In the winter of 2008, PDL engaged in another collaboration with the Free Sheep Foundation, a group that kept disused buildings alive as arts venues until their dates with the wrecking ball (which sometimes could be months or years). In the fall of 2007, Free Sheep took possession of a storefront at 3rd and Battery in Belltown, created a residency of sorts for the corner window space, and invited PDL to participate.
Our response was the "Zoo to You" project, a strange ruse involving a set dressing and mural befitting a b-grade zoo animal habitat, with signage illuminating the specifications of the pen's elusive inhabitant. The fictitious animal was Toshi, the Japanese Sloth Bear (not a real animal), and the gimmick was kept alive by regular maintenance of the highly visible quarters. Every other day or so, one of us would bring fresh carrots and lettuce in a bowl for Toshi, who frustratingly never seemed to come out from her cave, existing, as so many real zoo animals do, as a heaving skein of fur, just out of full view (this role was played by shifts of PDL accomplices, dressed in a shaggy gorilla suit, subtly wiggling a leg just barely in view inside the foam rock cave that marked its egress from the enclosure into the wall). On other days, the vegetables were found half eaten, strewn about the pen, along with all variety of toys, and giant piles of fake dung (built by collaborator Mike Leavitt). For the regular walk-by commuters, we kept it changing up, relentlessly altering the landscape for the full month of the exhibit, just to suspend their disbelief a tad.
At least one community group called to see if the "Zoo to You Foundation" could bring Toshi or other animals to a children's event. We have to admit, it did sound like a good program to have, one that seemed plausible, albeit hard on the animals to live in such compromised "embassies" and subjected to the harassment of any such passers-by at all hours of the night. One eager sloth bear viewer even broke the glass to the pen in a likely attempt to rouse the ever slumbering beast...or at least that's what we chose to believe, as we replaced the glass the next day. But it was a delight to catch onlookers and give people a reason to stop and ponder. Strange animals seem to be hard for almost everyone to resist
Photographer Bradford Bohonus created a 3D VR photograph of PDL’s “Zoo to You” installation which can be viewed here:
And here's the press release…
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Japanese Sloth Bear Lounges in Downtown Seattle
The Zoo to You Foundation in association with Woodland Park Zoo, the Free Sheep Foundation and PDL, welcomes Toshi to the urban landscape of Seattle, Washington. For the month of December, pedestrians and animal enthusiasts can view this four year old, 1,200 pound Japanese Sloth Bear set against an alpine landscape of her native forest on Hokkaido Island, Japan. Safe inside an adapted commercial storefront, Toshi can be viewed by spectators throughout the day as she eats, plays and slumbers with her favorite toy doll Benji. This is the debut visit of a Sloth Bear to Woodland Park Zoo and the inaugural extension program of Zoo to You! Toshi is only the second Japanese Sloth Bear to ever visit the United States and represents a rare opportunity to see this threatened species in an accessible, urban environment.
About the Zoo to You Foundation
The Zoo to You Foundation started in Brooklyn, New York, in the mid 1970s by animal activist and behavior psychologist Dr. Dorian Weinerman. Dr. Weinerman recognized the importance of man interacting with other animal species, specifically large mammals. His modest program (Connecting People to Nature) started as a partnership between the Brooklyn Zoo and the public school system of New York City, where monkeys, zebras and a special black bear named Tony were introduced to classrooms, department stores and corporate boardrooms throughout New York. In 1988, the Zoo to You Foundation was formed, taking Dr. Weinerman's ideas to a national stage. Today, Zoo to You has partnerships with 55 city zoos and nature conservatories worldwide.
Toshi comes to Seattle in coordination with the Kushiro Municipal Zoo in Hokkaido, Japan. She will participate in the Zoo to You Foundation's urban integration program for the month of December before taking more permanent residence at the Woodland Park Zoo. She is very playful and curious and, being raised in captivity, is very comfortable around humans.
About Japanese Sloth Bears
The Japanese Sloth Bear is a lazy, timid creature that lives in the endangered forests in and around Daisetsuzan National Park, on the Japanese island of Hokkaido. The Japanese Sloth Bear spends most of its time foraging for its favorite food- the fruit of the barberry bush. It's browsing habits and shaggy, unkempt fur has earned it the local nickname shinrin moppu- "the mop of the forest." Adult Sloth Bears can reach a height of 1.25 meters at the shoulder, but, standing on its hind legs, can extend to 2.75 m to reach low hanging branches. Their sharp claws may seem like frightening weapons, but are actually used to dig up roots in the winter. Fur coloration ranges from black with rust-red streaks to light brown with blonde tufts. Female bear single young in spring. Population estimated at 1,250 animals.