A Guide to the Flora and Fauna of the World. 2013
Today we speak to Robert Zhao Renhui of Institute of Critical Zoologists from Singapore about this new work, A Guide to the Flora and Fauna of the World.
Tell us what have you been busy with?
I’v just finished compiling an encyclopaedia titled, A guide to the flora and fauna of the world, for the Singapore Biennale. I’v also just finished installing my work at 2902 Gallery for my upcoming show, The Last Thing You See. It talks about how difficult it is to be a bee.
What drives you in creating this?
In this case, I wanted to know why the goldfish is never included in any natural history encyclopaedia. The goldfish does not have a scientific name as it is a man-made creature. It’s a fish that has been artificially bred for thousand of years. How the goldfish is created remains a mystery. I created the encyclopaedia as a system to talk about our ideas of what is natural and what is man-made. Towards the end of the book you realise there’s really not much of a difference. Everything artificial will start to look natural once we get used to it.
How do you keep on educating yourself?
I’m basically interested in animals as a subject matter. I go to the Singapore Zoo once a year and more if I need to. I honestly think we have an amazing collection of animals in captivity here in Singapore. In the zoo, I encounter a lot of nature photographers with huge lens and fancy equipment and some of them in jungle camouflage as well. Watching them observe animals teaches me a lot about why humans watch animals.
Where do you draw your influences from?
Mainly from my friend, Yong Ding Li. He is a conservation biologist. Most of my work and ideas are based around my conversations with him. Of course as an artist I process the facts he gives me differently from how he would approach the facts. Sometimes I get nice ideas from google.
When was the last time you felt challenged?
I was struggling to decide if I want to use my flash at the bird park at some owls.
What was the breakthrough project for you, personally?
I tied a lot of pinhole cameras to birds to create images in A heartwarming feeling. The images the birds created were really beautiful but it wasn’t beautiful enough for me. I edited the colours a little and then they were better. Then I redid the whole image again on the computer and then it became perfect.
Who/what has had the biggest inspiration?
Looking at animals.
The Blind, 2007
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Today we speak to Holycrap, an art collective by Claire, Renn, Aira and Pann from Singapore.
Yanda: Tell us about yourself and what you all do.
Claire: I was a designer before I became a full time homemaker after Renn was born.
Renn: I am going to be 10 at the end of this year and I am studying in Primary 4. I hope to be an archaeologist in the future.
Aira: I love going to school and I am in Primary 1 this year. I love playing hide and seek with my friends and I dream of being a vet in the future.
Pann: I am a visual, audio and ideas junkie. I love what I do as a Creative Director at Kinetic Singapore. I love taking pictures from time to time, you can see them at pannlim.com
How did it get started?
Pann: I have been active giving talks and lectures in school and I meet young designers and art directors who will show me their work and I always take a lot of heart to share with them my thoughts and insights. Same for the team I have at Kinetic, I will try my best to impart my ‘tricks’ of the trade to them. One night, it suddenly dawn upon me that I have been imparting my knowledge to designers and students that I have only met once but I have not officially shared these things with my kids. So together with Claire, we came up with the idea of starting Holycrap (CRAP stands for our names, C for Claire, R for Renn, A for Aira and P for Pann) as an art collective and this name also suggests that our work will make people exclaim ‘HOLYCRAP!’, when they see it. Hopefully in the positive way.
Which work (so far) has been your favourite?
Claire: It is truly rather hard for me to pick a favorite from the kids work because I’ve been seeing them draw and doodle from the very beginning and most of the drawings tell a story or hold much meaning to us. I’ve seen their progress from casual sketches to them working on canvas with acrylic and ink. If I really had to pick, I’ll choose their sketch books from their early years, Renn’s painting ‘Stealing Mom’s Coke 2011’ and Aira’s ‘Vincent 2012’
Renn: I love all my old sketches exhibited during my solo exhibition in 2011 and my Amorphis skull painting. For Aira’s, my favorite would be ‘Vincent’
Aira: My April Calendar Girl is one of my favorite and I love my brother’s ‘Mama I don’t wanna be a soldier. I don’t wanna die’ by John Lennon because it is nice and cool.
Pann: For Renn’s work will be the Three Walking Guitars in 2011. I saw it happen in front of my eyes. Renn completed it in 15mins. He was giggling to himself when he drew it, that sense of fun and mischief made my heart melt. As for Aira, my personal favourite will be the Yellow Submarine Series. Somehow the illustrations spoke to me in a profound way. And the patience and effort for a 6 year old girl to go through the hair line by line was something commendable.
How does everyone juggle between their day job/school and play and leisure?
Claire: Yes, we all can be pretty busy trying to get everything in order all the time or trying to get things done. For me its mainly with some home affairs and settling the kids in with their homework and studies. But getting play, relaxation and art into the mix is pretty much part of all that we do too because we view these areas with as much importance as anything else.
Pann: It is indeed a juggle at times because I can be very busy with work at Kinetic and we can only focus on this at night and over the weekend. But we love this family bonding and time spent together. It is like no other project that I have done to date, to see the kids have a sense of discipline and duty to finish what they have started and having fun while doing it is just great!
How do you set the benchmark?
Claire: The good thing is that Pann and I have very similar taste in terms of design aesthetics and appreciation. And we admire and look up to most of the same design heroes so when we share and educate Renn and Aira in this aspect there is little or no conflict. However on top of just learning about all these, I do set very high benchmarks in terms of attitude and discipline and in their approach to their work.
Pann: My benchmark is simple. The idea/art must be interesting, beautiful and heartfelt. And out of X amount of work done, maybe less than half are good enough for exhibition.
What is the best advice ever received?
Renn: Stand up for your work.
Aira: Stand up for yourself and don’t be afraid of rude girls.
What do you think about the education here in Singapore as compared to the best?
Claire: I am not so sure who is or what is considered the best but I do know that the education system here in Singapore is in dire straits. Simply because so much emphasis is put on academic excellence and chasing those perfect scores that everything else is thrown down the gutters. I do want my kids to study and do well in school and be proud of their studies, but I also want them to be happy and excel in what they love. But here in Singapore, the system and many parents are creating this vicious cycle of only wanting the best results, turning tuition centers into money making machines not intent of helping the weaker students do better but to make the already bright students even smarter because they can afford it.
The Dangerous Book for Boys. Holycrap for Browswing Copy. 2013
The series is entitled The Institute of Critical Zoologists, which is the first interdisciplinary scholarly center dedicated to promoting scholarly dialogue and research on the principles and practices of animal spectatorship, animal advocacy, animal killings and animal-related polices in the fields of social sciences, entertainment, commerce, aesthetics, culture and ecology…
My projects in the Institute of Critical Zoologists produce forms and ideas about the zoological gaze. They concern themselves with the institutionalization, the archive and the mediation of the zoological gaze. The inspiration for my works comes from trends in conservation and zoological research. These trends and events include how economic incentives shapes the appreciation of zoology and its preservation, and the critical debates about the feigned objectivity of zoology as a science; they prompt me to question the ambivalence of these measures and push them to their logical extremes.