New York-based artist and architect Michael Wang is not only one of the most interesting artists of our times, but he is also an outstanding expert on the IUCN Red List! His ongoing project, Extinct in the Wild, brings together flora and fauna that are no longer found naturally, but are cultivated and continue to flourish exclusively in captivity. Designated “Extinct in the Wild,” on the IUCN Red List, these homeless species have left nature behind to fully enter the circuits of human culture. Specimens include the axolotl, a fascinating species of Salamander, which can breathe through its skin. Its IUCN Red List status is Critically Endangered. Its extinction is due to urbanization, hunting, invasive species, pollution, climate change and droughts. It now survives solely under artificial conditions in aquariums, in scientific facilities, and in homes as exotic pets. In 2017, Michael Wang gave the axolotl a main role at Fondazione Prada in Milan, where he exhibited his project. Later in 2019, with Extinct in New York, he introduced a series of plants that had been eradicated from New York City’s landscape. During his exhibitions, each included species is displayed within a life-support system tailored to the organism’s unique needs. Exhibition staff are trained to tend these fragile living organisms. Returning curation to its ancient roots in cura, meaning “care,” the curator becomes a caretaker.

For the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Marseilles in January 2021, Michael Wang is invited to exhibit his work by Art of Change 21 and the French Office for Biodiversity. He will be focusing on a key location for extinction in the wild for species of plants: South Africa. He (hopefully if he can travel) will document the last known locations of each species in nature as well exhibiting the cultivated species.

Photo: Prada Foundation Archive

Find all the articles from Impact Art News n°18 – April 2020