"traNslatioNs - Understanding Misunderstanding"



Director's Message

Translation normally refers to the act of converting words written or spoken in one language into those of another. But, the actual process of producing words in a single language can itself be regarded as a certain form of translation.

Ken Liu, an American science fiction author who, in addition to penning his own works, also translates sci-fi stories written in Chinese, writes that "every act of communication is a miracle of translation."* Even when we are simply existing, breathing, an enormous amount of information like colors, shapes, scents and textures, flows into our bodies from the world around us. All of this races through our neurons, transforming from physical sensations into emotions that are vocalized as statements like "What a pleasant day" or "Oh, it's such a gloomy morning." It could be said that what we are doing in such moments is translating the state of the world around ourselves, like the blue sky before our eyes, or the chill air of winter.

Pretty much everyone feels at least a little impatient at not being able to properly put their feelings into words when translating in this manner. Despite our continual efforts to somehow convey the various feelings welling up within us to others through our vocabulary or physical presentation, we simply don't have it in us to perfectly translate these sentiments.

We are unable to share information in the way that computers duplicate and transfer digital data with flawless precision. Our modes of communication have a fundamental "misunderstanding" built into them. Still, what is possible to understand is that we all have trouble putting our thoughts into words. Perhaps another way of putting it is that, if we can learn more about the process of how we translate our own perceptions, then we will be able to in a sense understand misunderstanding.

As fortune would have it, people are capable of using difficulties in expressing themselves as opportunities to create new "words" that allow them to translate feelings they couldn't in the past. This exhibition adopts the view that translation is a process by which people who should not be able to understand each other, try to find somehow a way to communicate. It is meant to be a "wonderland of diverse translation techniques" so that visitors can get a true feel for the miraculous nature of the words we use so casually in our day-to-day lives, as well as what makes the meanings scattered by our "misunderstandings" or "mistranslations" so interesting.

It is said that there are over 7,000 languages used in the world today. Realizing that each language is actually adrift in a sea with all its fellows will help us gain a new perception for the words we use in our daily lives. What's more, learning about terms born in different cultures that are difficult to translate into other languages also helps us diversify our sensibilities. From there we can also delve into the world of languages that don't use letters or characters. Sign languages that use body and hand gestures to instantly describe situations can also help enrich the expression of those who can hear. Graphic recording, which converts difficult sensations by words into images on the spot, is another means of creating empathy that goes beyond misunderstanding. The act of having people of the modern era apply new interpretations to cultures formed in the ancient past and thus breathe new life into them can also be viewed as a form of translation that surpasses the boundaries of time. And last but not least, the countless efforts to establish communication between not only our fellow humans, but also to establish dialogue with microbes, plants, animals, and even inorganic objects all expand upon the realm of "translation."

What kind of potential for translation will take root within you after experiencing this exhibition? I hope that it helps you envision heretofore unseen languages that bridge the minds of all things that exist in this world.

*Ken Liu, The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories , Preface, Head of Zeus, 2016


Photo: Takashi Mochizuki

Dominique Chen

Ph.D. in Information Studies. Speaks Japanese, French, and English. A French citizen of Japanese, Taiwanese and Vietnamese ancestry. Attended an international school with students from over 50 countries where he experienced translation on a daily basis since he was a child. Currently an associate professor at Waseda University's School of Culture, Media, and Society. Served as a judge, focus issue director, and unit leader for the 2016 to 2018 Good Design Awards. Exhibited works as an artist/designer include the "NukaBot" fermented rice bran bed robot at the XXII La Triennale Milano "Broken Nature" show (2019.3.1 - 9.1) and "Last Words / TypeTrace," a process for visualizing the writing process of people's last wills and testaments, at the Aichi Triennale 2019 (2019.8.1 - 10.1).
Chen's major authored works include Language for Building the Future - To Connect Misunderstandings (Shinchosha), Cyborg's Religio: Generating Mind in the Big Data Society (NTT Publishing), Vitalizing the Internet: Theory and Practice of Prochronism (Seidosha), and A Guidebook for Understanding the History of Creative Commons and Constructing the Free Culture (Film Art). He has co-authored works such as Information Umwelt: A Guidebook to Play between AI and Body (NTT Publishing) and Bed of Mystery: Editing Process for Fermenting our Thought (Shobunsha). He has also translated publications such as Positive Computing: Technology for Wellbeing and Human Potential (BNN Shinsha) and The Technological Singularity (NTT Publishing).