A Strange Family, 2021, Jesmonite, 13 x 2.4 x 9.5 in.

A Shy Plea, 2021, Silicone and wool, 3 x 1.6 x 4.3 in.

Father And Son On The Shore, 2021, Maple, wool, silicone, 9.8 x 4 x 9 in.

Melting In The Sunshine, 2021, Thread, cotton fabric,
and cotton filling, 10.2 x 4 x 11.4 in.
⬿Back to exhibition

Mae Chan

United Kingdom

Hugs contain more emotion than what first meets the eye. Inspired by real stories of hugging, my work introduces the subtle yet powerful emotions of hugs through tactile dynamic forms. Based on affect-driven materials, colours and shapes, I dissect the denotative qualities of intimacy and boundary, building from how our society, culture, and personal experience shape our definitions of "touch". Each sculpture carries the recollection of a specific hug. I poetically depict the breath, temperature, and weight experienced in a hug through the intimate gestures of wrapping and touching.

   - Artist statement

Click works to the left (on desktop) or below (on mobile) to view full-screen.

mmmaechan.com︎        @mmmaechan︎    


Giving or receiving a hug is such a universally human experience, yet something we don’t pause to think about overly often. What interested you in exploring this type of connection in your work?

I think the starting point that I began to explore subtle yet powerful emotion shifts contained in hugs stemmed from the culture shock of hug that I experienced when I just moved to London. For hugs, I felt embarrassed and stiff at first and then gradually accepted it as a greeting behaviour, which finally became a way of expressing my love and caring. I’m sure that my initial strange emotional reaction is closely related to my growth environment. In most parts of Asia, hugs are considered as an intimate and aggressive contact with erotic metaphor. This prompted me to start reflecting on how our society, culture, and personal experience shape our definition of touch. As a result, in autumn 2019, I created a series of narrative sculptures made of suede and clay to interpret my hug stories, and from that time I began my hugging portraits series, since I was eager to know if others have experienced their own hug journey like me.

Is there a direct connection between the types of materials you choose for each. sculpture, to represent a specific hug?

Yes, in this series, I present the particular narrative of each hug by juxtaposing the different materials. For example, in Father and Son on the Shore, I combined maple, silicone and wool fibre to tell a story of a child’s hug memory of his father. The maple wood symbolises the father’s quality of honest and frank. He is sturdy, silent yet loving and protects his child like a gentle giant. Beside it there is a blue-grey ombre felted sculpture which represents the little boy - full and soft. He clings on to his father’s leg, close and dependent.

Are these hugs that you have personally experienced?

No, these hugging sculptures actually come from different people’s hug stories. In the early stage of developing this project, I held a workshop and invited people to share their hug stories. Even though these weren’t my own experiences, I was still being touched deeply, since they were connected empathically and beyond the ages, genders, colours, races, religions and sexual orientations.

Is there a connection between the types of materials you choose for each piece?

Yes, since I dissect the denotative qualities of intimacy and boundaries in the hugs in this series, I explored different types of materials when I was building my affect-driven material archive. The first is the soft and warm materials, such as wool fibre and thread, which is related to pleasant hugs. And the rough, hard and cold textures, like jesmonite after acid erosion, represent the emotions contained in uncomfortable touch. In addition, materials with conflicting nature fascinated me, such as wood and silicone. The former is solid yet giving people a warm feeling, while the latter is soft but its fleshy texture can easily provoke unpleasant emotion reaction. These properties allow me to better interpret people’s subtlety and complexity of the emotions.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I began this project before the pandemic, and now it’s taken on another layer of meaning, as it acts as a metaphor for our recollections of touch during a period when touch has encountered a new taboo as well as responds to this turbulent world with the warmest touch.