Do You Know What I Mean? Tele- Contributors On Translating and Being Translated
Issue Two is almost here and we could not be more excited! In anticipation of it, we took a moment to return to our inaugural issue to ask our contributors about their thoughts.
While creating the issue, each contributor receives only the piece from the artist before them—no explanation, no statement. From that piece, the contributor is expected to create a piece in their own medium that is a translation or continuation of the previous work. We found that this process looked pretty different for each person. Now, we’ve asked contributors about their responses to the issue as a whole.
In Issue One, Yanyi translated a drawing by Celeste Byers into his poem, “At Home in the Sky.” See the drawing and read the poem here.
On the Process
The most difficult part of this process was being faithful to the idea of not altering the original piece. I found myself moving towards ekphrasis as a starting point to stay true to the piece itself, but the translation required me to contend with why I write poetry: to say something I would truly want in perpetuity, even if it is nothing. I could not ignore myself as the onlooker, and so I stayed faithful to that, too, and so gave up purity, which isn't much of an idea I really believe in anyway.
On Seeing Issue One
I liked the concept so it was interesting to see where people went with it. There’s so much that goes into the synthesis of one work for the next. On one hand I didn’t want to be too literal but also wanted a reader to enter my piece and engage with some essence of the last. I thought it was funny that what I saw was not necessarily what the artist intended to draw. And it turned out that I didn’t care as much when my piece was interpreted—I’m not an expert in avant-garde jazz—as to how literal or not the interpretation was. It seemed more important that the next artist had something to work off of, something that moved them sufficiently to do whatever they needed to do.
In Issue One, Kate Mohanty translated Yanyi’s poem into a saxophone piece called “Lacerated Love.” Read the poem and listen to the recording here.
On the Process
This process was interesting for me, as I read and write poetry myself, but have never directly communicated poetry through my saxophone, which is my main medium as an artist. I tend to think of writing and saxophone playing as separate things for me, creatively speaking. I found this poem to be a good one for me to go through this process, Yanyi's poem resonated with me quite a bit.
I read the poem, ‘At Home in the Sky’ numerous times over the course of the last week, so it had been floating around in my head throughout the week. The nature of my work is improvisational, so I sat down and recorded a few different improvised takes on my saxophone with the poem in my head (as well as in front of me so I could glance at it) while I played. My music is quite introspective, even when playing in front of a live audience, so a poem of this nature lent itself well to this exercise. Overall I enjoyed the process a lot and would perhaps think of incorporating this sort of thing into my work more often.
On Seeing Issue One
I found Yanyi's statement about this process to be especially moving. His opening line where he states his struggle with "being faithful to the idea of not altering the original piece." I was struck by this as, considering the nature of the varying artistic mediums present throughout the first issue of tele, I personally came into it with the assumption that whatever I was sent would turn out to be altered fairly automatically. Translating words into melodic music calls for that, but I found his stating that he struggled with this interesting and quite honest.
I was surprised as to what my piece led to with Mia Pinheiro's video, although I had anticipated I’d be surprised by whatever came after my piece because I was curious what someone would do with my idiosyncratic saxophone playing.
In Issue One, Mia Pinheiro translated Kate Mohanty’s saxophone piece into her video, “You are Here.” Listen to the piece and see the video here.
On the Process
Thinking of this as a translation, a communication down a line, passing the same information through alternate devices—I received sound and transferred it into a moving map through film, attempting to conjure the message. The images it created, the bits of story I felt through the sounds, its tragedy and its not-tragedy. I listened repeatedly and wondered how to accomplish a true translation. I wrote and wrote and wrote and then filed through collections of my sound and film and thought of instructions to guide the viewer through the same experiential undulations as … the music instill[ed]. It was an internal combat to stick with a translation, a continual process of coming back to the former artist’s work to make sure my own language was properly conveying the original intention of the artist, instead of merely using the music as a jumping off point for a separate work. It is not a separate work, it is the same thing.
On Seeing Issue One
Looking at the whole spectrum of work translated, I think of communication: language of the body, spoken language, written, objects—all being a variety of symbols intrinsically personal and lonely, yet embedded within a thin web of uncountable tangles and junctures where any beam of expression shot into the realm of others will be tragically and beautifully both mistaken and reconstructed. You will never know what I mean when I say, and I will never know what color your pupils take, but we will exchange something with all of its broken routes and accidentals and maybe the only important thing is not the perfection of clarity, but that we've met.
Yanyi is a poet and critic. In 2018, he won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize, awarded by Carl Phillips, for his first book, The Year of Blue Water (Yale University Press 2019). Currently, he is an associate editor at Foundry and an MFA candidate at New York University. He formerly served as Director of Technology and Design at The Brooklyn Institute for Social Research, senior editor at Nat. Brut, and curatorial assistant at The Poetry Project. He is the recipient of fellowships from Asian American Writers Workshop and Poets House. Find his recent work in LA Review of Books, VIDA, and Memorious.
Kate Mohanty is an avant-garde saxophonist based in Brooklyn. Kate is an active member of Brooklyn's music scene, committed to the process of improvisation, especially in the live setting. Mohanty's debut solo recording, The Double Image, was released via cassette in April 2017. The Double Image was named to Avant Music News Best of 2017.
Mia Pinheiro is a multi-disciplinary artist who is from the New Bedford MA/Burlington, VT and currently lives in Mexico City. In June 2018 she exhibited mYto, a myth-making playground during her residency at LLORAR CDMX in Mexico City and in March 2018, she created the immersive fantasy Feast of Fictions while in residency at The Lab Program at Pandeo DF in Mexico City. She completed an intensive study with the choreographer Deborah Hay and was a cast member of the Royal Frog Ballet Surrealist Cabaret Autumn 2017 after teaching the intensive summer course The Body Ensouled: Intimacy of Place and Insight of Motion with Temenos VT. She has created a variety of collaborative movement pieces with unique location including the Winooski River, New City Gallerie, The Light Club Lamp Shop, The Hive, The Attic, Museu Contemporaneo Arte Oaxaca and Bosque Ciudad de Mexico. She has received a degree in contemporary dance and movement studies through the University of Vermont and has with studied with wide variety of talented choreographers including Erika Senft-Miller, Claire Byrne and Hannah Dennison. She is an alumni of Temenos Vermont's Course Creative Concept Development: Art as Alchemy. She has supplemented her studies through the completion of many workshops: 'Siente' at CASA San Augustin Etla in Oaxaca, MX by Laura Rios and Linda Austin, 'Figure/Ground' at Shelburne Farms Breeding Barn by Hannah Dennison, 'Taller Danza Africana' at AfrOaxaquena, MX by Karim Keita and 'MELT' at Movement Research, NY by Vicky Schick. She has often found herself as a assistant stage director, choreographer or roving performance artist.