Natural Obsessions

Interview by Lim Sio Hui
Photographs courtesy of Robert Zhao & Martin Wittfooth

Robert Zhao Renhui (Singapore)

Robert Zhao Renhui critical zoologists

Please introduce yourself to our NYC readers. Who is Robert Zhao?

I’m the Nature Guy, you can see my work mainly at criticalzoologists.org.

What drives your work?

I am mainly inspired by the absurdity of everyday life, especially with regard to nature; how we are always making do and coping. Nature is a rather violent force that is unpredictable but this doesn’t stop us from trying to control nature. In fact, a lot of the ideas we discuss about nature are absurd but at the same time they come from a good place. Most of us love nature but we just can’t seem to find the right way to show it.

Why did you pick animals as a subject matter? 

Growing up, I was always watching nature, animals, plants, etc. in various ways. When I was a kid, I watched a lot of National Geographic and Discovery Channel, which was all my father watched. We also only went to the zoo every public holiday. All our windows had a bonsai plant on the sill, and every room had an aquarium. When I grew up, I started to seek animals out in various ways. They became a natural subject matter. I wanted to know why we need to be near animals or representations of animals in our everyday life. Why is it important for cities to have zoos? Are they natural? Maybe they are.

Martin Wittfooth (New York City)

 Martin Wittfooth

Please introduce yourself to our Singapore readers. Who is Martin Wittfooth?

I’m a Finnish-Canadian-American painter splitting my time between my studio in Brooklyn and home in the Hudson Valley. Much of my art deals with nature, and the gap of misunderstanding and confusion that has formed between it and our species. The battle of our time is that of consciousness, and the myriad ways in which a materialistic culture has lost its connection with the natural world, to which its relationship is increasingly that of the tourist, or adversary, or abuser, rather than the ally or steward.

Collectively we seem to have forgotten a truth which philosopher Alan Watts points at in this line, “We do not come ‘into’ this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean ‘waves’, the universe ‘peoples’”.

What drives your work?

A wish to communicate ideas, and to contribute to an ongoing dialogue with other like-minded people. I also love the act of drawing and painting, it’s a great meditation practice for me. I feel that through this vehicle of expression I can process a lot of myself.

Read more in The U Press N˚1 (New York edition), or N˚10 (Singapore edition).