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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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.
Mirror neurons are a family of neural cells considered to be the neurological base of imitation. I used this scientific element as a starting point to reflect on how different people follow the same way of thinking. It’s a projection on personal feelings such as solitude, detachment, shyness and the urge to connect with others.