Reflections on By(r)0n1k in Venice

by Aram Atamian

 Palazzo Rossini, Venice, Italy

Palazzo Rossini, Venice, Italy

Part 1:  What happened

This piece began for me when I first saw Gayane Yerkanyan’s fragmented webs of Armenian typography. I immediately felt some unexpected resonance in these errors, as she calls them;  it was a kind of mirror for me of some craggy place in my mind where my own fragmented Armenian language and identity reside; myriad incomplete synapses and connections, constantly in a state of flux. From that point on, as i’ll detail below, the content of the piece slowly emerged piece by piece like points appearing on a map.

For me, By(r)0n1k is a performance lecture outwardly about Lord Byron’s interest and engagement with the Armenian language while living in Venice, and inwardly about the coding and mapping of personal cultural identity.  Some questions the piece attempts to ask are:

Is orientalizing/exoticizing a gesture of possession?

Who gets to own a particular culture?

Must one be of a culture to necessarily own it? (Is this ‘open source’ in the age of globalization?)

Is to translate a text to assimilate it? And, If so, can the personal imagery of poetic meaning survive the cultural assimilation of translation?

As the piece ‘academically’ discussed Byron’s own orientalism, particularly in his engagement with the Armenian language and lifelong fascination with the Levant/Orient, my own auto-orientalism, as a ‘half breed’ Armenian from the diaspora was revealed.  

In the final section of the piece, a sonnet by Byron called “It is the hour” was deconstructed first into an incomplete, nonsense, Google Translate powered, Armenian/English pidgin, and finally metabolized into the culturally neutral alphabet of binary code. This final code translation of zeros and ones was recited by 14 audience members, each of whom were given one of the 14 lines of the sonnet in English, Armenian, Italian and binary code. They were instructed to read the text of their line to themselves and then attempt to hold the image of their line in their mind as they recited the binary code translation out loud. Could the poetic image survive the final translation into zeros and ones? I moved through them with a microphone which drew specific voices out of the droning chorus (described by several audience members as having had a mantra-like quality) during the reading. They were instructed to read the binary numbers in their own language.

I worked with this format of a live, error-filled, Google Translate recitation once before, when Gayane and I did an improvisational collaboration at Tethys Gallery in Florence. I used this method of live translation/recitation to perform the, as yet untranslated (officially), highly controversial homoerotic poetry of Yeghishe Charents. For me, Google is now the gatekeeper between language and culture for the entire world. There is hardly a cross-cultural cross-lingual translation that Google doesn’t touch. Armenian tends to defer to English (language of globalization, as it is) in many diasporan communities, and particularly in my own error-filled and incomplete Armenian as it stands.  So, these live error-filled translations seemed to be a rich medium from which to explore issues of cultural chimeras and globalization.  

 Improvisational performance at the Tethys Gallery, Florence, Italy

Improvisational performance at the Tethys Gallery, Florence, Italy

A personal shade of meaning to the Florence performance, which may have only been explicit to a few [queer, Armenian] members of the audience, was that the recitation of the Anglo-Armenian Google Translation of these Charents poems revealed much of the queer-Armenian-Diasporan identity cocktail. How empowering to discover that this Armenian cultural icon (he is on the 1,000 dram note in Armenia, after all), has the potential to also be a queer one. However, since their uncovering, these poems have remained untranslated and unpublished in any printed volume. The Armenian queer community is starved for positive representations of themselves within Armenian culture, and my excitement on discovering these poems existence was met, soberingly, with both the reality of a non-existent English translation and my own insufficient knowledge of Armenian.

***

Part 2: Timeline

Summer 2015, while walking around Yerevan, I stumbled across a street located behind the Music Conservatory called Byron Street. I was fascinated by this and unsure of why he should have a street in an Armenian city. I feel a pull to this street and wish to live there some day.

Summer 2015, a friend and scholar mentioned to me that Byron was a passionate Armenophile and had studied Armenian at the Armenian monastery of San Lazzaro in Venice during his time in the city.

Autumn 2016, another friend asks me if I would like to move into an apartment with them and one other friend. The address is 10 Byron Street. I say yes.

