by Manu SharmaAug 22, 2021
Singaporean artist, Sarah Choo Jing, works at the intersection of photography, film and installations, playing with the fluidity of medium, and re-approaching her creative practice in new and unique ways. Jing is a staunch believer of Marshall McLuhan’s idea that “the medium is the message”, and considers first the medium or the method to best convey the intentions behind each work as central to the process. Taking into consideration not only the context of the work but also the physical resources available, all these aspects guide along the decisions made towards mediality. “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 the dramatic and are intentionally heavy handed with the lighting,” explains the artist, “I suppose I began to see a relationship between photography and painting as I was often painting from photographs themselves. 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 Art of the Rehearsal”.
Jing’s work is often defined by the strong sense of narrative and the place held by “the gaze” of the camera, it deposits her in some ways in the position of a social anthropologist, almost clinically observing our most intimate moments and the workings of our external masks and performance. “I do believe the relationship between every creative and his or her environment is mutually dependent. The environment of my home city – Singapore, has shaped the way I perceive and approach situations and scenes,” she says, “Sensitivity to colour, attention to placements and meticulous planning in my work, is perhaps a subconscious influence from the need to plan ahead for a young nation – such as Singapore – with scarce resources. In an ever changing and quickly evolving landscape such as ours, I am drawn to document what I observe, to preserve, represent what I see before me; and have viewers pause, and think about what they are looking at.”
Jing’s work explores the themes of solitude, disconnection, distance and intimacy, in one’s everyday relationships and our day-to-day existence. The abstraction in which she explores these works is largely kept in the forefront adding layers of narrative and drama. Visually rich, poetically evocative, Jing is a master of depicting the ways in which we connect or not, how we relate or choose not to. “My art practise 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 see my practice as a process of conceptual enquiry and of making meaning,” she adds.
A regular staple within this conceptual enquiry are people and objects; in Jing’s early works such as The Hidden Dimension II, she directed family members and those with who she has a close intimate relationship. In more recent works, however, such as Waiting for the Elevator and Nowhere Near, the gaze shifted outwards to strangers around with little private connection with the photographer. This is largely to bring to attention scenes which are commonly overlooked, Jing explains, connecting her conceptual work to coded journal entries, where each snippet is reflective of an experience or a moment of significance in time. Many of these moments in fact capture the isolation found within contemporary society and put together within a larger narrative they almost mark a journey or act as indication of where our lives are taking human society as a whole.
The film works of Jing also speak to research-based process where the experience of building the narrative is explored from every possibility. “The act of creating is addictive; the process being both invigorating and aggravating,” she says. “My work process is often intense and laborious but very fulfilling. While I am on a shoot, it is necessary that I am focused and attentive to the project. There is a lot of waiting and watching when I am out documenting. There are periods where I would go on for approximately three to four nights without sleep at times, working through the night, editing, printing, writing and sticking work processes on the walls,” explains the artist.
Every breakthrough in a work – conceptionally or technically – Jing sees as an affirmation which is an achievement for an artist. The process of forming ideas, the exhilaration of precarious moments of silence when the artist stands before a completed work. The entire process of creating from beginning to end are filled with significant moments that Jing looks forward to.
Her two recent works, Zoom, Click, Waltz, a multimedia installation comprising 13 LED screens, is a culmination of documented events, staged recording and found footage, the artwork depicting individuals in various states of “performance”, while isolated within separate window frames. “What began as an attempt to communicate with neighbours during ‘Circuit Break’, developed into an imagined possibility of individuals connecting through dance. Over a period of two months, residents received mailed instruction requests to perform at an interval spanning 30 minutes,” explains the artist. “These recordings were at times effective, others, futile.” Many of the responses from her subjects range on a spectrum from active to passive; with individuals participating in various modes of conscious performance, and others nonchalantly in contemplation. It is the positioning of this snippets alongside found media, separate footage stitched together, that creates an uncanny seamless reality “situated in the inter-spaces between interpretation and negotiation, truth and fiction, performance and chance,” Jing says.