'The National Anthem of AU-SSU-CHIU-LEE-YA' Q&A with Siying Zhou
SCREENING: Video Visions, Friday 8 Sep 7PM, ACMI Cinema 1.
The National Anthem of AU-SSU-CHIU-LEE-YA, 2016
Can you tell us about the impetus behind your piece? How did you originally conceive of it, and what drew you to creating a work around the Australian National Anthem?
I developed this work during my MFA for a research project titled It’s neither this nor that, which investigates the ‘in-between’ cultural space that I experience as an immigrant and a foreign tourist. In The National Anthem of AU-SSU-CHIU-LEE-YA, I attempt to locate the ‘in-between’ space at the temporary intercultural site of translation, where cultural difference is expressed within translational practices, and a ‘third other’ is suggested through an inquiry about the Australian identity. I’m interested in the signification of bad translation/mistranslation, and the notion of cultural translation.
This piece is particularly informed by several personal encounters in my life. First, in 2010 I received my Australian citizenship in Darwin. At the citizenship ceremony, I was given a gift bag with the lyrics of the Australian National Anthem inside. The ceremony procedure was the first and only time I’ve ben asked to sing the anthem in a formal manner. I did it badly. My tongue could hardly catch the tune; the words sounded strange and hollow. I felt a surge of discomfort and ridiculousness. My incompetence in performing the Australian National Anthem contrasted against the signification of performing the anthem and pushed me to a dislocated position: not Chinese anymore, not quite Australian yet. This unsettling and ambivalent feeling associated with my Australian citizenship has haunted me since then.
The second incident was when I saw a bi-lingual sign for a restaurant on a street in Hobart. The sign shows one in Chinese, read as “夏威夷餐厅” (In English it’s “Hawaii restaurant”); the other in English: “Har Wee Yee Restaurant”. The incorrect translation between the names in two languages disorients me in the conundrum about text and what it says. 夏威夷 is the phonetic parody of Hawaii and so is Har Wee Yee to the Chinese 夏威夷. Both words 夏威夷 and Har Wee Yee do not have an actual denotative meaning. Three names, Hawaii, 夏威夷 and Har Wee Yee, lay out a folding structure with three layers in a linguistic sense: Hawaii is in the core; 夏威夷 is in the middle; the outside locates Har Wee Yee. I was troubled by the conundrums embedded in this set of multi-linguistic signs. The unsettled personal feeling and the conundrum in Multilanguage sign position me again in an ‘in-between’ terrain.
From these two person experiences, I developed an interest in the problematic of translation and how it relates to my own dislocated selfhood. Could my selfhood possibly be relocated to the ‘in-between’ cultural space that is suggested from a translational process/mistranslation? Translation is one of the primary strategies for two different cultural communities to make a contact. Translation highlights the distance between others and us, yet bridges this gap. It dislocates us from our world and relocates us to the world perceived by others.
What was the process behind the development of this work?
For this work, I created a scenario of ‘intercultural engagement’ by merging two cultural practices together: singing Karaoke songs and performing the Australian National Anthem. The former is a light-hearted and entertaining ‘Asian’ cultural experience. The latter is formal and symbolic, representing to the authoritarian representation of the Australian identity.
The lyrics shown on the screen is not the English language. The words are Romanised Chinese characters written in Wade-Giles phonetic marks (Wade-Giles system is a Romanization system for Mandarin Chinese and widely used by English speakers to pronounce Chinese words.). By following the animated text in the Karaoke video, the participant is seemingly directed to articulate and sing in Chinese. However, once they hear themselves, the Chinese-like-sound becomes the distorted sound of English lyrics. In other words, by following the Romanised Chinese on the screen, the participant obtains a foreign tongue, singing in Chinglish.
Can you talk about how Bhabha’s concept of ‘the third space’ informs this work?
I’m interested in Bhabha’s notion of “the third space as a translational space of negotiation.” For Bhabha, the ‘third space’ is a representation of cultural hybridity. In the introduction speech for Dr. Homi Bhabha’s lecture Translation and Displacement, Andre Aciman emphasizes the necessary quality of translation: “what does the translation says about us and about others? What is it about translation that makes it so necessary? … Isn’t this what enchantment and beauty means, to see the world with new vision, to see the world other than what it is to us? What is life without other lens than our own?”
The fundamental difference between translation and art is in the clarity of their critiques: the former cannot be commented on as being interesting, but only bad and good. ‘Bad’ translation exists, for example, in the instance of Har Wee Yee/Hawaii. I wonder what bad translation does to life. What kind of world does the bad translation present other than what it is to us? Does the bad translation stretch the distance between others and us, rather than shortening it? Or, does the bad translation map a connection to ‘me’ rather than to ‘we’? More so, what kind of ‘in-between’ space does the bad translation indicate?
In The National Anthem of AU-SSU-CHIU-LEE-YA, the translation does not deliver the meaning of the original text but a pure mimicry of the sound of a language.
By applying the phonetic translation twice, The National Anthem of AU-SSU-CHIU-LEE-YA indulges in inappropriate social practice. By employing the method of the phonetic translation and merging two different cultural practices, this work creates a new set of linguistic signs and generates a culturally hybrid site. At this site, the understanding of Chinese and Australian cultures are critically questioned; the interstitial spaces are opened up in the fragmented linguistic structure, and the slippage and disjuncture between articulation and comprehension are revealed. In these in-between spaces, the possibilities of perceiving the third other are informed and imagined. Moreover, as a participative event, this work places the participant at the centre of an action.
You’ve written before that your work explores the ‘culture of globalisation’, and the ‘unfixed social-cultural identity of migrants.’ Can you speak to this, and how this is reflected in your video for Channels?
The identity of the immigrant is difficult to pin down because of their multiple cultural practices. To the immigrant, whose life has been assigned to be culturally hybrid, the exposure to diverse knowledge and information through migration often opens a state of the unfixed and unknown. In such a state, the usual boundary between things and the common definition of things are dismissed, subverted and reset in the conflict between different sets of knowledge and theories.
My work reflects the anxiety that is induced by the demands and development of a global market. The pressure to obtain cross-cultural experiences is intensified for achieving the economic success, and yet understanding about culture difference is simplified and ethnocentric. I attempt to reflect and examine this anxious means of intercultural communication in an exaggerated condition in The National Anthem of AU-SSU-CHIU-LEE-YA.