I wanted to try and re-translate these writings again through braille. In a discussion during presentation, a point was raised on the familiarity of braille and classic music card which then lead to the transformation of text to braille, braille to music card. Via the transformation of text to braille then to music card, the melody became the most direct conversation between the audience and me.
The “music cards” look like perforated piano rolls and are slipped into sculptures that are operated by visitors like hurdy-gurdy music boxes. If I remember correctly, there are five music boxes in the exhibition: one large and four smaller machines. Their handles felt thin and fragile between my fingers and I was surprised and touched by the amount of trust Shen places in his viewers — Eslite employees are nearby organizing books in the art section, but they don’t supervise the exhibit, and there are only a couple of signs asking people to handle the music boxes carefully.
When I was little, I had an obsession with vinyl records and music boxes, particularly ones with visible gears. I couldn’t verbalize why, but I loved the idea that music could somehow be visualized and made tangible. The story of Louis Braille had also made a big impression on me after I read a picture book about him that contained a particularly graphic illustration of the awl hitting his eye. Interacting with Shen’s exhibit was a little bit like realizing a childhood dream I never even knew I had.
The inspiration behind the exhibit also meant a lot to me, because the way words transform in meaning and tone as they filter between people, languages and culture is something that I constantly think about in my personal life. Sometimes I’ll remember a Mandarin conversation that I participated in or overheard years ago, and I’ll suddenly realize that there were subtle nuances that I completely missed, even though I had understood every word.
There is a lot that is lost in translation, but also much that is gained, and I’m glad that Shen’s exhibit gave me a chance to reflect on that. Even if you can’t read Braille and you don’t understand what is “written” on the strips of paper in each sculpture, you can still make music.
If you want to see (and hear) Shen’s music boxes for yourself, act fast — “Read, Art” runs until this Sunday, July 15 in Eslite Xinyi’s third floor Art Studio (in the art book section). The store is at 11 Songgao Rd, Taipei City (台北市松高路11號).