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BOOKS

18.02.2019

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A box full of many surprises: the author includes 55 plates to regale us with a selection of unusual, and even incredible, exhibits. This is how we are introduced to the rainbow goldfish of Singapore, or the fluorescent zebra fish, as well as to a type of beetle that has been inserted with electrodes making it possible to control remotely. Do these animals actually exist? Are there really frogs that are only half a centimetre in size? Can the life expectancy of mullet be tripled thanks to acupuncture? Are birds in Singapore dying as a result of sound pollution, or due to too much artificial light? And there’s even more: do square-shaped apples really exist in South Korea? Or unbreakable eggs?

The more you browse through the box, the more fascinating and incredible the world of flora and fauna seems to become. Robert Zhao Renhui (born in Singapore in 1982) has, without a doubt, put together a rather idiosyncratic documentation. He reveals animals, plants and environments that have been manipulated or even created by people. The degree in which the viewer can trust the photographs remains open. Many plants and life forms have the ability to adapt to changing environmental conditions, but humanity is not only the main cause for the heavy burden placed on our fauna and flora, it is also increasingly intervening in its evolution.

Biotechnology has already created gene-manipulated ‘anti-squash’ tomatoes, which do not rot even after many weeks. So why not peanuts that never spoil as well? Mechanically-recovered meat has been in supermarkets for a long time, and because of global warming the Asian tiger mosquito is now also at home in parts of Europe. The effort to produce cows without horns has been going on for some time as well. Is modern-day science a blessing or a curse? The more the viewer immerses themselves in the project, the more questions they will ask themselves.

The objective presentation of the different items in front of a monochrome background, underlines the strict science behind the project; even so, a critical skepticism with regard to the objects presented is appreciated. Does an ape exist in Japan that has, in fact, been given the human ability to speak, because scientists were able to introduce a talking gene into its organism? We should ask it. In this project, the horror concerning certain mutations is also coupled with irony. A solution, however, is not to be found on the bottom of the box – the viewer has to come to their own conclusions or otherwise begin their own research. An activation that is more than welcome.

Rengui, who also founded the fictitious Institute for Critical Zoologists, has been working on this project for some years now, self-publishing it at first and presenting it at numerous exhibitions around the world. Now Steidl Verlag has taken it on board and made it part of their programme. The book box is the result of the commitment of Gerhard Steidl in Asia: on the occasion of the 1001 Steidl Books exhibition that took place in Singapore in 2016, artists from all over Asia were asked to submit their projects for the Steidl Book Award Asia. Eight books were then selected and invited to Göttingen, to be printed by the publisher under the best possible conditions. A Guide to the Flora and Fauna of the World is one of these award-winning projects. (Ulrich Rüter)


A Guide to the Flora and Fauna of the World, Robert Zhao Renhui
58 plates, 55 colour images in one box, 24.0 × 34.0 cm, English,
Steidl

Robert Zhao Renhui

Singaporean photographer Robert Zhao Renhui was born in 1983. Robert studied Photography in the United Kingdom at Camberwell College of Arts and the London College of Communication before returning to Singapore to found the international organization, the Institute of Critical Zoologists – aiming to ‘develop a critical approach to the zoological gaze, or how humans view animals’. His photographic work addresses environment, man’s relationship with nature, and related issues of morality and ethics – paying close attention to how our attitudes and opinions shape assumptions about the natural world. He lives and works in Singapore.
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