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Wenda Gu: Retranslating and Rewriting Tang Dynasty Poetry

Hood Quarterly, summer 2007
Juliette Bianco, Assistant Director

In addition to presenting the green house, the Hood Museum of Art premieres another new Wenda Gu work this summer, the first in a series of large books. Wenda Gu: Retranslation and Rewriting Tang Dynasty Poetry will elucidate the themes explored in the hair monument by demonstrating, in book form, what happens when poetry is translated from one language to another and back again.

The book is based on his Forest of Stone Steles, a series of one-ton hand-carved steles the artist created between 1993 and 2005. The project confronts written communication and especially the impossibility of true or faithful translation from one language to another. Translation, for Wenda Gu, sacrifices the cultural and social context of the original while introducing both conscious and unconscious bias and misinterpretation.

The fifty stone steles, recently completed and displayed in their entirety at the OCT Contemporary Art Terminal in Shenzhen, China, are carved with the artist’s own contemporary versions of ancient poems—a literal translation of the poems from Chinese to English and then a literal translation back to the Chinese. The resulting texts are wry, witty, even off-color examples of the misreading of language over time.

The artist’s past work is also presented in two installations: Ink Alchemy (1999–2001), which utilizes a genetic product made of powdered Chinese hair, and Tea Alchemy (2002), which in its original form contained thirty thousand sheets of paper made from four thousand pounds of green tea (figs. 2, 3). Films about the making of these works accompany the installation.

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