Peking Opera robe made in transparent plastic


Chinese artist Wang Jin’s Robe 1999 renders the iconic form of the Peking Opera robe in transparent plastic embroidered with fishing line (illustrated). The juxtaposition of a traditional high-cultural form and modern synthetic material refers to transformations in Chinese society, most pointedly the rapid evolution of consumerism. Robe is on display within the exhibition ‘I Can Spin Skies’ at the Queensland Art Gallery’s Henry and Amanda Bartlett Galleries (5 & 6).

Wang Jin ‘Robe’ 1999

Wang Jin, China b.1962 / Robe 1999 / Polyvinyl chloride and fishing line / 183 x 205.5 x 16.5cm / Gift of an anonymous donor through the QAG Foundation 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Wang Jin

Plastic, for Wang, is the material that most succinctly represents the contradictions of contemporary society — it is at once cheap and versatile, widespread and environmentally unfriendly. While producing such a revered article of traditional culture from such a crude fabric might be seen as disrespectful, the object itself retains a haunting beauty, one that could only be produced by the use of such a luminous surface to construct what remains a form of undeniable elegance.

This suggests that the relationship between tradition and modernity is more complex than a process of displacement, with an older tradition making way for a new one. In this sense, the forces at work in a rapidly transforming Chinese society deserve careful and ongoing attention.

Wang Jin, China b.1962 / Robe (details) 1999