Sarah Choo Jing | Singapore artists chart new waters at Venice Biennale

The Straits Times, May 16, 2017

"In the National Museum of Singapore, Sarah Choo Jing's work, Art Of The Rehearsal, is grand, with nine traditional Malay, Chinese and Indian dancers on screen, appearing life-sized as they rehearse against the backdrop of recognisable back alleys in Chinatown, Kampong Glam and Little India.


But in Venice, the video installation by Choo, 27, takes on a slightly different meaning as it occupies a much smaller space - about 10 times smaller than the National Museum gallery.


Viewers can go up close to the figures of the dancers, which Choo says makes them seem like "maquettes", or small models of a larger work.


"There's a kind of containment that is uncomfortable, but I think it's kind of necessary. With every piece, the challenge is always adapting it and bringing it to a different space" she says.


Choo's work is part of a group exhibition titled Personal Structures that is being held at the Palazzo Bembo in Venice until Nov 26. It is organised by Dutch non-profit organisation, Global Art Affairs Foundation.


The title of the work comes from Choo's fascination with the idea of dancers rehearsing. For the video, she worked with dancers from Apsaras Arts, Era Dance Theatre and Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan Dance Theatre. She remembers seeing them being nervous before going on stage and coping in different ways, such as by listening to music. She says: "I saw the human side of them and I saw all of us in them, and them in us."


Choo is known for her works which combine photography, videography and installation, dealing with themes of social alienation and isolation.

She trained as a painter at Nanyang Technological University's (NTU) School Of Art, Design and Media and went on to get a master's degree in fine art at the University College of London's Slade School of Fine Art. Her mother works as a manager in a Japanese company and her father is a director in a freight company. She has a younger brother, 22, who is studying film-making in NTU.


She claims she does "not mean to say something groundbreaking" with Art Of The Rehearsal. "There's nothing new that people don't already know. With a lot of my works, I want people to slow down and re-look the mundane things in life," she says. For example, at one point in the video, the dancers move in slow motion - some suspended in mid-air - to encourage people to look closely.

While Choo has exhibited before in cities such as Paris, London and Berlin, this is her first work in Venice. She chose to stay close to her roots with this show.


She says: "It was important that this work was about Singapore. We could have proposed other works, but I wanted it to be something more local and closer to heart."



Sarah Choo Jing’s work

WHEN: Till Nov 26, 10am to 6pm daily, closed on Tuesdays.

WHERE: Personal Structures exhibition, Palazzo Bembo, Venice, Italy