Found in Literacy: Cultural Exchange and Translation at the Korean Cultural Center

Doogaji Visits Joohee Korean American Culture

Found in Literacy: Cultural Exchange and Translation at the Korean Cultural Center

Part of Found in Translation, the Saturday Artist Talk illuminated some of the issues inherent in cultural exchange, especially with language and the work of translation.

Against the backdrop of of graphic designs featuring pairs of American and Korean graphic designers, curator Hugh (Donggyun) Kang of Stigma & Cognition New York, INC., introduced the context of the work and its relationship to the panel discussion Found in Literacy: Cultural Exchange and Translation.

The panel features four interesting creators, one based in graphic design, two in music composition and lyrics, and one in literal translation and theory.

Juan Carlos Pagan

A founding partner of the agency Sunday Afternoon, Juan spoke about how his work in graphic design is indeed a dialogue with the client, and is always a form of translation, taking the client’s mind full of with abstract ideas that gets translated into typography or other elements. He sees the history of design and specifically typography as essential to his work, but also feels it can be quite appropriate to break that history to expand it for the right solutions.

Jae Won Edward Chung

A professor of Korean literature at the University of Colorado Boulder, Jae Won spoke about a specific duality in the translation of texts, and what is the appropriate choice: foreignization or domestication? How do you balance staying true to the original text (foreignization) while providing the language and culture you are translating into the level of understanding needed (domestication)? There is never a single answer.

Helen Park

The award-winning composer and lyricist spoke about how she embodies the emotions and state-of-mind of the characters in her work, and translates that into what is created, be it music or lyrics. Helen further talked about the challenge of translating k-pop lyrics into English that rhymes, because that is what an American audience normally expects from pop songs, but k-pop doesn’t always follow that.

Max Vernon

The award-winning composer, lyricist and playwright spoke about how k-pop is already a translation of American pop music, that Americans want translated back to them. In the musical KPOP, which Max partnered with Helen Park, there is even a sequence of the show with purposeful mistranslation to highlight these very issues in real-time. Bilingual audience members can understand both the Korean dialogue and the English translation (which is not what is actually said), but the portions of the audience who can not are left to accept only what they can understand. The mistranslation isn’t even known.

This Issue in Joohee’s Favorite Rice!

We faced these issues when translating our first book Joohee’s Favorite Rice! We found we had no exact answer. In our book, the text on page 12 in English is ‘The best part is the taste!’, while in Korean it’s ‘꿀맛 이예요!’ which roughly translates to ‘It’s honey!.’ Our 5-year-old character who is Korean-American and born in the U.S. would authentically say that in English, but our author Victoria Kim knows that there is a better way to express that sentiment in Korean. Our choice to somewhat separate the two lines to be authentic to our audiences is a calculated one, but as the panel has shown it could be completely valid to find the right balance somewhere else.

Some Thoughts About the Art

Returning back to the art works, each explores a similar colloquialism that both American and Korean culture and language has created a phrase for. Using their own alphabets, the designers offer an extremely stylized presentation of the thought, often times to the point of being unreadable. This is not a criticism—these choices don’t diminish the work—you simply stop reading the words and enjoy the shapes, layers and colors take over the reading as you allow the meaning to stay in your mind. Here are a few selected pairs:

  • Found in Translation / 다른 듯 같은틋
    Found in Translation / 다른 듯 같은틋
  • Gallery Interior
    Gallery Interior
  • Sweatshop / 열정페이
    Sweatshop / 열정페이
  • Rest In Peace / 삼가고인의 명복을 빕니다
    Rest In Peace / 삼가고인의 명복을 빕니다
  • Happy New Year / 새해 복 많이 받으세요
    Happy New Year / 새해 복 많이 받으세요
  • One Man Band / 북치고 장구치고
    One Man Band / 북치고 장구치고
  • he quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. / 다람쥐 헌 쳇바퀴에 타고파
    he quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. / 다람쥐 헌 쳇바퀴에 타고파
  • Tomayto, Tomahto. / 도토리 키 재기
    Tomayto, Tomahto. / 도토리 키 재기

Sweatshop / 열정페이 (Passion Pay)

This pair shows a grid system that increases density, overwhelming the text elements that have already confined to what the grid becomes, next to hand-cut paper elements that have been randomly set on fire, producing a unique and one-of-a-kind visual.

Rest In Peace / 삼가고인의 명복을 빕니다 (Respectfully wish the soul of the deceased happiness in the afterlife)

This pair blends coffin-shaped stylized text in a strong red, next to a much more conservative black and white design whose font feels like paper gently folded into place.

Happy New Year / 새해 복 많이 받으세요 (May the new year bring you bok (fortune))

Fireworks have become almost as popular in the U.S. at New Years as on the 4th of July, and this pair shows the explosions from afar in all its colors, next to a close-up view of each individual spark within the blinding white inside the explosion.

One Man Band / 북치고 장구치고 (Play both buk and janggu)

This pair describes the frenetic effort of a performer capable of playing two drums, or literally every instrument all at once. Again, within the context of the forum on Saturday, these feel like someone who is bi- or tri-lingual (or more) and how their minds can dance between so many words and ideas.

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. / 다람쥐 헌 쳇바퀴에 타고파 (The squirrel wants to get on a used exercise wheel)

This pair shows two nonsensical phrases that are used to show every letter of English and Hangul for designers. Even though they technically mean nothing, they are very useful, and of course a bit playful.

Tomayto, Tomahto. / 도토리 키 재기 (Comparing the heights of acorns)

This pair juxtaposes very large text with the tiny, while making a second comparison within each poster. This pair reflects a lot of the issues the panel spoke about regarding how language changes, what is the appropriate translation for the right region, nation, and time, and how the effort to be right may not be so needed if we all can open our minds to the beauty of variations between cultures and language. The English panel is not even titled with English words, but is a bit of a phonetic transliteration.

Found in Translation is at Gallery Korea at the Korean Cultural Center New York until September 10, 2018.

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