Boo Sze Yang’s mall series of paintings is a contemporary expression of what it means to inhabit modern Singapore. From the commonly depicted street scene and riverside, the new monument of the commercial shopping mall has most certainly taken over the landscape of the city. Recalling a style reserved for the depiction of grand architectural buildings, Boo brings us into the interior of a deserted mall, the glass and metal of the shopfronts and criss-crossing escalators cavernous and glistening under artificial light. Boo terms these spaces the ‘new cathedrals’ of modern times. These spaces now shape our psychological conception of what it means to exist in a city. The mall becomes a place of regular visitation more so than religious sites, and becomes the main place of congregation as opposed to the arena of the street. Boo exaggerates the spectacle of modern architecture in comparison to the years of history and culture contained in the buildings that were probably demolished in order to make space for these new constructions. In the context of Singapore, where land is a particularly scarce resource, and commerce the most valued currency, space itself is a contentious issue. Commenting on the proliferation of shopping malls in the urban landscape, Boo also explores what it means to inhabit such a place. Removing the presumed inhabitants of shopping malls, he exposes the empty glory of a shopping mall without shoppers or tenants, and acknowledges its nevertheless impressive scale. The loose outlines of the structure recall Chen Wen Hsi’s abstract interpretation of the Singapore River (1960). Where the close perspective and bright colour encourage an immersion in Chen’s scene, the wide-angle perspective and sanitized palette of Boo’s mall create an intangible distance and feeling of isolation. It then becomes compelling to consider the position of the artist in relation to his subjects and how, through visual expression, artists working in Singapore have come to interpret ‘self’ and ‘other’.
Extract from essay “Pictures of people and places” by Teo Hui Min, exhibition catalogue of “Artists Imagine a Nation”
Teo Hui Min (born 1990) is a Singapore-based writer. Her research interests include the social and cultural context of twentieth-century Southeast Asian art. She is currently a junior specialist for Southeast Asian art at Christie’s.
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.
Independent writer & cultural worker.
Doctoral Program in Art Creation and Theory, Tainan National University of the Arts, Taiwan.