All images by the ICZ



THE Institute of critical zoologists


Curated by Lauren Jury and Helen Warburton

The Institute of Critical Zoologists (ICZ) works with artists, scientists and researchers to develop a critical approach to the zoological gaze, exploring how we perceive and classify the natural world. This exhibition brings together commissioned projects by Zhao Renhui (an artist who works closely with the ICZ) and extracts from the Institute’s museum collection.

In Gallery 2, the remote Japanese village of Omishima provides the backdrop for an exploration into a community living in the shadows of the elusive white whale and the last living descendant of the ‘Whale People’, Mr Kazuhiro Nagashima. These works - including found images of reported sightings, a whale temple and Nagashima’s house - evidence the historic relationship between the whale, the land and collective consciousness of its people.

This narrative is underpinned by three microscopic images that compare the cellular make up of whale sashimi, strawberries and raw beef.  Viewed here at an atomic level, the apparent lack of visual distinction questions ethical hierarchies inherent in the food chain.

Opposite this work, A Heartwarming Feeling (2009) appropriates existing technology to track the migration of birds from Yamshina, Japan to the Arctic Circle. Illuminated through small apertures that puncture the gallery wall, the resulting pinhole images reveal fantastical spectrums of light. This dream-like installation is juxtaposed with a single, disconcerting photograph that alludes to the impact global warming and human intervention has on the flight path of these birds.

Gallery 3 presents a series of hyper-real still lives that record prize-winning leaf insect specimens at the 2009 Phylliidae Convention, Tokyo. These ‘walking leaves’ are bred to mimic their food plants, becoming so well camouflaged that detection is near impossible. The accompanying material from The Great Pretenders (2011) humorously subverts the exploits of the Phylliidae Study Group, commenting on the notion of the hybrid as a status of human achievement.

A human desire to discover is reflected in the work made on Pulau Pejantan, a small, previously undiscovered island off the coast of Indonesia. Whilst exploring it’s unique microclimate, the ICZ recorded a vast number of discoveries, including natural phenomena like the erupting Black Geyser and over 600 new animal species, including the Ghost Hare and Pacific Lantern Fish.

This expedition was also pioneering in its use of a meta-material cloak, which reflects light to render the wearer invisible. The Blind (2007-2010) seen at the end of Gallery 3 and expanded in Gallery 4, presents this working prototype through images and field reports.

A Guide To The Common Flora And Fauna Of The World (2010) documents some of the paraphernalia used to smuggle animals across borders. These devices, confiscated by customs, are re-presented in photographs and a bookwork from which the series takes its title. Featured alongside a selection of animal traps from The More We Get Together (1996-ongoing), these displays, which examine a need to capture, conceal and ultimately control, further unravel the complexities of our relationship with animals.

Adopting a scientific rhetoric, the supporting project reports are laid out and shown in museulogical form, providing a deeper understanding to the provenance of the exhibited photographic works.

Gallery 4 also features the outcome of a research residency by Zhao, working with the National Museum Wales’ collection*. The artist has developed these densely coloured photographs that simulate the ‘bird’s eye view’; a visual frequency outside the perception of the human eye.

The Blind Long-tailed Owl (2011), ‘watches’ over us at both the beginning and end of the exhibition - This owl has evolved a sight-sheltering plumage to cope with the desert conditions it has been forced into, due to de-forestation. This bird becomes a totem; it’s visual impairment /adaptation alludes to the limitations of the human regard for animals and suggests a change of perspective and abandoning of our assumptions about reality.

This exhibition interrogates the boundaries between the seen and the unseen, art and artifice, credence and fantasy – and seeks to test the role of photography and art in the dissemination of knowledge and acceptance of truths.

*An installation by the artist can be seen at the Natural History Galleries in the National Museum Cardiff until 17 June 2012.


Copyright 2012, Institute of Critical Zoologists