The Gilded Cages of Wesley Meuris

wesley meuris
The incredible nightlife in the tropical forest, 2007
Cage for Alopex lagopus (Arctic Fox), 2006
wesley meuris
Cage for Galago crassicaudata (African lemur), 2005

The work of artist Wesley Meuris expands our definition of “architecture” to include “cage” and our definition of “cage” to include “art.”> Obviously, these cages (can they even be called cages?) aren’t meant to duplicate the natural environment of their intended habitants. Instead, their design is derived from a carefully conceived and painstakingly documented zoological classification created by the artist. This custom classification seems to recall Borges’ The Analytical Language of John Wilkins, where the author recalls elaborate classification systems, most notably, the ‘Celestial Empire of benevolent Knowledge’, a system that divides animals into categories such as (a) belonging to the emperor, (b) embalmed, (g) stray dogs, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, and so on. Also important in the design, and perhaps more intuitive that quantifiable, is the relationship between the cage and viewer. It is this factor that enables Meuris’ work to sit so comfortably in a gallery space.

From the artist’s statement:

Beginning with an interest in the interaction between architecture and human conditioned-behaviour, I became intrigued by the conditions that coalesced around the making of cages for animals. The implicit requisite is, of course, that the cages be ‘liveable’ with respect to a particular animal, so that it may survive outside its usual habitat. But more important still in the construction of such cages, is the comfort that we (viewers) generally experience when we look at animals in captivity, most often in zoos. I consider the zoo as a control-domain in terms of the viewers vis-a-vis the observed animals, but the viewing public too is led into a controlled architecture.

These spaces will never be occupied by the animals they are named for, bringing the intent of the work and its form into question. By all technical and spatial accounts, each piece in the series was designed to accommodate a very specific species, yet the excellent craftsmanship and the finest of materials belie its true purpose – It may have been patterened after an analysis of Galago crassicaudata, but it was truly designed for Homo Sapien.