Saturday, July 21, 2007

Gareth’s art project

Despite (or maybe because of) riding the billows of work and parenting responsibilities, late last year I felt compelled to create some kind of "art project"—a purely creative endeavor unbounded by deadlines or anyone else's needs but my own. The kind of art I like is the series variety, where a collection of pieces builds upon the artist's theme, some engaging commentary or perspective on the world around us. So I thought I would like to create something along these lines. How do you say lobster in Chinese?However, I immediately faced the hurdle of having little discernable artistic skills to apply to the project. Sure, I can write well, and I can take a good photo, but I can't draw or paint anything more complicated than a snake. The only artistic tool I can wield with any confidence is Adobe Photoshop. So I decided that a computer-manipulated image would have to be my medium.
Fortunately, the muse struck soon after, and a theme resolved itself clearly in my mind's eye. As a member of the postmodern, cut-and-paste remix generation, I sought to rearticulate an existing cultural commodity, preferably something mundane, spinning it with my own interpretation and viewpoint to get an interesting outcome. So without further ado, I can introduce my pièce de résistance. Here then is my Taipei City Rapid Transit Map:My map is partly a response to the experience of being a westerner living in Taipei and learning the Chinese language. Learning a foreign language can be a key to unlock the secrets of another culture. I've been in Taipei since September of 1999, and have been studying Mandarin semi-consistently up until now. As my Chinese improved, I began trying to translate the names of places I visited. Most of the existing English translations on maps and road signs here simply use a romanized form of the original Chinese pronunciation. Not much imagination there. But when I began doing my own translations, the results were humorous and insightful.
Here is the original map, for your comparison: So many of the place names in Taipei betrayed a sudden depth of meaning I never noticed before. I christened the mundane Yongan Market (永安市場) with the more evocative moniker "Eternal Peace Market." The prosaic Longshan Temple (龍山寺) suddenly sprang to life as "Dragon Mountain Temple." Taipei became for me a more fanciful, romantic-sounding place. This was a bit of the exotic Asia I had imagined during youthful days spent reading Tintin annuals and the occasional noodle shop menu. So for my art project I endeavored to translate each stop on the Taipei Rapid Transit Map using this fanciful romantic spirit. And simply speaking, a lot of Chinese terms just sound funnier to western ears when you opt for the direct translation. Who doesn't smile when considering that "zoo" in Chinese literally means "animal garden?" When seeing my new train station names in English alone, the city shines with vigor.
Something else occurred to me during this project, relating to how local people might view this work. No disrespect is intended to this city or its residents. I hope instead it prompts some positive introspection. Do the citizens of Taipei acknowledge their streets of virtue? Their beautiful views, pools and forests? Their wondrous cliffs? Their strengths of loyalty, justice and peace? Despite its shortcomings, Taipei is a pleasant place to live. This city is full of character and personality, with many glorious treasures, and I am glad to have known her.
How do you say kangaroo in Chinese?
One of these days I'll get onto the future phases of my art project: Same theme, same medium, new subjects for translation. I also have a 3-D installation in mind, involving recycled milk tea cups. Stay tuned...
zee artiste at home


Emily said...

Very nice, Gareth! Taiwan's MRT stops do seem to be much more exotic now. Oh, and I like the pocket rats :-)

Lisa said...

Gareth this is so cool! I love it! Like the stop "Seven families named Zhang" I would have never thought of that, or a lot of the other ones, without having a "direct" translation. Can I send this to friends who might be interested in Taiwan/Taipei things?

ken said...

Don't go back to Canada. Go work for Taipei city government, Gareth Warhol.

KMmundo said...

That's awesome and totally hilarious! I think I'm going to print out your map to add to our currently completely bare walls so I can have some Taipei memories while we're down south!! I'm so glad you did this!