Critics’ Picks

Robert Zhao Renhui, Disturbances, 2020, wood, prints, two-channel video, 4' 11“ x 11' 9 3/4”.

Robert Zhao Renhui, Disturbances, 2020, wood, prints, two-channel video, 4' 11“ x 11' 9 3/4”.


Robert Zhao Renhui

ShanghART | Singapore
9 Lock Road, Gillman Barracks #02-22,
January 15–April 15, 2020

In Robert Zhao Renhui’s oversize black-and-white photographs, flocks of birds seem to emerge from the prints’ surfaces like pieces of sculpture. These monochromatic murmurations, conveyed by tones that move from dark to light across the sky, resemble vast, dusky shadows. At times, the shapes disintegrate as all detail dissolves into impression.

Zhao’s eleventh solo exhibition, “The Lines We Draw,” looks at “the complex interplay between culture, nature and bioscience.” Last year, in an homage to Dan Dong—the great migration site of godwits and great knots in the wetlands around the Yalu River, which divides China and North Korea—the Singaporean artist began photographing the flight of these birds between New Zealand, China, North Korea, and Alaska. The light-box works Memorial to Great Knots (China, Alaska, New Zealand) and Birds at High Tide, both 2019, provoke awe as avian behaviors coalesce into a web of relationships, of stunning shapes and forms.

A fusion of art, science, and community practice, the exhibition notably draws attention to the environmental threats affecting birds and other species, including pollution, climate change, fishing, shipping, and other human interference. In the prints that fill Disturbances, 2020, a hanging wooden shelf replete with two miniature inset monitors, Zhao’s lens captures the strangeness of familiar birds and amphibians with a titillating focus, depicting the head of a tiny frog peeping out from between the photographer’s fingers or a statuesque blue magpie strutting its stuff. Motivated by curiosity, Zhao highlights moments of natural poetry.