Crossings and translations
“I was three years old. My brother Miguel, a bit older. We embarked in London bound for Brazil. It was a 21-day trip. Or was it 19? My memory
“The effort is great and the man is small.
I, Diogo Cao, navigator, left
This pillar by the tawny sand
And ahead I sailed.”
“Sea marine adventures and distant travels are, above all, narrated adventures and travels” – Thais Graciotti recalls, quoting French philosopher Gaston Bachelard. In the accounts of travels and crossings put together by the artist, reality and fiction constantly merge. Travelers recount the distance and their tales blend dreams and desires.
From the sea and the action of moving from a territory to another crossing an ocean of uncertainties that this exhibition is thought up. In it, real stories and literature live together and intersect. Heroic, frustrating, happy and painful stories. Blurred memories of immigrants and emigrants, refugees’ accounts, narratives of ocean storms, sensations from those that lived between land and sea, the past and the future, the mapped out and the unusual.
Traveling presupposes the idea of a border, a geographical line and the relationship with the other. It’s a temporary phenomenon that involves transgression and communication. The trip is a threshold, a bridge, a crossroads that connects geographies, different civilizations, cultures, religions, races, ideologies and political systems. In contrast, travel writing can be seen as an act of translation that, therefore, recognizes the difference between the point of departure and the destination and depicts the tension of this “space in between” experienced by the traveler.
In these writings there is an attempt to tame the unknown and overcome fears. Be it on a trip or in their account, it is clear that the idea of survival resembles an ability to reinvent other worlds and establish new territories. In these crossings, imposed or by design, resulting from a desire to search for a new world or a better life, the risk is always present. The etymology of the word itself – which comes from Latin, risicare (or resicare), and means to dare – makes that clear. The “risk” emerges in the context of the first sea travels, as a concealed danger at sea, and becomes an expression in the 16th and 17th centuries. The word seems to have entered the English Language coming from Spanish or Portuguese, languages used to depict sailing in unknown seas.
The accounts, from different origins, reached the artist mostly in Portuguese and English – only some of them in their original language. Thais then asked other immigrants, refugees, emigrants and traveling nomads to translate these accounts into their original language. In this exercise, she could look into the communication between different languages, and the losses and the new layers that stand out in this process. The lack of neutrality in translation space, cut across by relations of power and desire, is then highlighted.
The artist chooses to bring forth these multiple voices and narrated experiences through glass plaques etched in salt. The plaques, of different sizes, scattered all over the place, bring back sensations triggered by the sea and the movement of water. Transparency, reflection, the horizon, the barriers and the risk. Overlapped and placed side by side, memories from sea journeys, so dissimilar, create a place of transcultural and timeless contact, in which previously isolated subjects – geographically and historically – interweave their stories with other times and spaces.
The plurality of texts and the blend of fiction, literature and reality establish a depictive territory between the sea and the book. Water, in its different states, is present in the text, in the glass, in the salt, in the environment. The salt, crystallized and stuck to the glass, draws the story of travelers and undergoes changes according to the weather, trickling down on humid days and stiffening on dry days.
From traveling, which is a way of stretching geographically through open spaces, what remains is, be it in literature or in the narrative of those that experienced the crossing, the glorious memory, romanticized and fraught with gaps. “I retain the cloudy images of a man in the swimming pool and the ship sailing on the blue sea. The captain’s name was Cristo (Christ). Is this really true? Or did I make it up? When I arrived at the port of Santos, I didn’t recognize my parents, whom I hadn’t seen for more than six months. They told me that afterwards. But not even that is certain. Another day my father told me it wasn’t true”, says one of the travelers.