New Venues

by África Vidal

Art has been translating for decades. In fact, the arts – dance, painting, photographs, sculpture, etc. – have always translated. Of course, this depends on what we understand by translation. To me, translating means re-presenting. Presenting again. And each one of us presents the world depending on how we look at it. Ways of seeing, Berger dixit. I would add that ways of seeing are ways of translating.

Fortunately, the new theories of translation are beginning to look at translation in a different way. They are offering new ways of seeing. Susan Bassnett and David Johnston’s “outward turn” (2019), Campbell and Vidal’s (2019) “experiential translation”, Edwin Gentzler’s (2017) “post-translation”, Tong King Lee’s (2020, 2012) translations through/with images, are key to see new “acts of translation” (Bal and Morra 2007) as “travelling concepts” (Bal 2002).

Taking these and other scholars as my starting point, I am interested in exploring new ways of translation, new ways of seeing through contemporary art. For instance, how Magritte re-presents and translates the Real through his logoiconic paintings, how Cage translates through silence, how Robert Barry and Lawrence Weiner talk explicitly of their interest in translation when their words on the wall of a gallery need to be re-presented in a different target culture.

I am also fascinated by multilingual artworks such as Babel by Cildo Meireles, Kutlug Ataman’s Mesopotamian Dramaturgies series, Danica Dakić’s Autoportrait, Mona Hatoum’s Measures of Distance or Shirin Neshat’s Women Without Men, because in these artworks the artists use different languages and show how we feel different in each one of them. They show translation as interpreting, as an ambiguous way of seeing.

Other artists translate in unexpected ways. In a non-explicit fashion, Cindy Sherman translates women’s stereotypes through her own body. She translates what is already a reproduction: she rewrites those stereotypes into which patriarchal society has turned women. Sherman’s women are not women but translations of women.

This way of seeing translation is what I am engaged with in a short book that will be published in some months, Translating Outwards with Contemporary Art. Seeing translation as a Deleuzean map, as the possibility of travelling between disciplines, as a rhizome, will help us expand the discipline and therefore reflect on how to look. Who is the subject who looks when it sees itself reflected in another? 


Apter, Emily. 2007. “Untranslatable? The ‘Reading’ versus the ‘Looking’”, Journal of Visual Culture 6, 1, 149-156.

Bal, Mieke. 2002. Travelling Concepts in the Humanities. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Bal, Mieke, and Joanne Morra. 2007. “Acts of Translation”, Journal of Visual Culture 6, 1, 5-11.

Bassnett, Susan, and David Johnston, eds. 2019. The Translator. The “Outward Turn”. vol. 24, no. 3.

Bennett, Karen. 2007. “Words into Movement: The Ballet as Intersemiotic Translation”, Teatro e Tradução: Palcos de Encontro, Maria João Brilhante & Manuela Carvalho, eds. Lisbon: Colibri, 125-138.

Benthien, Claudia. 2019. “Fragile Translations. Languages of/in media Art”, in Ott, Michaela, and Thomas Weber, eds. 2019. Situated in Translations: Cultural Communities and Media Practices. Transcript Verlag, 39-59.

Campbell, Madeleine, and Ricarda Vidal, eds. 2019. Translating Across Sensory and Linguistic Borders. Intersemiotic Journeys between Media. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Lee, Tong King. 2020. “Distribution and Translation”, Applied Linguistic Review

Lee, Tong King. 2012. “Performing Multimodality: Literary Translation, Intersemioticity and Technology”, Perspectives 21, 2: 241-256.

NOTE: África’s book has now been published: Translation and Contemporary Art: Transdisciplinary Encounters
is available here.

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