At the beginning of 2020, during the first lockdown, artist Simon Fujiwara was lost. Like many of us, he did not know what’s happening and what is going to happen. As he attempted to navigate this confusion, he created the character Who the Bær. The result of this year-long exploration is an exhibition titled “Who’s Online!” currently on view at Fondazione Prada’s Milan venue.
There are two main ways to view this exhibition. There is the physical exhibition at Fondazione Prada filled with sculptures, drawings, installations, and the likes contained within a bear-shaped maze. For those who cannot attend, the exhibition can be viewed online. But instead of a replacement of the physical exhibition, the online experience is meant to supplement the physical experience.
Unlike most other online art-viewing experiences, the online portion of “Who’s Online!” consists of a series of stop-motion-like frames that the viewers can scroll through. While it is more restrictive than 3D virtual galleries, it still gives the users a choice on how fast or how slow they want to go through the experience. What’s notable about the experience is that we can only view the exhibition on our smartphones. And there is a reason for that.
Fujiwara created Who the Bær as a simulacrum to explore the meaning of Image. It is a very deliberate choice that Fujiwara decided to name his character Who. Other than its similarity to another famous cartoon bear, Who the Bær is trying to find out who exactly they are. Questions like Who’s A Man, Who’s A Woman, and Who Is The Bærest Of Them All are plastered alongside the childlike scribbles over existing photographs. There are many wordplays that make you question if this is a statement or a question.
Who is the bear? Early on in the exhibition, we are led to three drawings that tell us the rules of branding. Later on, we see Who on a dating app. Down the line we see a campaign video of Who running for president. It becomes clear that what initially looked like a simple, children’s cartoon character is actually a deep dive into how images, especially those existing online, shapes the people depicted in the images and those viewing the images. But is that truly who Who is? Is that who we are?
Especially during the lockdown, our contact with others is only through the screens of our computers and phones. Even viewing this exhibition is restricted to our phones. Of course, none of this is brand new. Since the invention of the camera, we have used photography and videography to change how others view us. Before lockdown, our perceptions of others are both expanded and limited through the use of images online. As with other aspects of our society, the lockdown only accelerated and magnified what has already existed.
Fujiwara’s cartoon character, it turns out, is just a camouflage of our obsession with images.
“Who’s Online!” is currently available for viewing until September 27, 2021. You can visit the only experience by going to https://who.fondazioneprada.org/.