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If a Tree Falls in the Forest
Solo Exhibition The Substation, Singapore
Date: 2009

Artists: Robert ZHAO Renhui 赵仁辉

If a tree falls in the forest by The Institute of Critical Zoologists questions our views and relationships with animals. They are prey, pets, trinkets, trophies and pests. This exhibition makes subversive changes in the way we observe animals and illustrates how these changes can alter perceptions and interpretations and ultimately question the human to animal relationship.

If a tree falls in the forest, an exhibition curated by the Institute, questions our conceptions and relationships with animals. As Mr Tomo Kawasaki, Director of The Institute of Critical Zoologists, has explained: “the ICZ promotes discussion about the principles and practices of animal spectatorship, animal advocacy, animal killing and animal-related policies across the fields of entertainment, social science, commerce, culture and ecology. We hope that viewers will look upon animals in a different light after seeing this exhibition.”

If a tree falls in the forest is made up of three parts: Before the flood is a live performance* that features hundreds of mousetraps springloaded with ping pong balls. Each ping pong ball represents one of the thousands of mouse species in the world. The performance is accompanied by a showcase of the Institute’s collection of animal traps from around the world. Also on show are animal memorabilia from around the globe in the ICZ museum collection.

Kings is a collection of rare white Tottori cockroaches, from the Tottori sand dunes of Japan; these creatures exemplify how animals are assigned a certain “status” based on their aesthetic appeal. The specimens are presented with projects by previous artists-in-residence who have been inspired by these curious creatures. They include Zhao Renhui’s artist-led expedition into the Tottori Desert and Sokkuan Tye’s Japanese print.

Soon Bo’s Cold Room and Shelves is a series of photographs of animals from the collection of taxidermist and biologist, the late Soon Bo. His love for animals and his skill as a taxidermist resulted in a bizarre collection of specimens, accumulated over many years. Zhao Renhui, member and a resident artist of the ICZ, spent a short time as Soon Bo’s student in taxidermy; for Zhao, “This collection blurs the lines between the natural and the artificial, as the animals stare back at you with questions in their glassy eyes, and an eerie hint of life in their bodies.”

The Institute of Critical Zoologists aims to develop a critical approach to the zoological gaze, or how humans view animals other than ourselves. Urban societies live in relative isolation from animals, and yet the demands that we put upon animals has increased tremendously over the last century. Animals are agriculture, prey, pets, trinkets, trophies and pests. And while gazing upon them is desirable and pleasurable, our visual apprehensions are not wholly natural; rather, these perceptions produce meanings and values that are culturally constructed. Moreover, in viewing the animal, humans cannot but refract the social and political contexts and values in which such observations take place.

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