united nations - concept

cultural transference is a neon calligraphy series, a collaborative effort based on the reinterpretation of names of cultural institutions, corporations and brands.  the particular principle of this cultural translation art project has to involve with a process of translating a cultural institution's name into another language, then translated back to its original language.

the background of  the cultural transference:
i had the idea to create a series of neon calligraphies after i moved to my home in new york city.  i actually began fabrication of this project in 2004.  in a thesis on another major project, the forest of stone steles, i wrote: "in this particular period of time, the world's different cultures, especially the predominant multi-cultural societies, experienced an unprecidented identity crisis and attempted to re-identify themselves in america.  from americanism to the asian century, along with the changing political and economical world, we have been undergoing a transformation and re-establishment of cultural centralism and cultural marginalism. it is a turbulent era.  the cultural transference neon light series was created at the turning point of the 20th century to the 21st century, under the presence of different political and social and scientific exchanges and clashes between cultures. it reflects the changing world of cultural import and export, cultural asimilation and alienation from each other, and consumation of one culture by another.  it is a representation of modern day historical facts and epic stories.

cultural transference creates the new through an inventive translation between cultures:
inacuracy or can't be acurate is the nature of translation among the cultures.  a culture can not be translated if we believe that it has to be precisely translated to the other culture.  the cultural transference neon calligraphy project does not only try to convey that, but  more importantly, it expresses the kind of inacurate or can't be acurate phenomenon from an attempt to translate other cultures.  what will be the results?

sensory sound and meaning are 2 basic structures of our languages; sound translation and the meaning translation can't be synchronized.  this predicament inspired me to envision a wonderful idea:  for example, one of my neon calligaraphy works, cultural transference - university of pittsburgh, was commissioned by the university of pittsburgh.  #1, i  translated phonically from english name of this school by selecting chinese words which mimic the english pronunciation as a vehicle to reconstruct the new sentence in chinese.   #2, then i took this newly constructed chinese sentence back to english by translating its meaning.   it completes the special perfection of the translation. the following is an example of the process of my invention complex chinese-english translation :


phonical translation from the english name of university of pittsburgh to chinese:

              u              ni           ver            si          ty           pi         tts         bur           gh  
             釉            霓            浮           色         綈          碧         瓷          寶           閣


meaning translation from chinese back to english:

            釉             霓             浮            色               綈            碧             瓷             寶    
         shinny        neon      flows on   colourful       silk         green        china       treasure    pavillion


university of pittsburgh becomes totally different meaning through the method of complex chinese-english translation,   i call it post culture phenomenon.

another work of my  cultural transference neon calligraphy series was commissioned by the fashion company, salvatore ferragamo. using it as an example:


phonical translation of ferragamo to chinese:

              fe           rra           ga        mo
              福           來           迦         牟


meaning translation from chinese back to english:

              福                 來               迦    牟
         good fortune   comes from   sakyamuni


now that i have explained the aim of this project, i want to explain that misunderstanding is not just a phenomenon of the translation among cultures, and not only inevitable, but a necessity because only through the misunderstanding can we create the new!

furthermore, cultural transference neon calligraphy is not formed by the traditional method of writing poetry - with imagination and fantasy. they are created through a unique process which i call the complex chinese-english translation, which creates a world beyond the typical human imagination and fantasy.  imagine how it can be reinvented, both in english and chinese, by alternating the literal and phoenetic re-translations hundreds of times  until you have a totally new surreal novel!  

below are a few chinese phrases which went through the complex chinese-english translation:

the literal translation of a chinese phrase “月光”- “moon light”﹔ the  sound translation of moon light - moon = 虻, ligh = 癩, t = 忒.  “虻癩忒” the chinese pronunciation is mang lai te, meaning horsefly leprosy error.  

“晨露” translated to english is morning dew,  now this english phrase morning dew retranslated back to chinese through sound similarity therefore it becomes “mo = 摸, er = 耳, ning = 寧, dew = 肚”.  the new chinese phrase becomes“摸耳寧肚," which means  touching ear quieting stomach.

the chinese phrase “風竹林” translated to english means bamboo forest in wind. when bamboo forest in wind is pheonetically retranslated back into chinese, it becomes “bam = 辦, boo = 不, fo = 法, re = 蚋, s = 死, te = 特, in = 淫, win = 吻, d = 蒂”“辦不法蚋死特淫吻蒂” means making illegal gnat death, especially excessively kiss the base of fruit.

cultural transference neon calligraphy is a fusion of scholarly art and pop art:
other examples of simple phoenetic translation without involving the meaning  from chinese to english are: 荔枝 (prononce li zhi, meaning the name of a fruit) - lychee;  炒麵 (pronounced chao mian, meaning fried noodles) - chow mein. from english to chinese there are: Kentucky Fried Chicken“肯德基”sounds like ken de ji; MacDonalds“麥當勞”sounds like mai dang lao; Disney“迪斯尼” sounds di si ni;  Microsoft:“微軟”sounds like wei ruan ... we quite often read commercial advertisements as a phoenetic translations from english to chinese (mimicking the sound ) but the message is also intended to portray the image of their marketing strategy. examples of this, from english to chinese are: Coca Cola - “可口可樂”(ke ko ke le: meaning to be tasty and be happy);  Marborogh - “萬寶路”(wan bao lu, which means 10 thousand treasure road). however,  when focusing on sounds, the speaker's  pronunciation also influences the translation into the other languages, altering the original meaning.  it does not remain a simple phoenetic translation, but a merge of conceptual translation and popular culture. when popularity turns it into an industrial icon of cultural import and export, it culturalizes the commercial marketplace.  this is another concept: the link which had formed between the traditional scholarly esthetics, philosophy and pop art.

what does the cultural transference neon light project have to do with the names of cultural and commercial institutions:
the famous cultural institutions, corporations and name brands are the cultural, historic and social symbols. and yet, even more so, they are actually the signs of our pop cuture as well.  putting those cultural and commercial institutions in the context of east and west,  when those names of famous cultural and commercial institutions  filtered through different languages (linguistic and cultural translation is a convenient filter to eliminate the things one culture does not want from others).  the fundamental concept of my cultural transference is how our society, especially after post-modernism and post-colonialism,  is beyond any traditional interpretation and study possible within a single culture.

at the same time, after reading the retranslating and rewriting of the names of cultural institutions, corporations and brands, we experience the satire, absurdity and confusion almost to a predicament in the process of shaping a new culture.  the texts also promulgate that public fanaticism and blindness can transmute misunderstanding and misinterpretation  into an icon in our society.  this phenomenon has generated the power of pop culture.  for example, the fortune cookie, which was invented in america, became a popular symbol of chinese culture,  but only recently has this chinese symbol appeared in china.  what we have learned from this is how chinese culture was consumed and reinvented in a foreign land.  china didn't originally have a fortune cookie culture until china imported this chinese cultural icon from the usa; it was originally non - chinese.

spring 2004, new york city
wenda gu