Imagine placing muppets like Oscar the Grouch, Miss Piggy, Elmo, Kermit and the lot in individual glass flasks used in laboratory, what would you get? What do you think of this idea? How would you feel about it?
Some say art and science don’t mix. Some say art and science are interlaced. Haven’t we all been watching said world-renowned muppets through a piece of glass attached to something called a television?
Then what’s so different about setting wayang puppets in beakers and glass flasks? Wayang means shadow in Javanese language, the word is also widely used in Singapore and Malaysia to refer to a theatrical play or show or even a movie.
Perhaps it’s the isolation felt with setting each puppet in a separate flask, but they are not independent, every puppet has a role to play in a play. Perhaps it’s the association of a traditional art and performance with an object of modern science, but thanks to science that we are able to preserve and restore fragile relics of traditional art.
The artist, Nasirun, has painstakingly arranged the numerous miniature wayang puppets in glass flasks and containers to form a pyramid with lights installed around some of the glassware. When the museum retires at night, I wonder if the wayang puppets would squeeze out of their flasks and start to perform folk tales for their counterparts in the exhibition. You got to have audience right? And it would be a nice cultural exchange and appreciation.
Or would the characters be busy measuring their heights in the unit of volume for one another using the lines indicated on the flask? That would be either very boisterous in a fun way or really organised and systematic.
The art of Wayang Kulit, or shadow puppet theatre, has been named by UNESCO a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. The word heritage does not mean Wayang Kulit is a thing of the past, it is an on-going form of art and has a vivid place on the minds of many people.
Between Worlds, 2013
Singapore Art Museum, level 2, gallery opposite the Chapel, turn right
Installation with leather puppets in glass bottles
Collection of the artist
Singapore Biennale 2013 commission