Absence and loss can be tricky concepts to convey in visual art, but sculptor Kirsi Kaulanen has found a way. In her 2011 sculpture Luola (Cave), Kaulanen uses industrial materials and modern technology to affectingly express the disappearance of the natural world. To highlight the loss of plant species in her native Finland, Kaulanen built a three-sided structure of stainless steel and used lasers to cut the shapes of plants in danger of extinction. She uses lights to throw the silhouettes of the plants onto the surrounding walls, creating an effect of shadows, or shades, like the ghosts of dead flowers. Visitors can enter the cave, combining their shadows with those of the plants, as a reminder that one day, we too will be gone.
I love pandas. I mean, I really love pandas. An analysis of my browser history over the year since Bao Bao was born would reveal an embarrassing amount of time logged onto the National Zoo’s PandaCam. When my daughter was very little, she was semi-seriously convinced that I loved Tai Shan more than I loved her. So you would think that I would also love Pandas on Tour, the long-running traveling exhibition by French sculptor Paulo Grangeon.
It’s not that it isn’t appealing. Grangeon’s papier-mâché pandas are completely adorable. If they came to DC, I would go see them, coo over them, and take pictures of them.
Here’s my problem with Grangeon’s Pandas – there are just too many of them.
Let me explain.
The Pandas on Tour project was launched in 2008 in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund and other organizations as a simple way of showing just how endangered pandas are. The 1600 panda sculptures roughly correspond to the number of pandas that remain in the wild. Over the past 6 years, the pandas have traveled to more than 20 countries, where they’ve provided fabulous photo ops everywhere from the Eiffel Tower to the National Theater in Taipei.
I mean, look at them in that theater, or on that square. They’re so cute, and there are soooooo many of them! That’s what I feel seriously muddies the intended conservation message of this project. It’s hard to feel like the panda is disappearing when you’re surrounded by an enormous crowd of pandas.
Maybe I’m a grouch, but I can’t help thinking that while the words about this exhibition say “Look how few pandas there are,” the pictures say, “Look how many pandas there are.”
And that seems like a bit of a #PandaFail