Drops of Oil for Burning Hearts explores translation as a destructive and a creative act. In this immersive 3-channel film installation, immigrants from various countries translate songs from their native tongues into English. The unrehearsed translations, performed while the songs play simultaneously in the background, reveal the limits of language and translation: all kinds of absences arise when there are words or expressions that have no equivalents, or one cannot be found quickly enough, and confusion is often created by the attempt to translate things literally.
But the translations also illuminate the beauty of these limits. A poetry and mystery arises from the slippages and the contradictions, and unexpected linguistic harmonies and dissonances result when two different people translate the same song. The films reveal how the distillation and mystification of language—two of the poet’s most important strategies—are essential and powerful aspects of translation, rendering it a creative tool in itself.
One can view immigration through the same paradoxical lens. As the philosopher Vilém Flusser wrote, “Exile, no matter what form it takes, is a breeding ground for creative activity, for the new.” Flusser—a lifelong migrant himself—championed the potential of the unfamiliar and the ultimate freedom of the immigrant. In the essay “Exile and Creativity,” he writes about how in a foreign environment, where everything is noise and nothing is information, one must transform the chaos into meaningful messages. This process of making connections and synthesizing information, he argues, is precisely what creativity is: “Habit is like a cotton blanket. It covers up all the sharp edges, and it dampens all noises. It is unaesthetic (from aisthesthai = perception), because it prevents bits of information from being perceived.” But “for the expelled, everything challenges him to change his life. In exile, where the blanket of habit has been pulled back, he becomes a revolutionary, if only because it enables him to live there.”
Drops of Oil for Burning Hearts echoes Flusser’s celebratory philosophy: although much is undeniably lost when you move from one culture or language to another, a lot is also gained. Immigration, like translation, is both a destructive and a creative act.
HD Video, 32 minutes. 2013
In this split screen video, Cesária Évora’s song “Partida” is interweaved with a personal story of lost love. Music is revealed as a vehicle through which people connect with themselves and with one another.
Looking for Love
Video Still 2014
Looking for Love is a series of interviews conducted, in transit, with drivers in Cape Verde. Embracing the element of chance as an artistic strategy, I hitchhiked across the cities of Praia and Mindelo and asked the people who picked me up to participate in the project. The song playing in each car was used as the starting point for the conversations. In the final work, this music is the thread that unites individual stories and lives. Together the drivers and I explored the central position that music holds in Cape Verdean culture, and the collective emotional consequences of the nation’s several generations of emigration.
With the camera pointed towards the road, the viewer shares the driver’s perspective, and the Cape Verdean landscape becomes the backdrop to voice and song.