The Tao Te Ching is a classic Chinese text of spiritual teachings and mystic wisdom, credited to Lao-tsu who is said to have lived in the time of Confucius (around 500 B.C.). There is a story of Lao-tsu writing all 81 verses in one sitting at the request a gatekeeper made as Lao-tsu was leaving the royal complex after foreseeing the decay of the state. This story is loaded with symbolism. The verses are given to a gatekeeper, representing their power to swing open the gate of understanding, which is hinged on a personal desire to gain knowledge through study and interpretation of the verses. It is more likely that the current form of the Tao Te Ching is an amalgam of various mystic verses composed and collected between the seventh and second centuries B.C.
The Tao Te Ching is notoriously difficult to translate because of the existence of multiple source texts and the supple, adaptable nature of Chinese characters. The original text was passed hand to hand and rewritten by numerous scribes. Errors and “corrections” were made, parts were brought in, and sections left out. Also, several English equivalents exist for each character and a verse can generate dozens of plausible translations. Translation in Chinese is Fan Yi (Romanized); Fan can mean turn and Yi means interpretation. One concept inherent in this combination of characters is the interpretive turn, showing a translation to be in an indirect relation to an original, turned any number of degrees away from the source. There is a great deal of poetic license in all the translations of the Tao Te Ching because there are so many linguistic variations that work and so many “original” texts from which to begin. Additionally, the Tao Te Ching is meant to be interpreted individually and for each reader to seek a unique understanding of the text. In these ways the whole of the Tao Te Ching, in its manifold forms, is translation without
original and unique to every interpreter.
For an unmurmuring turn, Tim Louis Graham presents an altered image of the cover of his copy of the Tao Te Ching, his translation of folding screens, and a colored ground. Through this flexible and yielding exhibition, Graham attempts to take us on divergent paths interconnecting issues of origin and translation, mobility and deployment, and openness regarding interpretation.