Anthropology of Cultural Dementia
(In the Face of Technological Furtherance)
A Commission by The National Museum of Singapore (NMS)
Kindly supported by Fillamentum (Czech Republic) and Global Link Accessories (Hong Kong)
Baëlf was engaged by NMS to reintepret costumes worn by Wayang (aka Chinese Opera) performers, using 3D printing technologies. Inspired by the archival collections of The National Museum and local street performances, our wearable art pieces are created by juxtaposing traditional Wayang elements with futuristic structures generated with the help of algorithmic design tools , to reveal futuristic pieces with impressive spatial complexity and textural expression.
Chinese opera has its origins in Shang dynasty rituals in China but has evolved over time to become an established, stylized dramatic art form in many parts of Asia. Chinese opera was brought to Singapore by the Chinese immigrants and was referred to locally as Chinese ‘wayang’, the latter being a Malay term that denotes a theatrical or dramatic performance. It was especially popular from the 1880s to the 1930s, as it was an affordable source of entertainment for the masses. Wealthy Chinese families were also known to be patrons of opera troupes, engaging them for private performances in their residences. Typically, Chinese operas were performed on makeshift stages near temples or in temple compounds as they served as a form of entertainment to the gods and were thus essential to the religious festivities. Performances were also staged in opera theatres. They were constructed as early as the 1880s and largely clustered in the Chinatown district. The popularity of Chinese operas waned drastically from the 1950s with the advent of film and television. Nevertheless, they remain an integral part of Singapore’s cultural landscape today.
Each of the main traditional opera roles carries corresponding traits, identity, and temperament.
Jing characters are usually high ranking, mighty male characters wearing grandiose costumes. Baëlf hopes to challenge tradition by breaking the gender norms and envisioning narratives where a woman can be a person of power as well. The female Jing character will possess a goddess-like presence, emitting an aura of power and grace. In traditional Chinese opera, one way cross-dressing was common practice, with male actors performing female roles in the past. It was considered improper for a man to appear onstage with a woman, and opera troupes commonly employed all-male cast members. Luckily times have changed and women get to play male roles nowadays too.
The silhouette of the 3D printed dress takes inspiration from the cascading spherical volumes on the traditional dress, where the widest falls on the waistline. Tessellating patterns of dragon scales are replaced by systematic computer generated twisty patterns, suggesting dynamic flight-like movements. The presence of a loose hanging belt is retained. The dress parts were 3D printed in Flexfill 92A in Natural, which are then sprayed in copper paint. They are then mounted onto a translucent polyester fabric shell, over a base finished with a mandarin collar and rounded hem line.
Dan characters are usually feminine protagonist wearing costumes that are typically vivid in design and colour, with plenty of intricate floral elements and symmetrical details.