 Byron street, Yerevan, Armenia

Byron street, Yerevan, Armenia

Winter 2017, Anna Gargarian shows me Gayane Yerkanyan’s work and asks me if I would like to make a performance that relates to it for the Venice Biennale. I say YES.

Gayane’s deconstructed Armenian typographic pieces somehow stir up feelings about my own incomplete, error-filled relationship to the Armenian language and, in turn, my own diasporic identity.

Byron’s bust, reclining discreetly above my local ATM, where it is installed,  across the street from 10 Byron, starts waving at me every time I pass.

I read Byron’s correspondence during his time in Venice, hunt down his translations and exercises while learning Armenian on San Lazzaro.

An invisible triangle starts to appear during my research between Gayane’s work, Byron’s time in Venice, and my own diasporan experience with the Armenian language.

 Lord Byron in Albanian dress by Thomas Phillips, 1835

Lord Byron in Albanian dress by Thomas Phillips, 1835

May 13th, 2017. I visit San Lazzaro in Venice. It is full of beautiful things, and a very surreal place. They deny my request to make an audio recording for the piece on site. I’m disappointed, but instead record it that night on our windowsill as night falls on the canals.

May 19th, 2017. I perform By(r)0n1k to a diverse audience of 35 in the intimate lecture room of Palazzo Rossini.

 By(r)0n1k

By(r)0n1k

***

Part 3:  An invitation

I would like to invite you to perform the last section of By(r)0n1k yourself: either in private, or with others.

If you are alone, follow the instructions and start with a line of your choice (they are numbered below, 1-14), and continue as long as you desire. Do the right thing and finish any lines you start.

If you are in a group, be sure to assign lines before you begin, with each person reading their own line (or lines.)  Be sure you recite together, not one after another.

I recommend making an audio recording of your performance and listening to it immediately afterwards.

Below you will find the text, as well as the directions which were given to the audience.

***

Directions for Binary Recitation:

Read the English, or Armenian version silently to yourself until you have the poetic image of your line clear in your mind.

When you’re ready, read the code translation out loud, while gently holding that image in your mind.

If you notice your mind wandering, gently bring it back to the image.

Move through the binary sequence swiftly, while pacing yourself.

Allow any music that may emerge.

Breathe deeply.

You may read the numbers in your language of choice.

Read the numbers aloud.

Remember that these numbers are cultureless and countryless.

