Singaporean artist Sarah Choo Jing at Venice Biennale and LOOP Fair – interview by Rebecca Close
Singapore artist Sarah Choo Jing talks about her new work and depicting loneliness between her home city and London.
Sarah Choo Jing is known for her interdisciplinary approach to photography, video and installation. Art Radar talks to the artist about her practice and recent works, on the occasion of her participation in the 57th Venice Biennale and LOOP Fair.
The work of Sarah Choo Jing (b.1990, Singapore) depicts identifiable moments and characters within contemporary urban society suggesting a plethora of private narratives. Focusing on the relationship between space, time and subject, Choo often represents characters engrossed in their emotional lives separated by architectural constructs such as the city or domestic environment, which the artist recreates as a painterly scenography. Her films often construct labyrinthine, melancholy narratives in which her characters experience key moments of contact and understanding between them. Playing with the relationship between stage and character, script and speech, contact and violence, Choo’s real interest is the architectural and representational basis of social and cultural norms in contemporary life. Her new work Wear You All Night (2016) is being presented by A.I Gallery at Barcelona-based video art festival, LOOP Fair.
Another new work entitled Art of the Rehearsal is currently showing in a group exhibition entitled “Personal Structures”, showing in the context of the 57th Venice Biennale. This work was commissioned for the opening of the new media gallery at National Museum of Singapore and is accompanied by a short essay by Singapore curator Louis Ho.
Art Radar talks to the filmmaker and photographer about her art practice.
With The Hidden Dimension (2013) you began to explore the theme of solitude more broadly in your films. In 2013 the titles of your works become increasingly mundane: Waiting for an Elevator, He paused looked over and said, Puddles in the City or It was a Tuesday Like Any Other Tuesday. Could you talk about the relationship between solitude and the mundane, and how you see your role in visualising this? Is art an exploration of the mundane?
My art practice has always been centred on social alienation and isolation. I have been fascinated with the relationships, or lack thereof, between people, and the potential narratives that occur in the everyday.
I was first trained as a painter before I moved towards exploring photography as a medium. My oil paintings are photo realistic in nature, characterised by dramatic and intentionally heavy handed lighting. I suppose I began to see a relationship between photography and painting as I realised I was often painting from photographs. As I began looking at photography and what it could represent, my experience as a painter spilled into the digital images that I began to make. Hence, the painterly aesthetic present in my body of works – including video installations such as Nowhere Near (2015).
With regards to the subject matter, people and objects are recurrent motifs through my pieces. In my earlier works, such as The Hidden Dimension (2013), I often depict and direct my family members or people whom I have a personal relationship with in my compositions. In my recent works, however, I begin to find relevance in looking at strangers around me, to bring to attention scenes which might commonly be overlooked. I’d like to think of each of my works being likened to coded journal entries. Each piece reflects an experience or a moment in time, focusing on different aspects of isolation in contemporary society.
Could you tell us a bit about the genesis of your new work entitled Wear You all Night (2016), which will premier at LOOP film and video art festival in Barcelona?
Wear You All Night is a double channel video installation, which depicts two individuals co-existing in one space, separated by the camera frame. A momentary place of transit, the Hotel, can be seen as an empty shelter. An oxymoron on many levels, this place is ultimately representative of space between boundaries; wakefulness and slumber, working and restful, solitary and inhabited, lust and apathy. The housed rooms permeate both a presence of absence, and an absence of presence as travellers check in and out. Reassuring duplicates, the rooms pervade an enthralling sense of anonymity amongst the lone occupants. Drawing a parallel to the Hotel, Wear You all Night is characterised by a tacit acknowledgement – and in some cases, desire – of the existence of transient and temporal connection between individuals.
The potential narrative here is suggested by the actions of the male and female character, as well as the composition of the set. This installation work reflects upon the subjectivity of the camera in parallel to that of a staged narrative. The scene presented is one which is contrived and hyper real, suggestive of time and space which is non-existent.
I sense the social alienation and isolation present amongst individuals across cities such as Paris, London, New York, Singapore, even Hong Kong. I am fascinated by how we can be physically so close to one another, yet, emotionally so far apart. I suppose this theme of solitude is a running thread through my practice; and for each body of work, I am exploring only an aspect of it. A distraction addiction is prevalent in contemporary society. I think technology has definitely contributed to the loneliness epidemic. Our growing reliance on social technology rather than face-to-face interaction is almost frightening.
Everyone is perpetually slipping into each other, passing through ceaseless cycles of transformation; no longer separate, but interspersed. We are embodied but we are also networks, living on inside machines and in other people’s heads; memories and data streams. We are being watched and we do not have control. We long for contact and it makes us afraid. But as long as we are still capable of feeling and expressing vulnerability, intimacy stands a chance.
Could you describe the moment in which you began to move from photography to video and film (around 2012/2013)? What specifically does moving image offer your research and work?
Moving image adds an additional element of time in the works; the physical intangibility and the existence of an alternate space in video pieces are intriguing. As much as possible, I do my very best to choose the most appropriate medium to convey my intentions; be it through painting, photography, video, etc. I see myself as weaving between media each time, specifically selecting my media according to how and what I want to convey. To have viewers question what it is that they are looking at, and not take what they see at face value.
Could you talk a bit about the research process involved in the construction of narrative in your recent film works? What makes a good story?
Reflecting and writing is integral to my practice. I often begin and end off a piece of work with sketches and ramblings scribbled within my journal or on sheets of paper. Hence, I suppose the ‘construction’ comes from piecing together thoughts and perhaps observations through emotions. My earlier pieces mostly comprise potential narratives constructed by the viewers themselves when they read my piece. There is not a specific, linear story line in my works. I believe that any piece of artwork that can capture the viewer’s attention and make him/her contemplate/reflect upon what is presented at face value, makes for a worthy piece of art.
What spaces and communities have been important for your development as an artist?
I see my practice as a process of conceptual enquiry and of making meaning. Because my works inherently reflect relationships between people or the lack thereof I would say any relationship between myself and another, has a direct impact on my art practice.
Having recently engaged in teaching, learning to embrace failure and to keep an open mind whilst experimenting is an attitude that I’ve learned from my students and am still growing into. I identify as a co-learner, who questions and re-organises my knowledge and understanding of issues, rather than as an infallible expert. The consistent dialogue between my students and myself, make for meaningful and refreshing ways of seeing. This constant banter and continual questioning is something I find refreshing and truly appreciate.