The Deutsche Guggenheim’s recent group exhibition “Found in Translation” read like a rejection of typical metaphors surrounding the process of translation, where translation becomes a site of disengagement or misunderstanding that represents impermeable barriers across language, culture, religion and time. Featuring the work of nine international contemporary artists—with some changes in lineup from the 2011 New York Guggenheim exhibition of the same name—“Found in Translation” presented an alternative index of discrepancies and interpretations, wherein the distance between what is said and what is heard is not only an unavoidable space, but also a productive one.
Toronto- and New York–based artist Brendan Fernandes’ video Foe (2008) records the artist reading aloud from a text marked with phonetic notation. The text is excerpted from J.M. Coetzee’s 1986 novel Foe and rendered to imitate the dialectic particularities of English-language accents of Kenya, India and Canada. Born in Kenya of Indian heritage, Fernandes performs the pronunciations of his own triumvirate cultural identity. Interrupting his reading is a vocal coach who presses Fernandes to repeat certain words until they sound authentically Canadian, Indian or Kenyan, the couple parroting a single syllable until it reaches a point of total abstraction. Whereas Coetzee’s novel investigates the intersection of language and power relations, Fernandes’ video exaggerates and undermines facile associations of language use and identity with surprising wit and intimacy.
Each large-scale print in O Zhang’s series The World is Yours (But Also Ours) (2008) combines a preteen girl wearing a slogan T-shirt in English (“It’s all good in the hood” features in Salute to the Patriot) with a line of Mandarin text (the titular script in Death and Life Have Determined Appointments, Riches and Honor Depend Upon Heaven is a proverb tattooed on the back of British soccer star David Beckham). The combination communicates an uncomfortable mutual exoticism indifferent to popular movements or historical precedents.
Something Happened (2007) exemplifies the touchstones of the video aesthetic of Berlin-based artist Keren Cytter (a solo exhibition opens at Oakville Galleries April 14): domestic interiors, amateur actors recognizably “acting,” elaborately scripted dialogue, signifiers of banal rituals coupled with those of Hollywood melodrama. Also typical is the video’s home-movie feel granted by the wavering hand-held camera, which is occasionally out of focus: a process designed to underscore its own artificiality. The overdubbed narration, a reimagining of Italian author Natalia Ginzburg’s 1947 novel È stato cosi (The Dry Heart), occasionally corresponds to onscreen dialogue, but more frequently chooses not to. A single scenario is reinterpreted several times using different permutations of the same footage and with slight alterations in script, while reserving a sense of narrative progression. One of the characters states, “this gun is not real, and never yes, and never will be”—pointing, ultimately, not only to the translation from one medium and another, but also to the distance between lived life and its representation.