Camara Brown, Edwin Torres, and Brooke O’Harra joined PoemTalk producer-host Al Filreis for a discussion of Tracie Morris’s “Slave Sho to Video aka Black but Beautiful.” The recording used as the basis of this conversation was made at the 2002 Whitney Museum Biennial Exhibit and is available on Morris’s PennSound page. The performance piece/musical poem was first performed at NYU in the 1990s, in a graduate performance theory course, a last-minute improvisation after Morris discovered she misplaced or lost her planned text, accompanied by — and intuitively responsive to — two colleagues whose dance movements, in part, reproduced the sweeping up-down motions of rice harvesting.
PennSound has replaced the low-res version of these tapes, so now possible to see in full-screen. The program took place at the Whitney’s Philip Morris space, across from Grand Central terminal in New York.
Translation is effortful: that’s part of its appeal and provocation. Translation, like any form of cross-cultural or cross-language communication (and I sometimes wonder if all communication, even communication within the self, is some form of “cross-cultural” communication? but perhaps there are gradations or spectra of “cross” in that construct...) highlights both separation—difference, distinction, divide—and connection—affinity, mutuality, movement towards.
Let me contradict myself immediately: on a good day, when the confluence of written and writer and translator is particularly generative and delightful, translation can feel like channeling, accessing some other river-like flow of speech just beyond the ways we normally articulate ideas. It’s never easy—it’s always an effort—but it can feel tremendously fluid, perhaps precisely because of the distance from self and ego that translation inherently entails.