It is the hour when from the boughs / Այս խաղաղ ժամին ճյուղերի վրա / 01001001 01110100 00100000 01101001 01110011 (00100000) 01110100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01101000 01101111 01110101 01110010 (00100000) 01110111 01101000 01100101 01101110 00100000 01100110 01110010 01101111 01101101 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01100010 01101111 01110101 01100111 01101000 01110011 00001101 00001010
The nightingale's high note is heard; / Սոխակի քնքուշ դայլայլն է դողում, / 01010100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01101110 01101001 01100111 01101000 01110100 01101001 01101110 01100111 01100001 01101100 01100101 00100111 01110011 (00100000) 01101000 01101001 01100111 01101000 00100000 01101110 01101111 01110100 01100101 00100000 01101001 01110011 00100000 01101000 01100101 01100001 01110010 01100100 00111011 00001101 00001010
It is the hour -- when lover's vows / Սիրող սրտերը տենչում են իրար, / 01001001 01110100 00100000 01101001 01110011 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01101000 01101111 01110101 01110010 00100000 00101101 00101101 00100000 01110111 01101000 01100101 01101110 00100000 01101100 01101111 01110110 01100101 01110010 00100111 01110011 00100000 01110110 01101111 01110111 01110011 00001101 00001010
Seem sweet in every whisper'd word; / Եվ քաղցր է թվում հառաչանքը խուլ, / 01010011 01100101 01100101 01101101 00100000 01110011 01110111 01100101 01100101 01110100 00100000 01101001 01101110 00100000 01100101 01110110 01100101 01110010 01111001 00100000 01110111 01101000 01101001 01110011 01110000 01100101 01110010 00100111 01100100 00100000 01110111 01101111 01110010 01100100 00111011 00001101 00001010
And gentle winds and waters near, / Ե՛վ հովերն անուշ, և՛ ջրերը ջինջ / 01000001 01101110 01100100 00100000 01100111 01100101 01101110 01110100 01101100 01100101 00100000 01110111 01101001 01101110 01100100 01110011 00100000 01100001 01101110 01100100 00100000 01110111 01100001 01110100 01100101 01110010 01110011 00100000 01101110 01100101 01100001 01110010 00101100 00001101 00001010
Make music to the lonely ear. / Երգ են շշնջում լքված ականջին, / 01001101 01100001 01101011 01100101 00100000 01101101 01110101 01110011 01101001 01100011 00100000 01110100 01101111 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01101100 01101111 01101110 01100101 01101100 01111001 00100000 01100101 01100001 01110010 00101110 00001101 00001010
Each flower the dews have lightly wet, / Ամեն մի ծաղիկ փայլում է ցողով, / 01000101 01100001 01100011 01101000 00100000 01100110 01101100 01101111 01110111 01100101 01110010 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01100100 01100101 01110111 01110011 00100000 01101000 01100001 01110110 01100101 00100000 01101100 01101001 01100111 01101000 01110100 01101100 01111001 00100000 01110111 01100101 01110100 00101100 00001101 00001010
And in the sky the stars are met, / Աստղերն են գգվում երկնային դողով, / 01000001 01101110 01100100 00100000 01101001 01101110 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 (00100000) 01110011 01101011 01111001 (00100000) 01110100 01101000 01100101 (00100000) 01110011 01110100 01100001 01110010 01110011 00100000 01100001 01110010 01100101 00100000 01101101 01100101 01110100 00101100 00001101 00001010
And on the wave is deeper blue, / Մուժն է ջրերի փայլն հեռու տանում, / 01000001 01101110 01100100 00100000 01101111 01101110 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01110111 01100001 01110110 01100101 00100000 01101001 01110011 00100000 01100100 01100101 01100101 01110000 01100101 01110010 00100000 01100010 01101100 01110101 01100101 00101100 00001101 00001010
And on the leaf a browner hue, / Եվ ճյուղերի մեջ մեգն է խտանում, 01000001 01101110 01100100 00100000 01101111 01101110 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01101100 01100101 01100001 01100110 00100000 01100001 00100000 01100010 01110010 01101111 01110111 01101110 01100101 01110010 00100000 01101000 01110101 01100101 00101100 00001101 00001010
And in the Heaven that clear obscure / Աղոտ երկնքի կամարներն ի վար / 01000001 01101110 01100100 00100000 01101001 01101110 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01001000 01100101 01100001 01110110 01100101 01101110 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100001 01110100 00100000 01100011 01101100 01100101 01100001 01110010 00100000 01101111 01100010 01110011 01100011 01110101 01110010 01100101 00001101 00001010
So softly dark, and darkly pure, / Կա փափուկ մի լույս, մի թավշյա խավար, / 01010011 01101111 00100000 01110011 01101111 01100110 01110100 01101100 01111001 00100000 01100100 01100001 01110010 01101011 00101100 00100000 01100001 01101110 01100100 00100000 01100100 01100001 01110010 01101011 01101100 01111001 00100000 01110000 01110101 01110010 01100101 00101100 00001101 00001010
That follows the decline of day / Դեռ մայրամուտի ստվերները տաք / 01010100 01101000 01100001 01110100 00100000 01100110 01101111 01101100 01101100 01101111 01110111 01110011 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01100100 01100101 01100011 01101100 01101001 01101110 01100101 00100000 01101111 01100110 00100000 01100100 01100001 01111001 00001101 00001010
As twilight melts beneath the moon away. / Չեն ձուլվել լուսնի շողերին հստակ: / 01000001 01110011 00100000 01110100 01110111 01101001 01101100 01101001 01100111 01101000 01110100 00100000 01101101 01100101 01101100 01110100 01110011 00100000 01100010 01100101 01101110 01100101 01100001 01110100 01101000 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01101101 01101111 01101111 01101110 00100000 01100001 01110111 01100001 01111001 00101110  00001101 00001010

 
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