Bai Barbarella Chow (2020)
Stephanie J. Burt & Samuel Xun (both Singapore)

Mixed media installation

NTU ADM Gallery

Filmic and textual narratives, as well as sartorial aesthetics, provide visual impetus for Stephanie J. Burt’s material explorations, while issues of feminism and gender drive her installation-based practice conceptually. Here, in collaboration with a young fashion designer, Samuel Xun, her work assumes the florid excess and flamboyant artifice that characterize the stylistics of camp. Bai Barbarella Chow takes as its initial inspiration the culture of pole dancing, which valorises the hyper-sexualisation of the body while submitting it to the gaze of erotic desire (frequently male). Draped around a makeshift stripper’s pole is a panoply of shapes, forms, surfaces, textures, compositions and densities, constituting a performance of campiness in the material register. These objects and textiles stand in for the body of the performer here, their selection also informed by a number of films that evince camp sensibilities, including Green Snake (1993), But I’m a Cheerleader (1999) and Barbarella (1968). The trope of performativity, from dancing to acting, underpins the piece: its pseudo-body represents a deliberately exaggerated enactment of the self, a defence, as Burt and Xun point out, against the sort of hegemonic mainstream values and patriarchal prerogatives that are alive and well even in a contemporary climate of woke culture. As fashion historian Anne Hollander points out, “when you are dressed in any particular way at all, you are revealed rather than hidden.”