Language is always a process of translation: we sift through signs and signifiers believing we can know what the other is saying. however, language can only approximate. language always fails, yet language also gets us close enough to a shared meaning whereby we can work together, understand -if only partially- and get by. Translation from language to language, culture to culture, complicates this process exponentially.
In a time where translation and cross-cultural understanding becomes more and more necessary, online translation tools make this process more difficult since the ubiquity and simplicity of access to tools like google translate mean that we never have to work for our translations, think about how we communicate, think about who is trying to communicate, what they mean, what our understanding of what they say means and ultimately think about what doesn’t get said, what doesn’t get heard, who doesn’t hear and who doesn’t get a chance to speak or clarify their meanings in discussions that don’t get to happen.
Since we already believe we know what’s been said, we don’t question or enter into dialogue with each other.
This project takes the artist statements of the artists in this show and translates them from English to French, to Spanish, to Arabic, to German, Swiss, Farsi, Cantonese etc. and then back into English. The artist statement, presumably a statement of the intent of the artists, their concerns, their backgrounds, and what they are trying to do with the work they are showing, gets distorted in a visible demonstration of the operations that happen automatically on a daily basis.
Rather than show every translation at every step of the process, this project shows only the final translation back into English in order to contrast with the original and to speak to how these processes are unexamined, unquestioned, yet taken for granted as loyal translations of the original.
Dorian Lebreux is a writer, occasional filmmaker and a master’s candidate in Social & Political Thought at York university. Her research interests are intersubjective communication, responsibility and postcolonial melancholia. Previous work includes the Magical Feminist short films ‘3 lives’ and ’69 steps’.