When we think of taxidermy, we think of stuffed animals sitting awkwardly among old antiques. There are many cases of bad taxidermy, with animals' teeth, eyeballs and ears out of place, these creations still appear to resemble the creatures that were once living and breathing. However, some taxidermy artists take an animal's natural form and shape their bodies into strange, almost unrecognizable structures. Similar to designers who work with leather, animal skin can be stretched and shaped into whatever the artist desires, and though this artistic medium is debatable, you could say that the creative process is no different from the production of leather goods.
In a provocative collection, a horse is transformed to have an extremely rounded abdomen while another piece is a headless camel, resembling a rounded leather stool. These strange yet intriguing pieces are the work of Beijing-based artist Yang Maoyuan who reimagines forms and misshapes animal structures. An interdisciplinary artist who also creates artwork from metal and wood, Maoyuan's animal sculptures are arguably the most controversial part of his oeuvre.
Maoyuan's sculptures reflect Chinese ideals of beauty and harmony through their globe-like bodies. Traditionally, Chinese design champions the sphere: a shape which represents universal balance and an ultimate oneness with the world. Upholding this mentality and aesthetic, Maoyuan creates rounded sculptures from horse, sheep, and camel skins. Some of Maoyuan's handcrafted sculptures have two or more heads, which add to their novelty and strange appeal. Several of the animals appear to be dipped in lurid colored ink and inflated to the extent that they appear balloon-like.
Maoyuan's work manipulates the craft of taxidermy and reevaluates expectations of what the process can be used to create. The animal skins he uses come from a Xinjiang ranch in China, where animal leather is sold to Chinese businesses. Maoyuan creates his unorthodox works in three separate processes: firstly staining the animal, then inflating its body, and finally sewing the leather together to construct the sculpture.
"My sculpture is made up of two parts," Maoyuan tells us. "The animal's body is inflated and then the leather is sewn together, into a ball shape. Inside of the body, there is a rubber bag filled with gas. I also rinse and stain the animal's hair," Maoyuan explains. "At first, visitors are not sure if they are dealing with a real animal. They are always very surprised when they realize. They become curious about the origin of the animal and the process."
To view more of Maoyuans work, click here.