At first sight it appears to be a serious institute bringing zoologists together. But a closer look reveals a few peculiarities. First, its founder, Robert Zhao Renhui, is an artist. Then, the focus of his studies is strange: “Everything that tends to be ignored in zoological research”. Founded in 2008, this institute uses experimentation, creativity and investigation in Asia, as well as the Indian Ocean and the United States, to explore the human-nature relationship through real-life cases: for instance, the last wild cow from Singapore to die in 2016; migrations of godwits and great knots over the skies of the Yalu River estuary, marking the border between China and North Korea; the eradication of spotted frogs that invade the rivers of Taipei; or the interactions between human and nature in urban environments…

Each research topic is showcased in a publication, documents, narrative, or through an exhibition.
The institute also has an extremely unusual collection, viewed by appointment. It brings together unusual objects centred around these animals: an edible scorpion in a vodka lollipop, a mountain crab pinned in a decorative frame, newts in a keychain…

This artificial institute with a sense of humour is the long-term project of its founder. Former animal activist Robert Zhao Renhui was born in 1983 in Singapore, where he lives and works today. One of the most relevant artists of his generation, he is also a leading biodiversity expert.

This scientific parody is not illegitimate, at a time when biodiversity and interspecies relationships are becoming more meaningful in the art world, as Michael Wang also proves in Impact Art News – n°18.

The Institute of Critical Zoologists has established itself up as an incredibly valuable manifesto, a kind of documentary in the form of a curiosity cabinet. It explores the living confronted with our species and its most insidious idiosyncrasies, from the eradication of those species labelled ‘harmful’ to the marketing of other we consider ideal for transforming into keychains. A significant project-artwork.

Courtesy of Goodman Arts Centre

Find more information about Robert Zhao Renhui, here

Find all the articles from Impact Art News n°19 – May 2020