Separated by the immeasurable space between two minds, the ability to directly connect with another individual must be facilitated through spoken and nonverbal languages. While we often translate our thoughts to sounds, sometimes our ability to adequately send or receive a message is faulty and miscommunication or no communication results, leaving both the sender and receiver frustrated. How can we ensure our message is received accurately?
For [In]Translation, a collection of work currently at the Hardesty Arts Center by Anh Thuy Nguyen, the artist uses a video installation to discuss her frustration talking about her work in her first language of Vietnamese. She recorded herself answering a series of questions about both herself and her artwork, first in English and then in Vietnamese. As she received her formal art training at an English speaking institution, she learned the vocabulary to talk about her work using only a language other than her native tongue.
When she talks on the topic using English, her body language is relaxed and she speaks eloquently. When the video shows the same responses in Vietnamese, the long pauses and contemplative facial expressions show the viewer, despite not understanding the spoken language, that Nguyen is struggling to find the right words to express herself.
The artist’s use of paper and black paint in boxes metaphorically representing time creates an effectively beautiful quiet space for thought. In this way, Nguyen introduces visuals as a third language with which to communicate to the audience. That communication then becomes a two-way street with a video camera facing a chair and instructions to share an experience of being misunderstood. The artist extends the invitation to the viewer to participate in the vulnerability of discussing the way it feels to be misunderstood or feel like you can’t communicate.
I’ll admit this exhibition resonated with me on a level that I haven’t felt in a while. The exhibition is a perfect balance of personal and specific while also opening it up to other forms of miscommunication, which we have all felt. Further, the reductive metaphor of the included objects was effective and elegant in its distillation. It seems we have all felt as though we were misunderstood at some point despite our greatest efforts to communicate. As George Orwell said, “Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood.”