Wendy Zhang is a Singapore-based artist, educator and researcher who works across a range of mediums, primarily in watercolour.
A self-professed entomophile (insect-lover), Wendy has been practising art since 2015 and currently works as a research assistant at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum. Through her experience with field research and intertidal surveys for LKCNHM, she often finds herself in quiet pockets of nature surrounded by the strange, dead and unseen.
At the core of Wendy's practice is the belief that insects are key to our biodiversity. Her particular fascination with insects drives her to learn more about them and understand the role they play in our ecosystem. She carries a personal mandate to be an advocate for the beauty of insects. In her ongoing quest to sow seeds of public appreciation for little critters, she finds that art is the friendliest way to invite people to closely observe insects without fear. Her approach is heavily informed by her local context, as she frames all her art workshops around insects and animals native to Singapore. Using the same approach, Wendy has explored topics beyond entomology as she dives into the world of microbiology, inviting people to understand and learn the importance of other inconspicuous organisms – algae.
Wendy’s keen passion for public education has led her to produce multiple insect-themed art workshops in recent years, such as 'The Impact of Insects in Our World', held as part of NTUCCA's The Posthuman City -Climates. Habitats. Environments. exhibition in 2019. She has also lectured a workshop as part of a module on what it means to be a naturalist, a NUS Scholar module offered in 2019. Her works were also part of Singapore Art Week 2022, working with start-ups as part of a residency program by INSEP (International Network of Socially Engaged Practitioners), focusing on the importance of microbiology.
The intention of the residency was for the artist-researcher to look into the insect diversity that is present on the island. What kind of critters hide in the trees and skedaddle in the night?
Throughout the residency, I was either hunched over a patch of grass, staring at the ground, poking around the dirt or waving an old tennis racket net around. I fashioned an insect-catching net using an old broken tennis racket and a leftover mosquito net hanging above the beds. Only with the net did I catch the skittish tiger beetles that are mostly found jumping and flying on the sandy ground outside the villas. They may come across as flies from afar, but if you look closely, they are beautiful iridescent beetles approximately the size of our fingernails.
I’ve set up a light trap at night on several occasions to attract insects; however, apart from a handful of small flies and moths, the light trap failed to attract any other insects. Even on night walks around the island, I find it odd that no insects are flying into my face or attracted to the light from my torch. I did, however, find loads of hermit crabs and land crabs on my path. However, during the day, I find carpenter bees and honey bees buzzing about, the same few wasps that seem awfully interested in the grass patch around my hut, and of course, the unmissable golden orb weaver that shines magnificently under the sun.
During my stay, I worked together with the amazing carpentry team to build an experimental insect hotel. The components were built using recycled wood, bamboo and scraps found on the island. Hopefully, this insect hotel will encourage a little more insect activities and conversations about insect conservation.
Apart from the original intention, I also wanted to use this opportunity to talk to both the staff and guests on Nikoi about insects and my personal interests in them. I collected the largest beetle I could find (Coconut rhinoceros beetle) and used that as a way to get people curious, especially children. With encouragement and security, children would reach out and give the little creature a gentle stroke, while exclaiming how brave they were to have done so. Insects should not be feared, and we still have much to learn about them.
Even though the residency has reached its end, my work continues to grow. The output of my residency is evolving as I slowly unpack the experiences and conversations I’ve had on the island. I experienced vulnerability and shared grief despite language barriers. That words need not be spoken to communicate. Vulnerability is something both insects and humans share.
2022 – “The Future of Paints: Algae Watercolour Pigment”, a workshop part of a residency program with INSEP. Photo credit: Marx Yim
2019 - 'The Impact of Insects in Our World', held as part of NTUCCA's The Posthuman City -Climates. Habitats. Environments. in collaboration with social enterprise Migrant x Me. Photo credit: Weishi Lun
2021 – “Tiny things can save our world”, artwork presented for Singapore Art Week 2022. Created with the support of: TeOra, INSEP and NAC. Photo courtesy of the artist.