After considering the project brief, I have decided to narrow down the focus on my project on Chinese history and culture because being Chinese myself it is the Asian culture I would feel most comfortable and apt at representing.
Idea 1: Silkworms
In 2640 B.C., Si-Ling-Chi, a Chinese Empress was walking through her garden when a cocoon of a Silkworm dropped into her tea. Upon picking it up, she found the cocoon begun to unravel, forming a beautiful string of what is now known as ‘Silk’. Historically, silk has been considered a Chinese treasure and is extremely significant to our culture, and even led to the creation of the Silk Road which is an ancient trading network that played a significant role in the development of the civilisations of China.
Traditionally, silk produced by silkworms is white and silk dyeing is a practice invented and carried out by the Chinese for centuries. In my research, I discovered that in recent years a new technique for silk dyeing has been in use which is that silkworms are being fed with coloured dyes which leads to the silk they produce being of the corresponding colour. Because of how concentrated the dyes are, the bodies silkworms themselves will also turn colour.
The silkworms being force fed with dyes felt metaphorical of the way Chinese culture is nowadays often caricaturised just to make it more palatable to an international audience, such as in logos and packaging seen above. This discovery gave me mixed feelings because on one hand it is a much more effective and cheaper way to dye silks (traditional silk dyeing is a tedious process) but at the same time I saw it as a perversion of a Chinese tradition steeped in history and ancient culture. I think a lot of young Chinese people today especially those living in foreign countries struggle to strike a balance between sharing our culture with peers in a way that is respectful to them and to our own roots.
For this particular idea, I planned to continue using silkworms to metaphorically represent the dilution of Chinese culture in modern times. Conceptually I was going for something tongue-in-cheek and satirical, based off the following videos:
I’m a sucker for stupid videos like this HAHA and I feel like as strange as they may be, there is a certain charm to them and a lot of people find themselves drawn to its wackiness. My intention was to create an animated sequence with silkworms similar to the ones above, with the possibility of audience interaction with the worms.
Idea 2: Chinese astrology
I was researching on the famous Chinese lantern festival when I came across the statement “During the Han Dynasty, the festival was connected to Ti Yin, the deity of the North Star.”. This intrigued me and led me to shift my research towards Chinese astronomy and I was pleasantly shocked at the amount of material available on Chinese astronomy! Apparently the Chinese were one of the first cultures to observe and map the stars and Chinese astronomy is a wide topic full of narratives and science and also has ties to Buddhism and Taoism.
The above is the first star map I came across of the Suzhou Planisphere. Visually I was very drawn to its appearance due to its unpolished look and its negative colours.
Another map I found is the Dunhuang Star Chart, which is the earliest man-made star chart to have been recorded anywhere in the world. There is a lot of history behind it which you can watch the video above to find out more but I really like how the stars were mapped in such a way that it follows a narrative. In the above image, the cluster of stars in the middle represents the emperor (天皇) and the two bracked-shaped strings of orange dots represent the walls of the Forbidden Palace. The stars were mapped in such a way that as the night progressed, a person viewing the stars according to this map would see the emperor as he left his palace and toured the royal city.
Visually while I prefer the appearance of the Suzhou planisphere map, I think that the Dunhuang chart does have a more traditional look to it due to the inks used and the colour/texture of the paper which makes it look more authentic to Chinese history. I will have to put more thought into it and consult Ina to make a decision. There are also other visuals that I can consider, such as going down a more modern route and making it look more like a modern day planetarium.
Further thoughts & considerations
I showed Ina these ideas in week 2 and after discussing with her, I decided that I would prefer to work on Idea 2. I do think that because we are supposed to represent a culture in this project, it’s important to be a little more aware and sensitive of what we are putting out especially if it is to be shown in a public space. This mindset was what led me to choose Idea 2 because I felt that Idea 1 could potentially look distasteful and not representative of Chinese culture. With that in mind, I continued to brainstorm specifically on how I could represent Chinese constellations on the media wall.
I discovered these online planetariums which maps the view in outer space from any place on Earth at any given point in time. The second one is a little more useful because it shows the connection between each star to form the constellations. For the first one, visually it is something that I would like to make my work similar to should I choose to do something more data-based and less inherently Chinese.
Also, because all the star maps available these days are of the modern Western sky and I would like to map the stars according to Chinese astronomy, I used the above 2 maps to compare the 2 systems (they are the same stars, just connected in different ways). This is still a work in progress because there are so many stars out there but I may possibly simplify it by focusing only on the main constellations!
Another thing I discussed with Ina and Corey about is the possibility of making this an interactive piece through the use of code through Processing. I currently have a few ideas on how to do this but as of now it requires more brainstorming and research.
I’m super excited to be working on this project! I don’t think anything like this has been done before and I’m learning a lot about my own culture through my research. Stay tuned to this space if you would like to see updates on my progress (: