Le donjon de l’ours qui dort [The keep of the sleeping bear] – Mark Dion

Le donjon de l’ours qui dort [The keep of the sleeping bear]



2012, Seyne-les-Alpes, VIAPAC contemporary art trail


If there is an animal that is the subject of legends and myths, it is surely the bear. It is probably the most paradoxical of the animals that have inspired people’s imagination. It is known to be really solitary, dangerous and aggressive. But histories present it as a gentle, calm being. It is known to have a dark, violent character, but all children dream of having a teddy bear. For Mark Dion, the bear crystallises all contradictions: an endangered species, it has always been persecuted by both hunters and shepherds, but also protected by other people who see it as an animal that symbolises the violence that Man inflicts upon nature. At the Seyne Fort, one can hear snoring. The bear is there, asleep, comfortably settled in a fairytale setting. However, his touching posture also reveals a massive creature of imposing size, who could awaken to re-embody the revival of rich, complex nature. In the tourist office, it is presented in a shrine, on a purple cushion of noble quality. Asleep or dead, this specimen is represented here as a kind of relic on its showcase, a precious vestige of a disappeared species that evokes memories and nostalgia. The bear’s sleep also evokes a certain serenity. It now rests in peace in its glass cage, ironically protected from Man by Man. This work is perfectly integrated into the history of the Fort and the surrounding area where, more than one hundred years ago, people hunted the bear. It also raises current questions such as the re-introduction of species that previously disappeared, such as the wolf.
The artist Mark Dion was born in 1961 in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and he lives and works in New York. He explores the crossovers between art and science, visions and production of knowledge, museum collection and forms of presentation. By taking the place of an amateur scientist, a collector, a historian and/or a biologist, Mark Dion takes an often humorous and critical look at the relationships between culture and nature. This is the case of his works Collection Index Digne and L’ours [The bear] in the Musée Gassendi.

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