Areca Roe's 'Habitat' at SooVAC

San Francisco Zoo, California #1
San Francisco Zoo, California #1
Photo by Areca Roe, courtesy SooVAC

It looks like a kiddie pool: small, circular, decoratively painted. Red and blue balls float in the center, and at the far end of the pool near the steps a seal peeks its head out of the water. Behind him, there's a building with clouds painted on the wall.

The photograph, taken at the San Francisco Zoo by Areca Roe, demonstrates the sad state of this particular seal's home, inspiring sympathy and resonating an all too human sense of isolation and ennui. It's one of nine pieces by Roe currently exhibited at SooVAC, including seven archival pigment prints taken in various zoos, and two sculptures made of found objects. "Habitat" is depressing to the point of inspiring outrage at times. The photographs are also exquisitely shot, and the artist manages to create a sense of beauty within the context of the animals living in imprisonment. 

Polar Bear Toy 2 by Areca Roe
Polar Bear Toy 2 by Areca Roe
In another photograph, taken at Lake Superior Zoo, a swan glides along the glassy water showing its reflection. We see the back of its neck as it looks toward two windows surrounded by man-made boulders. Though the windows are clouded by steam, it's clear what is on the other side: zoo visitors watching the beautiful bird, which in the picture glows with a soft light. Both the windows and the angle of the shot, taken from behind, suggest the voyeurism that comes with the territory of zoos. 

Then there's a bear, standing behind ice-streaked glass, staring straight at the camera. The icy snowflakes make a delicate pattern on the glass, masking the animal's expression. Much like the photograph of the swan, Roe illuminates the voyeurism of watching this majestic animal, and captures the essence of what is so alluring about these creatures. At once you're drawn to them, fascinated by them, feel sorry for them, and even relate to them. Roe also has a keen sense of texture, where the snowflakes are as much the subject of the image as the bear. 

Areca Roe's 'Habitat' at SooVAC
Lake Superior Zoo, Duluth, Minnesota #2 by Areca Roe

In addition to the photography, Roe displays two polar-bear toys: a water jug and an orange sled. They are beaten up a bit, particularly the sled, which is bent in places and contains holes that seem to be made by the polar bear's claws. These plastic artifacts suggest the rage and despair of the poor things that are so many miles from their real home. That is, if you believe these animals are capable of such feelings. After seeing "Habitat," there's no doubt that you will. 


Exhibition runs through July 7
Soo Visual Arts Center
2638 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis
Hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wed.-Fri.; 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sat.
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Soo Visual Arts Center

2909 Bryant Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55408


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