Translations: Misguided Machines and Cultural Loops
Selected work Digital+Media students @ Rhode Island School of Design
Curated by Christiane Paul
Emergence @ Duo Theater
62 East 4th Street
New York, NY 10003
November 4 - 25, 2006
Opening hours: Thurs. - Sat. 1PM - 6PM
Opening Reception: Nov. 4, 6-8PM
Translations – a selection of works by Digital+Media students at the Rhode Island School of Design – brings together three groups of projects that reference a process of "translation," be it in the sense of processes mediated by machines, systems of transcription, or communication between cultures.
In Gideon Webster's Time Machine, a cast graphite object with 6 legs that is attached to the arm of an axle can be moved in a circular path around a slab of white concrete by means of a handle. Each 'step' taken by the six-legged wheel creates a drawing by slowly scraping away the concrete and at the same time wearing down the legs. The machine inscribes and translates the time of human usage into its materiality. A different form of mediation unfolds in Bokyung Jun's Drawing Machine, which consists of a long rod with a glass suspended on each end, containing water and traditional Chinese sumi ink, respectively. Releasing one drop of sumi and water on the paper every one second on opposite ends, the machine draws one big circle over the course of 45 minutes, with water and ink beginning to mingle and melt with each other after 20 minutes. The performative process of drawing again emphasizes the effects of different materials. By contrast, the action of Christopher Robbins' machines does not translate into a meaningful outcome. His Misguided Machines are trying to accomplish impossible tasks, engaging in futile endeavors. While the apparatus dutifully performs its actions, succeeding in what it has been built to do, it ultimately fails in achieving its objective. The Misguided Machines are life-support systems for "animals": while one end of the machine pumps air into a scrap of fake fur, the other end saws away at a branch from which an already dead mackerel is hanging, trying to release it into a bucket full of water below it. The Misguided Machines serve as a reminder of the ways in which automated actions can become detached from their good intentions and meaningful effects.
A second group of projects explores translation through a process of transcribing different forms of data. Cristobal Mendoza's Every Word I Saved is a digital video loop featuring a self-portrait in data. The project consists of each word Mendoza wrote and saved in documents, emails, and chats since September 2005, presenting words alphabetically and in chronological order within their group. The scrolling words become a decontextualized representation of their author, a dynamic database portrait rendered in structural rather than semantic relations. A different form of abstraction emerges in Sarah Renshaw's print series of Translations, in which she translates the alphabet and short excerpts from texts into 'crack formations' that attempt to create a literal inscription of the language of time as it affects matter and memory. The cracks, however, cannot be read as any other language system and the story becomes encoded in them. Naomi Kaly's projects Ephemeral and Dualogue take a different approach to language systems by exploring new spaces for reading and writing enabled by the fusion of different technologies. Suggesting a hybrid between a traditional paper page and the page on a digital screen, Ephemeral is an interactive paper installation that consists of an abacus-like apparatus with handmade paper beads onto which letters are projected. Sliding the beads, visitors 'trap' the projected digital characters and compose their own text. In the interactive sound piece Dualogue, layers of language and identity are interwoven in a multilingual audio mosaic. Using a small bead as an interface, visitors are invited to scan and decipher the audio encoded on a conductive thread. Sliding the bead to the left or right reveals chunks of Hebrew or English text respectively, enabling multiple readings or interpretations of the story depending on the sliding direction and speed.
Cultural translations and loops are also at the core of works by Monica Ong and Hye Yeon Nam, as well as a collaborative project by John Ewing, Ebe Odonkor, and Christopher Robbins. Ong's My Father’s Mother is a multi-media installation consisting of a portrait contained in a custom mahogany box and accompanied by audio. The sonic narrative reflects on the complexities of memory in a multi-cultural family. Hye Yeon Nam's Self-Portrait depicts the experience of displacement brought about by immigration through four videos that show her performing what seem to be simple, everyday actions, such as eating, drinking and walking. In each scenario the artist is engaged in a frustrating struggle since she literally finds herself equipped with the wrong 'tools' for completing the respective task. For Ghana Think Tank, John Ewing, Ebe Odonkor, and Christopher Robbins identified a series of problems they encountered in their community (Providence, Rhode Island), described them in short design briefs and sent them to ad-hoc think tanks formed in Ghana, Cuba, and El Salvador. The think tanks were offered a day's wages to reflect on these problems and send their solutions, which a group of art students then translated into specific plans of action and enacted. The documentation was returned to the think tanks for feedback. The focus of the project is not to resolve problems but to investigate the assumptions that are made in transposing solutions generated in one cultural context to another.
Taking different approaches, the projects in the exhibition explore and juxtapose the layers of translation that inform systems of representation and communication – from cultural exchanges to machine mediation.
Bokyung Jun, Drawing Machine
Naomi Kaly, Dualogue / Ephemeral
Cristobal Mendoza, Every Word I Saved
Hye Yeon Nam, Self-Portrait
Ebe Odonkor, Christopher Robbins, John Ewing, Ghana Think Tank
Monica Ong, My Father's Mother
Sarah Renshaw, Translations
Christopher Robbins, Misguided Machines
Gideon Webster, Time Machine