Here's Gao Minglu's description of a project called ABC...
In San Diego in 1991 Xu exhibited a set of ceramic sculptures resembling pieces of moveable type. The words on the tops of the blocks were Chinese characters that, if read aloud, sound like the English alphabet. Used to approximate English sounds, the words are supposed to be meaningless. Chinese characters, however, bear their meaning in their forms, and the words Xu chose echo with painful or absurd semantic resonances. Often, when foreign words are transliterated in Chinese, the original meaning will be transformed in the new cultural background; one cannot but think that the work expresses the discomfort of an adult forced to learn a new language, who brings to simple linguistic facts a complicated cultural baggage.And this is Xu Bing's own statement from his website:
The theme of this work is the awkwardness encountered in linguistic exchange between different cultures. It is comprised of thirty-eight ceramic cubes that represent a sort of transliteration from the twenty-six letters of the Roman alphabet to Chinese characters. The characters that have been chosen are such that, when pronounced, render sounds equivalent to the English letter they represent. The Chinese characters are caved on the upper face of the each ceramic block in the form of a printer's stamp and the Roman letter is printed on the side of the block. For example, the English letter 'A' is rendered by the Chinese 'ai', which means sadness. 'B' is rendered 'bi', which means land on the other side, on the other shore. Some letters need two or three Chinese characters to 'transliterate'. For example, 'W' is rendered 'da', 'bu', 'liu' which means big, cloth and six. This activity may begin with a becoming logic, but ultimately it leaves its subject, transliterated language, virtually meaningless and almost ridiculous.I will most likely be writing a piece during the timeframe of our Archives of Exile collaboration that's a setting of poems from Ezra Pound's Cathay, the famous mistranslations of ancient Chinese poetry. My reading list for researching that project includes these two books by Yunte Huang:
Transpacific Displacement: Ethnography, Translation, and Intertextual Travel in Twentieth-Century American Literature
Shi: A Radical Reading of Chinese Poetry
My plan is to write the piece for four Chinese instruments and string quartet, and either two singers or a bi-lingual singer, not sure yet. the text will be some conflation of Pound's Cathay poems, the original poems, and various mis-translations back and forth between the languages.
If you remember, when we originally talked about the Archives of Exile project, I said that perhaps other projects I'm working on may want to be part of our AoE project. This Cathay project might be one of them... or not, depending on how the other explorations we're doing end up taking shape! I'm just putting everything I'm thinking about here in the blog, and we'll see how it wants to shape up...
if this stuff turns you on, definitely let me know!