Lost in Translation: Shu Yong’s Guge Bricks
It has been said that the Venice Biennale is a platform within the art world that allows artists to make statements and build up dialogues. This characteristic can be both beneficial and problematic, since the countries involved in the Biennale can choose an artwork or artists based on the politics of their work as opposed to the merit of the artist’s work in relation to the theme of the event. The work of Shu Yong, Guge Bricks, happily marries the political and the cultural by commenting on globalization and the perception of Chinese cultural in a simple, accessible way.
Guge Bricks is a wall made up of resin bricks. Each brick is printed with a Chinese phrase that has appeared online, and beneath each phrase is its English translation. In order to translate the phrases, Shu Yong used Google Translate. The results are all literal translations of Chinese phrases; the context of each expression has been altered from its original language, and some of the phrases don’t make sense. Chinese culture, politics and economy play huge roles in the phrases picked, with examples such as “White Day” , “endowment insurance”, “dual outperformed” and “Chinese green card” littering the wall. But, there is also a more humorous, human side to the wall, since some of the translations make no sense, or pertain specifically to emotions. “Extremely disgust”, “boy crisis”, “Lip States” and “fashion slaves” are some examples of miscommunication that happens through Google Translate, despite the ease of access to language it presumes to allow.
Guge Bricks revolves around the idea of global miscommunication, which extends to the misconceptions and divisions that are held between Western and Eastern cultures. It also speaks to contemporary global online culture, with the work being so immersed in Internet as a tool for communication. My favourite example of this immersion is the brick printed with the word “photobomb”, simply for the irony of it being an English word that has spread itself into China’s online culture.
For more examples of works in the Chinese Pavilion, click here.