Zhao Renhui, Robert (b. Singapore, 1983)
Robert works mainly with photography but often adopts a multi-disciplinary approach by presenting images together with documents and objects. Renhui’s work include textual and media analysis, video and photography projects. In his work, he tries to document our perception and interaction with nature. Kenneth Tay, Assistant Curator at NUS Museum, “With its ability to capture and reveal the hidden minutiae of everyday life and one’s immediate surroundings, photography become ensnared in the Enlightenment’s emphasis on clarification, illumination and revelation.”
Robert’s approach is quietly subversive: his photographs of animals and other subjects is clinical and silent, while the accompanying titles and explanations parody the writings of scientific research. His subject matter – principally animals and landscapes – is selected to highlight an anomaly, such as a square apple from A Guide to the Flora and Fauna of the World (2013), or a polar bear standing on a tiny ice island from Some Kind of Expedition. (2011), that are the result of some form of human intervention, either real or of Robert’s making. According to ArtPacific.com, Robert “constructs and layers the subject with narratives, interweaving the real and the fictional, sowing a seed of doubt in viewers about the objectivity of the image before them.”
There is often a humorous element about his work: in Winner from The Great Pretenders Robert presents the photograph of an “award winning” hybrid leaf insect developed by a Japanese scientist. The image was reproduced in Art Asia Pacific magazine, despite that fact that the photograph was of a group of leaves with no insect, and the prize and the scientist were his inventions. The elaborate farce works because Robert created a fictitious reality surrounding his works, including the Institute of Critical Zoologists (ICZ), which is explained as “first interdisciplinary scholarly centre dedicated to promoting critical dialogue on the principals and practices of animal spectatorship and animal-related policies in the fields of social sciences, commerce, aesthetics, culture, ecology and the arts, “ complete with its own website, www.criticalzoologist.org. In A Guide to the Flora and Fauna of the World, the book, Paul Tebbs says “As a multi-media fictional construct The Institute of Critical Zoologist (ICZ) mobilizes artistic strategies under the methodological and liveried disguised of an authentic scientific institute … The tone of ICZ is dryly evangelical. Its visual performance is at once cool if naggingly pseudo, cultish even. The execution of this artistic conceit is extremely persuasive.”
His work has also been awarded The Deutsche Bank Award in Photography (2011) by the University of the Arts London, The United Overseas Bank Painting of the Year Award (2009) Singapore; honorable mentions in Photo Levallois (France, 2008). In 2010, he was awarded The Young Artist Award by the Singapore National Arts Council. His work has also been featured prominently in Artforum International, ArtAsiaPacific, European Photography, Pipeline, Archivo, Fotografia and Punctum.
His recent exhibitions include the Arles Discovery Award 2015, Singapore Biennale 2013, President’s Young Talents 2013, The Institute of Critical Zoologists at Chapter Arts Centre (United Kingdom), Bangkok University Gallery, Centre of Contemporary Photography (Melbourne), Photoquai 2013, International Festival of Photography at Mineiro Museum (Brazil) and Engaging Perspectives at CCA (Singapore). He has exhibited in The Centre of Contemporary Photograph (Melbourne), Noorderlicht Photo Festival, Format Festival, Fukouka Asian Art Museum (Japan), Photo Levallois (Paris), Seoul Arts Center (Korea), GoEun Museum of Photography (Korea), Shanghart (Shanghai) and PPOW (New York).
Robert received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Photography from Camberwell College of Arts and the London College of Communication respectively. His work addresses man’s relationship with nature, and related issues of morality and ethics, paying close attention to how our attitudes and opinions shape our assumptions about the natural world. He has also undertaken research residencies in Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Bangkok University Gallery, National Museum of Wales, Earth Observatory of Singapore, Ffotogallery, The Arctic Circle Residency, and The Kadist Art Foundation (San Francisco) in 2014.
His works are held in the collection of The Singapore Art Museum, UBS, Statoil Art Collection, United Overseas Bank and The Kadist Art Foundation.
Miracle Fish in Eggs
Butterfly in UV