Boo Sze Yang (Singapore) was shortlisted for his work We Didn’t Start The Fire, which attempts to probe our perception of truth and reality. Contemplating a scene of civil unrest, characteristic of images circulating in modern media, Boo reframes reality with a sense of dark humour and exaggerated theatricality.
‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’ is quite different from your previously shortlisted artworks. What led you to develop the style of this piece?
I believed that a painter’s practice should not be defined by any particular style as this limits the freedom to create. This painting belongs to a new series probing our perception of truth and reality, looking at scenes of civic discontent and unrest that have been circulating in the global media in recent years. Social and political unrest arises mainly from a clash of interests between groups and societies, between political leaders and political parties, between the rulers and the ruled.
In the digital era, the content that streams through our monitors is highly curated, edited and repeatedly broadcasted to get its message through. We may have become passive receivers of what stream through our lives daily, but we need to be active thinkers to sift through the lies. The painting is a parody of the social drama we encounter in the world we live in, employing dark humour with an exaggerated theatricality, repetition of figures in synchronized dance moves, and poster-like mise-en-scene.
What in particular inspired you about Billy Joel’s eponymous song?
I wanted to name the painting after a song, like theme songs that are crucial to movies and stage drama. Billy Joel’s “We didn’t Start The Fire” seems perfect because it reminds us that social unrest, clashes and war will continue as long as we continue to exist.