Friday, May 21, 2010

Double Infinity by Alexa Haas

Double Infinity

In the Double Infinity exhibit, artist Liu Gong has a photo of a
satellite town in Shanghai where it is made to replicate a little
Holland. His photo is of a real tree in front of a billboard of a
picture of a windmill in little Holland. At the opening of the
exhibit, we talked to him. A student asked, "Why doesn't the plaque
say that it is a billboard? Or else no one will know!" He replied by
saying, when people look at it everyone has their own interpretation,
even if there was a plaque. This interpretation is always
misinterpretation, always a miscommunication between the artist and
the viewer. He pointed out, "Even right now, talking, we are
miscommunicating. I am explaining to you my idea, but you understand
my words on your own terms, and not the way I am thinking…We can't
fully explain to each other what we are thinking."

Historian Lynn Pan, mentioned that you cannot understand a
culture without understanding the language. I read online that she
does not consider Amy Tan, the writer of The Joy Luck Club, as Chinese
but as an American, on account that Amy Tan does not speak Chinese and
therefore does not understand the Chinese mindset. There are words in
every language that another language cannot translate. And in that
there are entire concepts and observations of the world that cannot be
articulated full from language to language.

John Lennon in his song 'How?' has this line, "how can I have
feeling when I don't know if it's a feeling" There are feelings and
emotions that different languages note on. In Japanese, おもいしろい
(omoishiroi) is often translated into English as interesting, but it
really means interesting in the sense that it is very funny. In
Portuguese there is a word saudade which means longing for something
you never had, sort of. It cannot be fully conveyed in English words.
In Chinese 开心 (kai xin ~ open heart) is constantly being translated to
me in two different ways: funny or happy, so I am still sort of unsure
how to use it. There is an eternal disconnect from country to country,
culture to culture, person to person. This is miscommunication.

Culture and morals are embedded in the language. The Double
Infinity symposium held last weekend was trying to figure out what
would be written in the textbooks of our era ~ to figure out if a
globalized history is possible ~ and to have a conversation between
different countries' timelines. One of the speakers, an art historian,
Dr. Paul Gladston asked if it was even possible to have a unified
history of anything. Specifically with China and 'The west,' who to
their core have huge philosophical differences in their outlooks on
life; societal, religious, sexual, cultural differences. He said our
timelines would have "polaristic narrative."

For the whole weekend I listened to Chinese artists speak about
their art, opinions and lives through these rechid headphones and an
Chinese to English translator's heavy breathing and salivating mouth.
I couldn't help but feel like I was missing something entirely. The
audience would laugh and I heard nothing funny. The entire weekend
revolved around this whole idea of miscommunication. I would be
writing down quotes of the artists, but in the translator's words. I
couldn't help but feel like I was looking at this entire event through
her eyes and her own personal opinions on the matter. During the
English speakers, the speakers would often use words I didn't even
know, so I wondered how it was translated into Chinese. Did the
translator know these words? English is especially hard to translate,
I would imagine, because one definition has so many words. And each
other those words are used in a specific context that one could only
know after hearing it used in those contexts! How difficult it is to
get around this miscommunication!

At the end of the first day of the symposium, there was a
performance revolving around this very idea. It was called "Rites of
Passage" by Julika Rudelius. A native English speaker stands at the
front of a line with four Chinese translators. They play a game of
telephone, translating her English phrase to Chinese, back to English,
then back to Chinese and finally at the end we see how it was
ultimately translated in english. In this performance, or experiment a
sentence goes through 5 different contexts. 5 different outlooks on
the world. The story Julika Rudelius was telling was kind of
scandalous, with a strong erotic feeling through the entire thing. In
the English translation at the end this raunch was hardly every
conveyed. Every language has their own poetics. English has their own
idioms. The Chinese language definitely has their little sayings and
three character sentences that I think native-Westerners will never
fully understand.

What does this all mean? I don't really know. It's sort of a
pity that we will always misunderstand each other, but it's sort of
beautiful. I am so scared that during this time of Chinese
'modernization' in light of the Western model, that Chinese ideals
will lose itself. I don't even like how the West has modernized,
because they forgot about Mother Nature in doing so! But an
appreciation of the body, and nature and the heavens are embedded in
the Chinese language, so hopefully the Chinese can reinterpret the
definition of modernization.

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