Aurora the super-sized polar bear

Environmental charity Greenpeace will march a three-tonne mechanical polar bear through central London next month as part of its Save the Arctic campaign.

Environmental charity Greenpeace will march a three-tonne mechanical polar bear through central London next month as part of its Save the Arctic campaign.

Aurora the bear will be operated by 30 puppeteers and will have an articulated head and neck, “a mouth like an ice cave” and “a realistic curved gait,” according to early technical drawings.

The bear was designed by Christopher Kelly, with help from set and prop designer Simon Costin and will be built by construction company Factory Settings, which has produced sets and stages for the National Theatre, the Royal Opera House and last year’s Paralympic Opening Ceremony.

Its fur will be made using white objects and fabric featuring the names of Greenpeace supporters and its stomach will be decorated with reclaimed parachute silk and sails which, when billowing, will make it look as if the bear is breathing.

Aurora will be marched through the capital on September 15, when 70 cities will stage a day of action to raise awareness of Greenpeace’s campaign to end oil and gas drilling in the Arctic.

“Aurora is a visual articulation of both the Arctic and the movement that wants to protect it. By hauling Aurora through the heart of London, we’re using the spirit of the Arctic to challenge companies like Shell on their home turf. The size of the bear speaks to the scale of the threat of climate change we’re facing globally, and the fact that she is entirely people-powered shows the strength of the movement,” explains Greenpeace action creator Hannah Davey.

“We’re hoping to inspire people to engage with the campaign in a different way from usual – via the imagination … we hope that thousands will want to walk with Aurora, that she will be an inspiration to all those that see her on the day to get involved, and a warning to oil companies like Shell that together we really can make big things happen,” she adds.

The concept was inspired by French theatre company Royal de Luxe’s touring Sultan’s Elephant show, in which a giant mechanical elephant is paraded through city streets.

It’s the latest in a series of public attention-grabbing stunts planned by Greenpeace – last month, campaigners climbed The Shard and unveiled a Save the Arctic flag at its summit – and is part of an initiative to raise support through more playful, creative campaigns: the charity has also been touring festivals, setting up snowy fields and Arctic caves at Glastonbury and an explorer camp at Wilderness.

Aurora will almost certainly attract national attention. But aside from the headlines and hashtags, will it really make a difference? Sceptics will be keen to point out that any high profile spectacle such as this runs the risk of overshadowing more meaningful debate.

Davey, though, says it’s simply a way of telling the complex story of climate change “using a different toolkit of communications. Taking creative, playful and theatrical elements to engage people with our campaign (like our giant polar bear) means that we have an instant ‘in’ – a talking point that can’t be ignored.”

Drawings by Christopher Kelly.

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