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The Artist Inspired By Loneliness and Private Spaces

By Hillary Kang

Sarah Choo Jing

To Sarah Choo Jing, hotel rooms are a fascinating cauldron of contradictions. “It’s a space between boundaries,” says the 30-year-old artist. “Wakefulness and slumber, working and restful, solitary and inhabited, lust and apathy... [and] as reassuring duplicates, the rooms pervade an enthralling sense of anonymity amongst the lone occupants.”

This fascination was the genesis behind her 2018 installation “Accelerated Intimacy”, a multi-media exhibition that displayed five similar hotel rooms, and what each occupant was up to in these rooms, making for a work that was equal parts riveting and voyeuristic.

In many ways, “Accelerated Intimacy” serves as the progenitor of Choo’s latest project, now on display at the S.E.A. Focus exhibition in Tanjong Pagar Distripark, an offshoot of the 9th Singapore Art Week, and Gillman Barracks.

Sarah Choo JingAccelerated Intimacy
Accelerated Intimacy

Titled “Zoom, Click, Waltz”, Choo’s latest installation was both inspired by and created during Singapore’s nationwide lockdown in 2020. The multimedia installation consists of a number of pre-recorded videos of Choo’s neighbours dancing in their living rooms seen through their open windows.

To create “Zoom, Click, Waltz”, Choo first needed to enlist the help of her neighbours: She wrote letters to each of them, asking if they’d be willing to draw their curtains and dance in their living rooms. Their choice of partner, music and dance would be entirely up to them.

“This is a project inspired by relationships, longing and intimacy during this period of Circuit Breaker,” wrote Choo in her letter. “Your willingness to be a part of my project will mean so much to me.”The result is an series of ethereal videos that feature people — ranging from geriatric couples to unabashed singles —  dancing in their living rooms, each scene different from the last.

Zoom, Click, WaltzSarah Choo Jing
Sarah Choo Jing

“Zoom, Click, Waltz” is the latest work in Choo’s repertoire that explores human connections — and what occurs in the absence of these bonds.

“My art has always been centred on social alienation and isolation,” she says. “I’ve been fascinated with the relationships — or lack thereof — between people, and the potential narratives that occur in the everyday.”

As Choo explains, the success of “Zoom, Click, Waltz” was largely dependant on whether her neighbours were willing to participate in the piece to begin with. Still, she was willing to take the gamble all the same, something she attributes to her willingness to “relinquish control” — something she says she learned to adopt during Singapore’s lockdown. 

Choo’s works have largely been a reflection of herself and her evolving approach to both life and art. Her earlier works, like “The Hidden Dimension II”, put her family members and close relations in the spotlight, with vignettes portraying them going about the minutiae of their everyday lives.“I’d like to think of each of my works like coded journal entries,” she says. “Each piece reflects and experience, or a moment in time, focusing on different aspects of isolation in contemporary society.”

Sarah Choo Jing156 Emerald Hill
156 Emerald Hill

Yet for all the quiet despair, ennui and isolation that Choo’s body of works emanate, she says she is still a deeply social person that is inexplicably “drawn towards people.”

“I’m drawn to wards people because I crave for a kind of ‘accelerated intimacy’, a kind of connection with these strangers,” says Choo, referencing her earlier work.

“I wonder about their background, their experience, and the potential narratives I have yet to discover. I believe we all come from varying backgrounds, we’ve gone through different experiences and hence have different stories to tell. I’m curious about these narratives that are not spoken — the ones hidden beneath layers.”