Resulting from his three-month residency at Kadist Art Foundation, Flies Prefer Yellow is the North American debut exhibition of Singapore-based artist, Robert Zhao Renhui (b. 1983). Featuring installation and photographic works, the exhibition explores boundaries, systems, neuroses, and control through the artist’s encounters with one of the most inconspicuous insect species on earth–flies. Despite their ubiquity and adaptability (more than 145,000 species exist), flies remain nearly invisible to many humans. This dismissive outlook is attributed less to visual perception, and more to a psychological predisposition towards the insect’s lack of purpose—a manufactured negligence that determines what we see and what we do not. Rendering the unseen visible, and the ignored critical, this multidisciplinary exhibition amplifies the intersections of insect and human, natural and urbanized environments, and entomology and art practice.
During his residency, Zhao made multiple visits to the Sacramento insect lab of Dr. Martin Hauser, Senior Insect Biosystematist at the California Department of Food and Agriculture (and longtime acquaintance of the artist’s). Inspired by Hauser’s scientific impulse towards exhaustive taxonomy, Zhao began observing and cataloguing insects. Ranging from beetle-tracking within the urban core of San Francisco, to collecting the various insect carcasses from his windshield during road trips, the artist began accumulating observations about the indigenous insects, and in particular, the flies he encountered. In addition to the flies themselves, Zhao’s curiosity extends to the various traps and methods humans use to rid themselves of the pests. The exhibition’s title, Flies Prefer Yellow, on the one hand refers to the artist’s affectionate imagination through its anthropopathic tone, implying a desire to be friendly with the insects. On the other hand, the preference is actually a statistical observation as most commercial flytraps are produced in the color yellow. Through the lens of flies, the exhibition invites critical reflection on human’s paradoxical relationships with animals and our organic world.
Through this collision with art, the insect world, long suppressed and diminished by the congestion and monumentality of urban life, is revealed in the full glory of its contradictions: the fly is both friend and foe, beautiful and repellant, known, yet never fully described. Through languages of humor, repetition, contradiction and juxtaposition, Zhao’s practice negotiates the process of image making and the proximity of vision that continue to blur lines between objective documentation and fictional narrative.
On the evening of the opening reception, November 19 6-9pm, Dr. Martin Hauser joined Zhao and Xiaoyu Weng in conversation within a pop-up laboratory of his scientific materials and specimens. Monica Martinez, of Don Bugito, served edible insect appetizers alongside a special insect cocktail by Helena Keeffe.