A couple of years ago, Ernest Goh came across a 1992 study that concluded people tend to better appreciate a present if it’s been gift-wrapped. As he mulled over the concept of packaging, it occurred to him that the myriad of flora and fauna we are surrounded by is, likewise, a kind of wrapping paper that helps to make our rocky planet more beautiful.
'I wanted to expose people to these animals that will normally make them go “ew!”'
Once he struck upon that idea, he knew he had to explore it in more detail. And so, at the end of 2014, he published The Gift Book. It features 15 sheets of glossy wrapping paper, but instead of the generic patterns of polka dots or stripes, they are printed with specimens of creepy-crawlies and flowers found around Goh’s home, arranged in a tile-like pattern.
‘I wanted to expose people to these animals that will normally make them go “ew!”, and show them that they are actually very beautiful,’ he explains. ‘Hopefully, after seeing these photos, they won’t want to kill them anymore.’
Goh’s fascination with creatures goes back a long way, when he and his brother spent their childhood running around his grandmother’s kampong, catching fish and fighting spiders. When he partnered Panasonic on a project in the mid-noughties, he used his father’s collection of goldfish as the subject matter – and immediately fell in love with the art of capturing living creatures. He moved on from shooting fish to shooting snakes, orangutans, chickens and beetles. But now, he’s interested in dead animals.
The dead only know one thing
It began two years ago, when he heard that the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum would be opening. He approached the team, and was invited to create a 12m-long mural in the museum’s lobby. He spent four days taking photos of a whole bunch of mounted animals – all while the place was being built.
‘Shooting living animals is difficult because you want to capture their sense of life, but when you’re shooting dead animals, the challenge is to inject a sense of life into them by focusing on their colours, textures and other details,’ he explains. ‘People have a preconceived idea when they go to a natural history museum that it’s filled with these old, dusty stuffed animals. Since that is what they’re going to be seeing, I didn’t want my mural to reinforce that idea. Instead, I want to present them in a different way.’
And so he decided to revisit the geometric patterns he used in The Gift Book. The resulting work, titled ‘Breakfast at 8, Jungle at 9’, is a kaleidoscopic map of concentric circles showcasing the museum’s collection. This month, 16 prints from both The Gift Book and ‘Breakfast at 8, Jungle at 9’ are displayed at Objectifs’ new gallery space. But rather than just exhibiting the prints, Goh’s not done toying with the idea of gift-wrapping yet.
'When you’re shooting dead animals, the challenge is to inject a sense of life'
When we met, he’d just gotten off the phone with his supplier. ‘Supplier for what?’ we ask. ‘Stickers,’ he replies. His plan is to print hundreds of stickers, each depicting one of the animals in his images. Visitors to the gallery will then be encouraged to stick them all over a selection of everyday objects, including a full-sized car. The point, of course, is to help us see both the objects and the animals they’re soon to be covered with in a different light, so we can learn to value both equally. The title of the piece is, appropriately, ‘Time to Wrap Up’.