Taipei Free Art Fair, 6-8, Nov 2015
Hua Shan Cultural Park, Taipei,Taiwan
free and fair is a piece I created for Taipei Free Art Fair, a non-commercial group show of two hundred international artists, which took place in Taipei Hua-Shan Culture Park during the 6th to 8th of November, 2015.
The installation included a two layer desk, a rack, three lamps, 500 stickers, plus many books and documents I downloaded and printed out from the Internet, free for the audience to take, or to read at the exhibition. Five hundred stickers were spread out, covering the upper layer of the desk; the content of the stickers was a list of open knowledge and free culture websites. An instruction: “Free stickers for free knowledge, please feel free to take some.” was put on the edge of the desk.
Under the pile of stickers, there were three Global Language Network maps from MIT Media Lab’s Global Language Network project (http://language.media.mit.edu/visualizations), which map out the network structure of languages in three different global media: books, Wikipedia and Twitter. Along with the maps, there was a Chinese translation of the excerpt from the project’s publication:
[…] the structure of the networks connecting multilingual speakers and translated texts, as expressed in book translations, multiple language editions of Wikipedia, and Twitter, to provide a concept of language importance that goes beyond simple economic or demographic measures. We find that the structure of these three global language networks (GLNs) is centered on English as a global hub … We validate the measure of a language’s centrality in the three GLNs by showing that it exhibits a strong correlation with two independent measures of the number of famous people born in the countries associated with that language. These results suggest that the position of a language in the GLN contributes to the visibility of its speakers and the global popularity of the cultural content they produce.After part of the stickers being taken away, the map and the short text were revealed.
The research paper of the Global Language Network project was printed out and displayed on a rack next to the desk, along with articles relate to global scale knowledge sharing and the relation between languages and translation, included the introduction of Digitize Me, Visualize Me, Search Me by Gary Hall, Shadow Libraries by Lawrence Liang and The Task of the Translator by Walter Benjamin.
On the bottom layer of the desk, there were books on language/ symbolic system that programs human phenomena and culture production. These books are: One-Dimensional Man by Herbert Marcuse; Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell; The Electronic Revolution by William S. Burroughs; How to Read Lacan by Slavoj Žižek; Dialectic of Enlightenment by Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno; Towards the Philosophy of Photography and Into the Universe of Technical Images by Vilém Flusser.
During the whole exhibition I was on-site talking to the visitors.
The installation displayed the relation between the global internet knowledge sharing activity and the global language networks. Through the installation, I wanted to expose the difficulty in large-scaled international culture exchange, in the sense that it is impossible for people from different culture background to fully express their culture within one shared (foreign) language framework. As an artist who aims to the international audience, I have experienced the difficulty of expressing my concept in a foreign language frame; also through my experience as an art administrative, I have observed the alienation between the artists and their concepts when coordinating cultural events for international artists.
Different languages are different mediums and translation is the action of moving an idea from its original medium into another medium. Through my experience in Chinese-English translation in both directions, I realized that a concept can not be fully represented in a foreign language context. An idea gains its meaning from its context, thus making perfect translation impossible. Transferred words or concepts change their meaning as the new language context imposes another logic on them.
For example, my native language, Mandarin Chinese, has a very different logic than English. Chinese culture puts less emphasis on classification or differentiation of meanings than many western cultures; there’s no strict differentiation of gender nor quantified nouns, and the sentences don’t structure differently according to time as English tenses. These examples demonstrate how a language reflects the way a culture perceives the world and vice versa, the way one perceives the world can be inherited from languages. Therefore, learning to articulate one’s thoughts in a foreign language is learning another worldview and way of living.
I was born and educated in Taiwan before going to Scotland to study art and start my art practice. After graduation, I have been back to Taiwan and since then, my main knowledge resource for art and philosophy has been from the Internet. The free culture movement and all kinds of online sharing activities have been constantly nourishing my art practice and my intellectual life. As a result of my internet resource dependency, I have grown strong interest in the idea and the methodology of international knowledge sharing.
Internet based knowledge-sharing relies heavily on texts, making the ability to understand the globally dominant language - English - necessary. Moreover, making contribution also implies English language proficiency. Two problems arise - firstly, how is it possible for non-English speaking individuals to contribute their culture to the global cultural conversations and secondly, to what extent can a non-English-speaking ‘culture’ actually be shared within the framework of English language?
In order to communicate, it is inevitable that many people need to change their logic from what they inherited into the frame of English, which alters the perspectives of the speaking subjects into the new logic which the subjects adapt to. Taking myself as an example, I have noticed that when I getting more familiar with English, I understand western thoughts better. The dominance of western culture is not only due to colonization history, but also due to the wide use of the English language, carrying its own cultural logic into other cultures and with that imposing this logic on others.
The popular assumption of the neutrality of the internet platform for knowledge sharing ignores the fact that knowledge shared in English is already filtered through the perspectives or the logic of the English language itself. In this way, cultural knowledge changes its character and becomes somehow filtered or altered knowledge. Following the vein of the global knowledge sharing, most of the global culture exchange occasions also fall within the English imposed frame.
However, as I suggested in this piece which, besides the installation, I was on-site during the exhibition, talking to the audience, as the artist as well as a translator. I still believe in which, small scale face to face communications that involves the non-verbal language and interaction; mutual experience that building up empathy that doesn’t necessarily rely on the verbal presentations, can minimize the language frame and therefore builds up deeper interpersonal understandings. I also suggest that an artist, being sensitive to the shared humanity and bearing the recognition of the language frame in mind, can take the role as an inter-culture translator.