The Calligrapher (Carried Across)is a collaborative art piece between Phillip Hua (CA) and Taras Mashtalir (NY) that explores the possibilities and limitations of technology in the realm of language.
Hua, his mother, and two computer generated voices alternate between readingandtranslating the Vietnamese poem, “The Calligrapher” by Vũ Đình Liên. These four characters, a chorus of man and machine, form the basis of a soundscape composed and configured by Mashtalir. In addition to referencing the origin of the word “translate” (from Latin translatus, ‘carried across’), the piece is carried across generations (Hua and his mother), entities (man and machine), and space (CA and NY).
In the soundscape, Hua, a first generation Vietnamese-American, struggles to translate the poem with isolated words and phrases peppered over his mother’s reading. A male artificial intelligence (AI) voice also recites the poem in Vietnamese while a female AI voice awkwardly interprets the poem using Google Translate. The translation of poetry from one language to another is, in itself, a difficult task. But language barriers and aesthetic and expressive values provide additional challenges for the chorus. Missing is a properly translated reading, symbolizing the need for an entity fluent in both languages.
Woven together, the soundscaperefers toa prototype for an app envisioned by Mashtalir that accesses language databases and sets the translations to music. The voices are analyzed by an audio-to-midi algorithm that generates melody objects and rhythm patterns and assigns them to a set of instruments. Besides presenting the languages in a playful manner, the app could serve as an educational application for language learning.
In addition to the soundscape, postcards designed by Hua are available for the public to take. The postcards feature the original poem on one side and the English translation (by Thomas D. Le) on the other. Printed in transparent gloss ink, translations by Hua and Google Translate are placed over the texts. In addition to serving as a visual representation of the translation process, the postcards counteract the degradation of the language by disseminating the poem along with its translation.
The postcards, designed by Hua, feature the original poem on one side and the English translation (by Thomas D. Le) on the other. Printed in transparent gloss ink, translations by Hua and Google Translate are placed over the texts. In addition to serving as a visual representation of the translation process, the postcards counteract the degradation of the language by disseminating the poem along with its translation.
The front features the original poem by Vũ Đình Liên. The colors of red and yellow reference the colors of the Vietnamese flag.
The back features the English translation by Thomas D. Le.
Just as the pink cherry blossomed each year
The old scholar was sure to reappear
With China ink and red paper in scrolls
Amidst the swelling crowds that surged and rolled.
So many people paid him handsomely
For his talent that they admired dearly,
The flourishes of his accomplished hand
That wrought dragons and phoenixes on end.
Each passing year saw fewer people come.
Where were they all who paid him so handsome?
Now his paper had lost its crimson red,
His ink dried out in its sad forlorn bed.
At his old place sat the calligrapher
Amidst the hustling crowds without a stir.
Some yellow leaves fell dead on his paper,
And from above drizzle flew in a whir.
This year the cherry blooms light pink again;
The old scholar is found nowhere in vain.
Of all those people lived in days of yore
Where are they now, where’er forevermore?
A translation created by Google Translate is printed in transparent ink on top. The translation reads as: