traNslatioNs – Understanding Misunderstanding_21_21 DESIGN SIGHT Exhibition

traNslatioNs – Understanding Misunderstanding

Translation is not only for words but also for unknown feelings and senses, cultures. In daily life, people do various types of activities and bring out body languages by their own style. So I agree with the concept of this exhibition as follows:

“Under the title of Translation, this Exhibition engages with the process of communication between things that are deemed incommunicable. It aims at a “wonderland of translating techniques.” You will experience the excitement of unconsciously-used language, rich expressions beyond language, and intriguing meanings generated by misprision.”  (from the flyer of this exhibition)

This exhibition entertains us with enlightening and sensuous ideas. There are various types of translation, from words to another language, from words to materials, from feelings to illustration, from auditory to visual, etc. After viewing all showcases, you’ll find yourself to be able to see the world with brand-new mind. At the same time, you can also understand abundance of the world beyond your comprehension.

I introduce some of the most impressive exhibits from 7 sections.

Swim in the Ocean of Languages

・Found In TranslationFind the Connection of Languages

The white screen indicated a random question in Japanese and English. Then I answered to the front microphone, the other black screens hanged on the walls, showed my words translated to each language.

The white screen asked to me “What was your recent pleasure thing?”
So I answered that the chocolate was delicious. Then the screen showed in Japanese as below.

I could find the thinking time, translation process of Google’s multilingual neural machine.

Then I could find the translation in other languages.

I found out “C” or “K” connection of ”CHOCOLATE” among these translated languages.

Positive Lexicography…Enrich Our Emotional Landscape

This booth shows the untranslatable words regarding human feelings across languages.
You can experience the mystic cognitive gaps of them directly translated into visual.

Here is the most touchable words to me.

Pronunciation, sense of the word “Tiki taka” (Basque) sounded like clockwork toy’s movement to me. And it made me feel searching for the same pronunciation in Japanese onomatopoeia.

・Lost In Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words…Learn Diversity in the Universe of Languages

Hanging panels exhibits untranslatable words across the world and illustrations of their images, from the book of the same title “Lost In Translation” by Ella Frances Sanders (Published by TEN SPEED PRESS). Its Japanese version was published with the title “Untranslatable words of the world” in Japanese.

This panel was the most heart-touched to me.

【CAFUNE】 (Brazilian Portuguese) was translated to “The act of tenderly running your fingers through the hair of somebody you love” in Japanese.

Following showcased devices will support for many physically challenged persons.

■Search for Ways of Conveying

・Hello Morse…Write Words with Signals

Developer Tania’s head movements are input into Morse signals, dots and dashes via switches on her wheelchair. Then the computer recognize them to convey into visible characters, which are read out by artificial voice. That is to say that Tania’s head movements are translated into her voice by her wheelchair and computers. This is very interesting thing.

With the Google Gboard team, she and her husband developed the Morse code application. They said that it is available for free to iPhone and Android users.

Ontenna…Litsen to Sound with Vibration

 The device can pick up sounds and convert them into vibrations and light-frequencies within a certain level. It gets people with hearing impairments feel and experience sounds.

Sounds of cutting carrot converted into blue lights and vibration via Ontenna. And the intense of lights changes in accordance with the sound’s strength within a certain range.

FabBiotope…Hearing Text with Spectacles

OTON GLASS with mounted small camera recognizes text and whispers into the users’ ear. The developer, Mr. Shimakage invented the grasses for his father, who suddenly became dyslexia.

Transmit with Body

・An Image Of…Draw Worlds with Hands

This booth is interactive. In accordance with your hands’ movement, the screen shows rain or an airplane flying. 

・Sports Guide Without Sight…Watch / Feel / Experience Sports Matches

Invisible athletes’ inner feelings or body sensation during some games were converted into visible with two new methods devised. By the one method 感戦(Kansen in Japanese), you can watch the progress and power-negotiations through the players’ physically-sensed rhythms and bodily sensations. By another one 汗戦(Kansen), you can watch the players’ subjective feelings through daily goods (familiar commodities) translated from tools of the sports.

This booth shows following 3 sports at each screen. 
(i)Fencing
In ordinary matches, players use swords. And they proceed matches with feeling tension transmitted through swords by fingertips and reading their opponents’ next movement.

Then the tools were translated into blocks of alphabets. And the word “Fencing” was translated into “Fingering”. Players needed to think their game plan with depended on using each alphabet.

(ii)Judo
The relationship with two foes and one judge was translated into three people sitting on chairs and their original power game was converted into the tension and movement through the one tenugui, Japanese towel they were grabbing with.

(iii)Baseball
Tools of the sport were translated into daily goods. So you can watch players’ physically-sensed and bodily sensations during their game converted by them.

The commodities used in translating the above sports.

■Mixing Cultures

Translation Zone…Think About Translation Through Cooking

At this booth cooking movie let you think about any elements behind names of cuisine such as climate, culture, recipe (or method), ingredient, and history etc. In the movie two episodes were very interesting to me. The first one was that a twitter user’s post was mistranslated by Google’s translating function. His words were interested into opposite meaning. The explanation of the movie suspects that the mistranslation was occurred by another user’s re-educating via its edit function. The second one was about “Shinglish” (Singaporean English) with taking Dick Lee’s song “Fried Rice Paradise”, which refers to a gap between globalization and internationalization.
The movie gives us many consideration have something ambiguous and untranslatable.

■Living with the Past

Flame Iceware…Transforming Flames Into Ice

This is the “flame iceware” translated from famous Japanese prehistoric (Jomon era) vessels called flame pots by two creators from a design innovation farm. It is very interesting that “flame” was converted into “ice”. This feature shifts your viewpoints.

・Life with Jomon…Bringing Jomon Style into Everyday Life

Products of Jomon era, flame pot and dogu figurine of a goddess called Miss Umataka (Important Cultural Property), were translated into modern daily-use commodities by students form Nagaoka Institute of Design. They translated prehistoric into modern daily life.

Tumblers translated from flame pots

Japanese hairpins inspired by Jomon design

・Couldn’t Seen Well…Seeing the Distance of Communication

This booth was very shocking to me. Because the works ran away from me when I approached them. That also should be excepted. They were “social distancing” themed presentments. Through them you can visualize the theme and rethink about normal viewing.

Face Other Species

・Institute for Inconspicious Languages: Reading Lips…Listen to the Voice of Plants

Closing and Opening of “Stoma”, small holes of plants regarded as lips with their similarity to animals’, were translated into their words via lip-reading techniques and artificial intelligence. The communication with plants make you feel unknown world of “language”.

・Human × Shark…Loving Other Species

On the assumption that it is possible for human and sharks to fall in love, there showcases chemically formulated perfume appeal to them. The professor developed it by focusing on smells as translation tool beyond species’ boundaries. Whether you agree with the possibility, smells or scents will be more focused as important communication tool in the near future due to our getting tired of “social distance”, non face-to-face talking under the pandemic.

Petri dishes shows ingredients of scents with descriptions about their efficacy.

traNslatioNs – Understanding Misunderstanding directed by Dominique Chen
Venue: 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT Gallery 1 & 2
Date: Oct.16 (Fri) – June. 13 (Sun)

For more information:
http://www.2121designsight.jp/en/program/translations/

★Afterword

We Japanese live in the mixing cultures. For example, Kanji had been imported from ancient China. But after many years, Kanji became Japanese own character with each meaning far away from the original. I can say about the phenomenon “recreation” or “transcreation”.

Japanese language has ambiguity, so our words sometime invites misunderstanding.

This exhibition also reminds me of Sofia Coppola’s film ”Lost In Translation”, which describes various gaps between genders, cultures, etc.
There has a conversation as below.

“Why do they (Japanese) switch the “R”s and the “L”s here (Tokyo, Japan)?”
“Oh, for yuks. You know, just to mix it up. They have to amuse themselves. Cause we’re not making ‘em laugh”

The subtitle of the first phrase was translated into the meaning that Japanese are bad at differentiating “R” and “L”.

So the above conversation invites misunderstanding to not only non-Japanese audience who don’t know about Japanese language and culture, but also native audience.

Although I don’t know whether she knew about Japanese’ badness at pronunciation of “R”,
I think the duple misunderstanding and mistranslation added spice to the film.
Sometime creation comes from above our comprehension.