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Thursday, 29 January 2015
Chinese Whispers from art to translation
In the game Chinese Whispers, a message is passed from ear
to ear. The message gets more and more distorted with each whisper. The
more ears in the line, the greater the final distortion. London's Fine
Art Society is currently displaying a fascinating art collection called Chinese Whispers. The traditional view of translation is glaringly
obvious, but all is not that simple.
Art after Warhol
Rob and Nick Carter based their pictures on the works of pop
artist, Andy Warhol. The Carters chose some 20 Warhol artworks.
They commissioned small reproductions by professional Chinese artists. A second
Chinese artist then copied the picture again in a different workshop. The
process continued over and over again. Each new picture after
Warhol is formed from 30 such pictures. In the case of Warhol's Last
Supper, there are no fewer than 50 black and white replicas.
This "photocopying" leads to
small changes from picture to picture. If you compare picture 1 in the top left
corner to picture 30 in the bottom right, the original after Warhol is
sometimes totally unrecognisable.
The Carters' Last Supper begs the
question about distortions in the Bible. The Bible's stories were passed down by
word of mouth after all. Certainly, Christ's features were already lost in
picture 4. The table survived longer. I couldn't help wondering if culture
played a part. Would a Western artist have done a more exact replica?
The Five Dollar Bill in the gallery
window seemed good from a distance, but poor on closer inspection.The Won Ton lettering on Campbell's Soup Can reproduced
fairly well. The Studebaker Silver Hawk passed relatively unscathed. It just
had a bit of a fender bender. The Still Life two jugs with glasses and fruits
after Warhol had seen better days. Some overindulgence by the Chinese artists
The Chinese Whispers exhibition cries out that famous
Italian saying "Translator, Traitor" (Traduttore, tradittore). It
suggests an inevitable loss of meaning and culture from the author's original
work. Individual features may well be lost in the transfer of meaning from one
language to another. The Carters' have created a fascinating new collection of
artwork after Warhol. A professional translator creates a new work, respecting
the original's meaning, style and tone.
Art of translation
If anything professional translators get a bad press. Many commercial
translations are improvements on the original. Chinese Whispers in reverse? Now
how could the Carters' depict that?
One final thought: Warhol and the Carters are credited. The individual Chinese artists remain unnamed and invisible... just like translators.
Karen Andrews runs
Anglicity Ltd. She is an
to English translator,
content writer and