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Poetry and Weavings with Yang Yu: Chinese Language Transliteration

I came across textile artist Yang Yu's stunning tapestries at an exhibition last summer, and immediately fell in love. So I was delighted when he ended up getting in touch, asking for some help with the poems that he had written for his graduate show work at the Royal College of Art.


Text, textiles. Speech and text accompany fibre and cloth very nicely. Yu wrote poetry and reflective passages to accompany his vibrant, large-scale jacquard tapestries. The writing meditates on the themes that he explores in his weavings. It's a step above the exhibition label: funny, touching, personal, sometimes unexpected. This approach to his work comes across really well on his Instagram profile.


Yu asked me to help him "translate" his Chinese poetry into English, for a catalogue he was creating for his RCA graduate show in 2019. I stressed that I was not a translator, in fact I'm illiterate in Chinese languages! But Yu was confident that I was the person for the job with my own unique blend of experience in poetry, songwriting, and visual arts.


What followed was a fast-paced session of looking, pondering, and scribbling. We first used Google Translate to make an automatic translation of Yu's Chinese poetry. I took these rather stilted passages and thought about their meanings whilst gazing at the pieces they accompanied. Some of these pieces were also coupled with Yu's photographs, so you could trace how his thoughts migrated across looking, thinking, capturing, interpreting, weaving.


I acted on the feelings which arose from gazing at his work, and wrote English poems which used some of the references from his Chinese ones. Side by side, there were many similarities but some differences. It was an interesting process, certainly something 'different', and I enjoyed it very much. I'm calling it transliteration, rather than translation.


Sadly this was a very limited print run, as it made a truly gorgeous artist's book, and I am glad to have been given a copy.

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