Karine Genest offers us a view of Churchill, Manitoba during the polar bear migration season during her show Un Autre Nord: Les Ours Polaires de Churchill, at the Centre de la Francophonie on Strickland Street.
A selection of digital photographs turns a lens on the largest, whitest and furriest temporary residents of that community on the shore of James Bay.
Who can resist pictures of polar bears? They’re glamorous large mammals, wonderful forms in space. Black eyes and nose contrast expressively with their yellowy white fur.
In the flesh, they can eat you, no problem at all. So a picture of a polar bear, in many ways, beats being in the bear’s crosshairs – paws down.
It costs $400 a day to go out in a tundra buggy to view the bears. This is likely an incredible experience, but a visit to the Centre de la Francophonie is a steal of a deal by comparison.
Genest spent two polar bear seasons in Churchill, the autumns of 2010 and 2011. She was visiting her sweetheart, Kelsey Eliasson, who was working as a tundra buggy driver and bear safety support for film crews. He lived in a cabin 20 km out of town.
Genest recounts the day a polar bear looked in her kitchen window. Given the angle it needed to assume to look in, it must have been 11-feet long. She was shaking afterwards.
Polar bears gather near Churchill because it’s the first place where ice forms on James Bay. The group that waits in Churchill spends the summer further south.
They start moving north in early October. Sometimes it takes until later in November for the ice to form, so they have to wait.
Some images are set in frames presenting a sequence of smaller images. Other single images of various sizes hang in simple clip frames.
In the grouping of photographs Genest calls “educational”, we see the polar bear “prison”, where bears who wander into town are kept, tagged, tranquilized, carried to the airfield on an ATV trailer, put into nets under helicopters and airlifted 50 km north of town.
Documentary photographs like this are balanced with shots of art and whimsy. In a six-image frame, we see a polar bear on its back rubbing itself in some snow.
It’s called “Oh que ca fait du bien” which translates roughly as “Oh, that feels so good.” It made me laugh out loud.
One 8×10″ print, “C’est moi” (“It’s me”), we see two bears standing close to each other, forehead to jaw, heads lowered. On closer inspection, we can see they’re looking at their subtle reflections in the ice.
Other shots feature the Churchill landscape and skies.
Genest shot her photographs on a Nikon D 70 and a Canon Powershot A 720 IS.
At the opening, Genest gave a bilingual artist talk, pausing and retelling each section in the other language.
Marie-Maude Allard played songs on guitar and accordion at the opening, including a haunting piece sung a cappella with a sound of cold wind played from her computer behind it, followed by a melody on a low D whistle.
Two of Eliasson’s acrylic paintings accompany the show. Yukon art viewers became familiar with Eliasson’sdistinctively expressive brushwork through a show at Baked Cafe. His brushwork continues to carry momentum in these two paintings.
In “Magic Hour,” Eliasson depicts a mother bear with two cubs. The three bears are grouped together into one triangular form. This form is placed on a yellow ground of separate brushstrokes all going in one diagonal direction.
The bears are defined by similar strokes using more blue and white as well as blue outlines.
“Migration” uses a wider range of marks. The background uses marks much like those in “Magic Hour”, but the snout uses slower, rounder marks. A stroke of red in the eye gives me a sense of how arduous the migration must be for these bears.
Eliasson’s next show of paintings will be called Revolution #98. He will mix icons of Beatlemania with Gold Rush imagery in the Yukon Arts Centre Community Gallery in June.
Another North can be viewed at the Centre de la Francophonie Fridays at 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. until June 8, or by request.
Don’t be shy, even if your French is rusty—ask at the office during open hours if you can see “les ours polaires dans la salle communautaire.” It even rhymes.