Biological Arts Theatre (BAT) is a practice-based research network that aims to bring art practitioners and non-art practitioners (esp. scientists, engineers, etc) to be engaged in creating new meaning to contemporary art practice. One of the objectives of BAT is to investigate the traditional meaning of Asian Aesthetics by re-interpreting Asian mythology through the Life Sciences.
BAT aspires to be significant in the following areas:-
- Adopt a research platform that strives for a participatory research methodology with individuals from various fields such as science, engineering, medical, etc
- Strive for a broader spectrum to achieve various creative outcomes; rather than one spectrum of creative output
- Strive for new meaning in Asian aesthetics through interpreting materials, narrative, location, and body
- Bring new meaning to contemporary art practice in relation to Asian modernity.
- Use of ‘systematic enquiry’ to translate research principles for the purpose of education and community engagement.
The main collaborators for this project were Dr.S.Chandrasekaran, Artistic Director (Visual), Santha Bhaskar Artistic Director, (Movement), Gary Cass(Scientific Director), and Madhura Nayak (Guest Artist).
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 Art Council’s ‘Arts Creation Fund 2010’, BAT developed the project titled Infinite Saree.
Infinite Saree was developed through a series of research-based workshops whichadopted a methodology called ‘systematic enquiry’ – a process that was focussed on translating research principles into artistic outcomes in a systematic manner. Through the workshops, we have been able to achieve new knowledge and challenges. This has resulted in two main outcomes – DNA Carnatic and DNA Saree.
- DNA Carnatic
The musical script of DNA Carnatic 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 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 Bootas” (Earth elements that are symbolically represented in the Mahabharatha) inspired us to create the music score, through Carnatic music (South Indian classical music).
By interpreting the DNA sequence of cyanobacteria into musical notes of Carnatic Music, we created a raga with 81 counts which are not found in Carnatic music. We named it “Amla Tala”(Amla in Sanskrit means acid). This creation can be claimed as a first of its kind in the world of South Indian music and 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 ofcloth keep ‘unfolding endlessly’. Finally tired, Dushasana backs off without being able to strip Draupadi.
The notion of unfolding and folding can be also translated in a scientific context; where proteins are being constantly shaped into the building blocks of life. Single cells become multi-cellular, forming plants and animals. In this project we adopted the Dna sequence of Phoenix Palm to create the Valkala (garment worn during the period of the Pandavas).
The symbolic relationship between the unfolding notion of multi-cellular cells and 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 Phoenix Palm has been translated into motifs on the saree. These motifs are represented by the DNA sequence – 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 revolutionised the ways of seeing art through science, and how the art looks at science. Most of all, it has provided an understanding of how scientific knowledge can influence certain fundamental concepts in relation to Asian aesthetic.
Overall Aim of the Project
In Asia, the coming of Asian Modernity brings about the “Asian point of view” in addressing the 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 violating 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.
Saree is a material that conceals the modesty of the woman. DNA Saree does not only conceal the woman’s body, but also reveals how material itself has a relationship to the body. The colours adopted from the DNA sequence of Phoenix Palm describe the unfolding character of multi-cellular 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 are hoping that this new tala opens up new boundaries in creating new ragas in Indian music. In the future works, I would like to explore further DNA Carnatic in relation to body and post-humanist thinking and thus bring new meaning of 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 traditional meanings of their theatre practice. It is within this site of negotiation that we are able to 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
DNA Carnatic (Alma raga)
Infinite Saree Publication