Robert Zhao Renhui
Changi, Singapore, possibly 1970s

Changi, Singapore, possibly 1970s is from the series “As We Walked on Water” (2010-2012), which looks into Singapore’s history around the phenomenon of land reclamation. After exhausting the country’s own soil from its tiny hills and ridges, the government had to buy sand from Malaysia and Indonesia to continue its reclamation efforts. At the early stages of a land reclamation project, the imported sand would sit idle for some time, forming an artificial desert-like landscape. By fictionally representing these landscapes, Zhao’s image fluctuates between history and story making, echoing the equally undermined condition of the man-made nature of our landscapes as they gradually become part of the real environment.

Robert Zhao Renhui’s photographic prints question fact-based presentations of conservation and highlight the manner through which documentary, journalistic, or scientific reports sensationalize nature in order to elicit viewer sympathy. Zhao portrays human as figures curious about their natural environment, which is at times mysterious and unpredictable. Through observing human behavior in front of animals rather than that of the animals themselves, Zhao’s critical lens examines various modes of what he calls a “zoological gaze,” the manner through which humans view animals and nature. His works create visual ambiguity so the viewer becomes aware of assumptions made about the way images present facts. Zhao received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography at Caberwell College of Arts and a Masters degree at the London College of Communication, where he graduated with distinction.