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Erika Tan

The projected images that engage, seduce and confound us range from individual faces, lips, and eyes; to cheering crowds, airplanes and airstrips; to written texts, computer code, and a fictional timeline; to the glorious image and sound of a flock of homing pigeons being released and in flight. At times the visual and acoustic components of PIDGIN provide us with a narrative such as the game of 'broken telephone'/ 'Chinese Whispers' wherein a statement from Roland Barthes on the phenomenological and erotic nature of language is whispered from one pair of lips to another's ear reminding us of Trinh T. Minh-ha's question: 'Do you translate by eye or by ear?' The 'Chinese Whispers' leads to much fun and consternation for those involved in the game and for the viewer straining to hear what is being said through their eruptions of laughter and other inadvertent signs of anxiety. There are also the 'exercises in phonological stretching' wherein participants are asked to transliterate excerpts from, for example, the Tower of Babel story in Genesis wherein the idea of translation originates, and Karl Marx and Friedrich Englels' writing on production and capital. Here, statements are phonetically turned into another language, without regard for the meaning of either the original or the transliterated language. This moment in PIDGIN makes a fine bookend to Tan's work Waterloo Sunset (2005) wherein the song by The Kinks, nominated in 2004 as BBC Radio London listener's favourite song, is translated into numerous languages highlighting the multicultural and multilinguistic makeup of Britain. Both works are, as Tan notes with regard to PIDGIN, about the 'elasticity of language' and the metaphor of homing.

The modern German philosopher, Rudolf Pannwitz has informed us that 'the basic error of the Übertragende [translator/transference] is that he preserves the state in which his own language happens to be instead of allowing his language to be powerfully affected by the foreign tongue.' In effect, this is the role of pidgin. A term which may have originated from a Chinese mispronunciation of the English word 'business' in 19th century trade ports like Canton or Shanghai, pidgin is a language that is a combination of two or more languages as a means by which groups of people that speak mutually unintelligible languages can communicate with one another. Pidgin is Pannwitz's dream wherein languages powerfully affect one another. To work from the knowledge that we are always already othered - linguistically, subjectively, culturally, ideologically, ethnically - this is the task of the translator in contemporary culture, and the task upon which PIDGIN insists.

Chinese Whispers from PIDGIN: Interrupted transmission by Erika Tan, 2002
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