Infinite Saree

Introduction

Biological Arts Theatre (BAT) is a transdisciplinarity research platform to bridge the gap between art practitioners and non-art practitioners, particularly scientists, engineers, and other professionals. One of BAT’s primary goals is to explore and reinterpret the traditional meanings of Asian aesthetics by engaging with Asian mythology through the lens of the Life Sciences.

BAT aims to be significant in several areas:

  1. Participatory Research Methodology: BAT adopts a research platform that encourages participation from individuals across various fields, including science, engineering, and medicine. This interdisciplinary approach fosters collaboration and innovation in creating new meanings within contemporary art practice.
  2. Diverse Creative Outcomes: Instead of limiting creative output to a singular spectrum, BAT strives for a broader range of creative outcomes. This approach allows for exploration and experimentation, leading to diverse expressions and interpretations within the artistic process.
  3. Interpretation of Asian Aesthetics: BAT seeks to uncover new meanings in Asian aesthetics by interpreting materials, narratives, locations, and the human body. Through this exploration, the project aims to shed light on cultural motifs and traditions in the context of modernity.
  4. Relevance to Asian Modernity: By engaging with Asian mythology and aesthetics, BAT aims to bring new relevance to contemporary art practice within the context of Asian modernity. This involves reexamining traditional narratives and themes in light of contemporary challenges and perspectives.
  5. Systematic Enquiry for Education and Community Engagement: BAT utilizes a methodology called ‘systematic enquiry’ to translate research principles into educational and community engagement initiatives. This approach facilitates the dissemination of knowledge and the fostering of dialogue between diverse audiences.

The main collaborators for the BAT project include Dr. S. Chandrasekaran (Artistic Director, Visual), Santha Bhaskar (Artistic Director, Movement), Gary Cass (Scientific Director), and Madhura Nayak (Guest Artist). Together, they bring expertise from various disciplines to enrich the project’s exploration of art, science, and Asian aesthetics.

About the Project

One of the objectives of Biological Arts Theatre (BAT) is to investigate Asian aesthetics by reinterpreting traditional mythology through the life sciences. With the support of the National Arts Council’s ‘Arts Creation Fund 2010’, BAT developed the project titled Infinite Saree.

Infinite Saree was developed through a series of research-based workshops that adopted a methodology called ‘systematic enquiry’ – a process focused on translating research principles into artistic outcomes systematically. Through these workshops, we have been able to achieve new knowledge and confront challenges. This has resulted in two main outcomes – DNA Carnatic and DNA Saree.

  • DNA Carnatic

In the Mahabharata, the Earth elements referred to as Pancha Bhootas in Sanskrit were symbolically represented through the birth of the Pandavas (can be seen as the five Pancha Bhootas) – Yudhishtira is a symbol of Sky Space), Bhima is a symbol of Breath (Air), Arjuna is a symbol of Heat (Fire), Nakula is a symbol of River (Water) and Sahadeva is a symbol of Reality (Earth).

In Infinite Saree, the musical script was produced by converting a unique DNA code into musical code. The DNA code used was accessed from Cyanobacteria, commonly known as blue-green algae, a bacterium that occurred early in the life of the Earth’s elements. These bacteria were very important in the formation and evolution of the planet. The symbolic representations between the DNA code of Cyanobacteria and Pancha Bhootas inspired us to create the musical score. In this project, the outcomes were focused on interpreting the DNA code of Cyanobacteria into sound through the melodic scales (raga) and rhythm (tala) system of Carnatic Music (South Indian Classical music).

Through the research, the DNA code sequences of Cyanobacteria were translated into a particular tala and raga. The raga that emerged is Soudamini or Anantha Valli, derived from the 57th melakartha raga Simhendramadhyama. This is an audava raga, i.e. five notes on arohana (ascending scale) and avarohana (descending scale).

ArohanaSA GA MA PA NI SA

Avarohana: SA NI PA MA GA SA

According to the book Raga Sudhaarnavam, there are no compositions found in this raga. The tala is of 81 counts which is not found in Carnatic music. It has been named Amla tala. (Amla in Sanskrit means ‘acid’).

This creation is probably one of the first of its kind in the world of South Indian music with Life Sciences.

  • DNA Saree

In the Mahabharata, Duryodhana commands his younger brother Dushasana to disrobe Draupadi. As Dushasana unwraps layers and layers of her saree, new layers of cloth keep ‘unfolding endlessly’. Finally tired, Dushasana backs off without being able to strip Draupadi.

The notion of unfolding and folding can also be translated into a scientific context, where proteins are constantly shaped into the building blocks of life. Single cells become multicellular, forming plants and animals. In this project, we adopted the DNA sequence of the Phoenix Palm to create the Valkala (garment worn during the period of the Pandavas).

The symbolic relationship between the unfolding notion of multicellular cells and the unfolding saree of Draupadi inspired us to use the DNA sequence of the Phoenix Palm as the motif for the saree.

In this project, the DNA of the Phoenix Palm has been translated into motifs on the saree. These motifs are represented by the DNA sequences – A, T, G, and C. Each of these alphabets has been assigned a specific colour. The length of the saree is about 8 meters.

Creating DNA Carnatic and DNA Saree has revolutionized the ways of seeing art through science and how art looks at science. Most of all, it has provided an understanding of how scientific knowledge can influence certain fundamental concepts about Asian aesthetics.

Overall Aim of the Project

In Asia, the advent of Asian Modernity brings about the “Asian point of view” in addressing Asian Aesthetics. In this vein, Infinite Saree explores the meaning of Asian Aesthetics by reinterpreting the body, material, and narrative from an Asian perspective.

The dialogue between my daughter and my wife about the violation of Draupadi’s body brings out various issues about the position of Indian women in society and how the stories become living entities when redefined in the present context.

The Saree is a material that conceals the modesty of the woman. DNA Saree not only conceals the woman’s body but also reveals how the material itself has a relationship to the body. The colours adopted from the DNA sequence of the Phoenix Palm describe the unfolding character of multicellular cells in relation to the never-ending saree of Draupadi. Such a connection between science and mythology demonstrates how symbols of the past can be readdressed in the present through science.

DNA Carnatic has introduced an eighty-one-beat tala, which is a new invention in Carnatic music. We hope that this new tala opens up new boundaries in creating new ragas in Indian music. In future works, I would like to explore further DNA Carnatic in relation to the body and post-humanist thinking, thus bringing new meaning to the body through science in relation to music.

In the Infinite Saree project, Therukoothu brings new spatial dimensions in dealing with traditional and contemporary meanings in relation to dance, theatre, and music practice. Also, Therukoothu allows one to explore movements, materials, and narratives without having to negotiate the traditional meanings of their theatre practice. It is within this site of negotiation that we can experiment and introduce life sciences into theatre practice.

I would say the Infinite Saree project allows us to redefine the meaning of Asian Aesthetics in relation to Life Sciences through Theatre, Dance, Music, and Visual Arts. Most of all, undertaking this project has been a great achievement, both personally and artistically. We, Singapore-based artists, need to keep moving so that we can create cutting-edge works.

Infinite Saree Production

Infinite Saree Production

Infininte Saree Presentation 

DNA Carnatic (Alma raga)

Infinite Saree Publication