FOCUS#1: LOST IN TRANSLATION

    The curatorial text of the project Translation Paradox and Misunderstandings realized by Sonke Gau and Katharina Schlieben in 2008, explains “…globally there are more than 6000 languages, and it is generally assumed that around 90% of the languages still in use will have become extinct by the end of the present century. But it’s not only the languages that disappear; along with them, cultures and their accumulated knowledge are getting lost…”. The above-mentioned sentence seems to be a perfect introduction to this first Focus dedicated to the thorny problem of translation. The topic is the subject of the international symposium organized by Connecting Cultures in February 2010, with the title of Lost in Translation. The subject, which highlights the “space between” with all its potential, has great relevance in the context of non-profit cultural production.
    In his famous text The Task of the Translator, Walter Benjamin underlines the importance and the autonomy of the translated text in regard to the original document. The act of translation is not simply the conversion of concepts from a source language to another. Translating is indeed a process of change, a shift of meaning; it is an exercise that reproduces renewals and transformations. Moreover, points out Benjamin in his text, the procedure of translating is not established in the resemblances between but it is rather based on ephemeral and sometimes-ambiguous affinities. This conception brings into light another important aspect of the above analysis: the correspondence between the act of translation and the notion of difference. Quoting Umberto Eco, the two curators Sonke Gau and Katharina Schlieben emphasize how the simple act of flying from one language to another deals with “an experience of distance or the recognition of alterity”. Even Sarat Maharaj in his text Perfidious Fidelity says that translation produces hybridism, which is recognized by the author especially in its most intrinsic double faced attribute: If interpreted as a creative strength hybridism is seen positively, but conversely hybridism can also be a question of failure in the field of translation.
    The role occupied by non-profit organizations inside the art world, can be exactly described as placed in between two different contexts: the local and the global. And for this reason, it is evidently characterized by a duality. The activities of these organizations are divided between a constant local operativity and participation in international cultural debates. The task of voicing local specificities inside international cultural discourse, involved them in constant translation acts. And thanks to this untiring activity, they create diversity, encourage differences, generate new identities.

    Starting from this analysis, what could be the role of contemporary art production?

    If linguistic diversity disappears, the function of the art could be to preserve it, narrating the specificity of every language. This is the case of the project KÜBA realized by the artist Kutlug Ataman and commissioned by Art Angel, that collects several residents personal stories of this multi-ethnic neighborhood, producing a giant video installation.
    Otherwise Art can promote the birth of new ways of communication, in order to promote “otherness”. For her workshop – The Atelier Polylange – held at Le Laboraitoire d’Auberville in  2008, Anne Parian invited only people not really familiar with French language. The aim of the course was exactly to encourage communication between participants. While in the occasion of the project series Translation Paradoxes and Misunderstandings held in 2008 at  Shedalle, the two curators Sønke Gau and Katharina Schlieben tried to understand the productive aspects of misunderstandings. Or art can be the occasion to think about the forms of cultural production in order to individuate points of contact. Peep-Hole (Milan) in collaboration with Kunsthalle Zürich and Istituto Svizzero di Roma have organized a series of events called In Other Words to investigate the use of narrative and written approaches in contemporary art production.
    Or at least art can be an observatory on language changes in relation to particular political and social facts. For the project entitled The New American Dictionary: Interactive Security/Fear Edition, The Institute for Infinitely Small Things has re-printed the American Dictionary cataloguing the 67 fear and security terms born after 9/11. The dictionary has been secretly distributed all around Northern American public libraries and bookstores.

    Enjoy reading.

    Valerio del Baglivo