In his new solo exhibition at form & concept in Santa Fe, Korean ceramicist Wookjae Maeng ushers animals out of the wild and into the spotlight.
It’s easy to forget that the world is experiencing a crisis in biodiversity, one that some scientists have called a “sixth extinction.” Humanity has grown ever more isolated from the rest of the animal kingdom, hiding away in climate-controlled boxes and behind glowing screens. In his new solo exhibition at form & concept, Korean ceramicist Wookjae Maeng ushers animals out of the wild and into the spotlight. His detailed porcelain sculptures of deer, rhinos, lions, bighorn sheep, and other creatures bring viewers back in touch with beings that are often pushed to the margins.
“The theme of my work is to represent the complex, ambiguous and uncomfortable relationship between man and animal,” says Maeng. “The human is on the top of the ecological pyramid now and can manage all kinds of fellow creatures. However, the environmental situation continues to worsen and that tension is what I wish to explore.” Maeng’s animal portraits often bear evidence of human intervention. Some are presented like hunting trophies, with their disembodied heads mounted on wooden boards. Other sculptures highlight the invisibility of the animal world to the human eye, camouflaging the creatures on patterned panels. All of Maeng’s animals have one thing in common: golden eyes that confront the viewer with an unblinking ferocity.
Maeng lives in Seoul, South Korea, where he received his Ph.D. in ceramic design from Kookmin University in 2015. He has lived in Sweden and traveled extensively through Europe and North America. His encounters with animals in the United States and Canada helped inspire his artistic explorations of the natural world, a fixation that’s visible in his earliest work as a BFA student in Korea. The artist has exhibited in Santa Fe once before, in a 2015 group show at Peters Projects titled Trophies & Prey: A Contemporary Bestiary.
Though Maeng’s work often highlights humanity’s negative impact on the animal kingdom, he seeks to inspire a new awareness in his viewers. “In order to thrive, demands careful coexistence and balance between the urban and the natural… and empathy for less visible creatures,” Maeng says. “In my work, I hope to provide an opportunity—however brief—for modern man to consider the realities of the environment in which he exists, even as he continues his daily existence indifferent to it.”