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Drawings of the Dundee Bear Broch, Mark Dion, 2005

Having been invited by Dundee Contemporary Arts to develop a public project in the city of Dundee, I became immediately enthusiastic about the possibility of becoming part of the team re-designing the European Brown Bear enclosure for Camperdown Wildlife Centre. Dundee City Council had engaged architects, engineers, educators and wildlife managers to provide the two brown bears with a vastly enhanced enclosure which would replace their current cage. These bears, while healthy and well-adapted, have never set a paw on grass.

Working along with architect Duncan Myers, and Kevin Gosling and Aileen Whitelaw from the Wildlife Centre, we have developed the ‘Dundee Bear Broch’. My interest is primarily in the conceptualisation of the human element of the project—not bear space but people space. In exploring architectural models, I am interested in looking at structural forms that existed when brown bears were still native in Scotland, sometime in the 10th century. The circular dry-stone broch of ancient Scotland offers a remarkably adaptable platform for a viewing experience of the bears as well as a site to investigate the natural history and ever-changing cultural meaning of brown bears. Within the broch installation, sculptures, collections and images will replace the standard didactic zoological text panels.

European Brown Bears at Camperdown Wildlife Centre, Dundee, May 2004 
European Brown Bears at Camperdown Wildlife Centre, Dundee, May 2004

The endeavour is an experiment to explore the possibilities of transplanting the visual and conceptual complexities of contemporary artistic practice, which interrogate space and ideas, into an environment habituated to the transmission of facts. It should be a space that enhances the sense of the marvellous one experiences when observing the bears, rather than attempting to explain it. The broch and its images, objects, fixtures and artefacts embody the bears’ role in the culture of nature, and provide a lexicon of the hopes, ideologies and fantasies projected by human society onto Ursus Arctos, while providing an ideal opportunity to observe two bears and apprehend their individuality, as they become accustomed to their new, 2,000 square metre home.

Mark Dion