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The Mirage

Updated: Sep 23, 2018

Boo’s recent paintings draw inspiration from the recurrent web of construction sites scattered across the city and employ linear perspective prominent in Renaissance art to suggest space and structure within an imaginary landscape.

The monochromatic handling of linear structures resembling scaffolding, partitions and platforms are created through the delicate process of pulling and pushing wet paints across the canvas using a squeegee. The illusory imagery sits on the edge of recognition and abstraction, where meaning is constantly shifting and reading multifaceted.


From the Stream of Consciousness - Writing on the Heterotopia of Boo Sze Yang

Hsiao I-ling

Independent writer & cultural worker.

Doctoral Program in Art Creation and Theory, Tainan National University of the Arts, Taiwan.

Boo Sze Yang obtained a master's degree from the Chelsea College of Arts (University of the Arts London) in 2005 and was a resident artist at the Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts, Taipei, Taiwan in 2012. Though the abstract paintings from his early years responded to art movements in the West, under the plural, mixed ethnicity of Singapore, the artist has churned up deep cultural elements from his own Chinese background. While the Watchdog series from 2001 combines Chinese characters, traditional Chinese motifs, and indistinct human bodies, from 2003 to 2005, he continued to create works such as the Journey to the West (2003) and Fallen Angels (2005) that draws on signs and codes from the Chinese literary classics. With works such as The Father (2013), he injected a bit of black humour that seems to mock at the unspeakable court politics. Working within the figurative and the abstract, the artist has developed his own unique vocabulary.

The artist's interest in landscape painting continues to ferment and we see recognizable places such as those in the Angkor Wat series (2009) and identifiable spaces in the images of the European churches in House of God (2004) transition gradually from reality into a state of phantasmagory. Beneath the highly poetic colours and brushstrokes of The Mall series launched in 2011, the phantasmagoric space provides the viewers almost a vision of philosophical dialectic, which undoubtedly is a reflection of Foucault's notion of heterotopia. In the 1967 speech "Of Other Spaces", Foucault proposed the concept of "heterotopia", a term re-assembled from vocabulary referring to a special, in-between zone of the real space and the utopia. This special zone has not only conglomerated heterogeneous elements but also possesses great ability to disturb and to transform, it is a baffling place where reality and fantasy coexist. Through the intertwined lines of perspective, The Mall series places the viewers in their own subjective position. As a symbol of capitalism, the mall relates to the domain of desire and offers a subtle critique of it.

The Mirage #24, 2018, oil on primed paper, 50x65cm

The recent series Shifting Ground (2017) bears poetic and musical attributes that are akin to those express in literary works. The poetic sentiment in the painting is similar to the method used by the stream of consciousness writers to enhance the symbolism in their works, bearing metaphorical imageries and rhythmic beats that suggests the artist's feelings and spiritual state at a particular moment in the creative process. Like the fugue structure used in the "The Kraken" chapter in James Joyce's Ulysses, a single perspective line extends continuously in Boo's painting, horizontal and vertical lines appear repeatedly within the picture plane as if echoing the constant dismantling of landscapes in Singapore's city planning. People are constantly migrating; memories of home and the city are broken and short-lived. These disappearing landscapes surfaced out of the recesses of his unconscious and imagination. The parallel lines resemble the parts in musical composition imitating one another. Under different sound range, they cut in at different point of time to form duplication and alignments, and finally to be weaved together. The pictorial space is being dissected by stiff lines; every linear, visual quest entails the extension of time, while the discontinuity of space points to a broken reality, mirroring the artist's inner monologue. The splashes of colour passages create spatial montage and flashbacks that breaks through the real time and space. Such variability and complexity represent exactly the flow of consciousness, resembling the narrative style of the "stream of consciousness" literature, the momentary light and shadow from the flashbacks express a kind of spirituality and psychological emotion that are hidden and unspoken.

The French philosopher Henri Bergson distinguishes human perception of time between "psychological time" and "space time." Bergson believes that the concept of time in the daily sense is the qualitative duration that follows a sequential order, while psychological time is the mutual permeation of individual time, denoting that the strength of time is a concept of material quality. The deeper we get into the concept of consciousness, the stronger the concept of this psychological time becomes. When we look at Boo's painting, we experience the passing of psychological time, the radiating lines induce the construction of sceneries from the imageries of our heart, and they pile up like stacks of dreamscapes. While the interlacing gridlines serve as a guide for the viewers, the single perspective point helps to define depth. It seems that there are meandering canyons and caves with paths opening where one could see light within darkness or even experience solitude in the wilderness. Perhaps, they are mirage of city fantasy, or more likely, cloister of memories from the poem of Jorges Luis Borges. The low-key and demure colours add touches of poetic flavour to the painting. At a glance, it is subtle and indiscernible like the variable shades we see in the scenes of Chinese painting. These depictions suggest the rapid changes in the urban space of Singapore, which is cold like data that could be arbitrarily deleted from the digital screen. The city's landscape is constantly under renewal; accelerated to a point where it could not be archived in time. In a state of unwilling resignation, we sense a futile presence of absurd meanings and symbolism.

Translated by Tan Yen Peng (Original text in Chinese)

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