic response to the overly saturated nature of the society we live in; where countless photographs and pieces of information are shared daily in an incessant flow of content, becoming nothing but one of the infinite components of internet culture. 

Courtesy of Fondazione Prada

Through recycled materials, hand-crafted objects, drawings, and sculptures, British-Japanese artist Simon Fujiwara gives his cartoon bear hundreds of personalities in a show embodying the fluidity of the postmodernist stance to the fullest, starting with the choice of the provocatory name “Who.” Stemming from Fujiwara’s lockdown experiments with collage, the cardboard bear gets to reinvent themselves throughout the exhibition by taking on the features of whatever they see along their journey, thus “expanding their ‘bearness’ into something completely new,” as Casavecchia pointed out during the live-streamed chat with the artist. 

“The fantastic universe of Who the Bær is a world of freedom,” reads the press release of the exhibition. “Who can be anyone they wish to be, they can transcend time and space, they can be both subject and object. Who may never even be able to get over their one real challenge: to become something more than a simple image.” 

The fairytale-inspired world of Fujiwara is anything but childish: quite the contrary, the showcase wants to shed light on the ocean of opportunities made available to us by technology, while warning the public about the importance of finding their real selves outside of the digital world too. A message that, as people are continuously constrained indoors by the pandemic, resounds in the air like a sincere invitation to disconnect from the mediated dimension and give in to the beautiful little things that life has to offer us.