Depicting the art of mistranslation

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Depicting the art of mistranslation

“Against Translation,” an exhibit of contemporary Korean artists, forces the audience to acknowledge the nature of mistranslation, when one thing transforms into another, whether it’s miscommunication from one language to another or the failure of an idea to be reflected through a visual work of art.
Indeed, the exhibit, at the Total Museum of Contemporary Art, puts together Korean artists whose works play with the idea of cultural boundaries and displacement.
The most typical example in the exhibit is “Mixed Language,” a disturbing video work by Mixrice, a project group that has collected from foreign migrant workers a list of phrases depicting what they’ve heard most often from their Korean employers and turned it into a music video starring the workers.
Song Sang-hee, an artist who mimics heroines from Korean fables using herself as a model, questions the role of women and their representation in the media. Jo Byeong-cheol, who produced one of the few paintings in the exhibit, depicts scenes from everyday life in Jeonju, the artist’s hometown in North Jeolla province.
One of the most interesting works in the exhibit that pertains to the show’s theme is an homage to Park Yi-so, an artist who passed away shortly after he represented Korea in the Venice Biennale in 2003. The work, which puts together Park’s works in progress in the form of an archive, shows how a work of art gets translated ― or mistranslated ― through the hands of others when artists are absent.
It’s evident that the exhibit attempts to preserve the visual ambiguity of art. The works have been deliberately chosen from those artists who mainly deal with the conflicts between localism and globalism.
While doing so, the show also tries to emphasize the uniqueness of contemporary art in Korea, which differs in style and tradition from Western art even though it originates from the Modernist movement in Western art history.
“The show is to actively encourage people to accept the nature of visual art,” says the exhibit’s curator, Kang Su-mi. “It tries to reflect diverse aspects of our reality and look at some of the discords that could not be defined into a single meaning as a positive sign of art.”


by Park Soo-mee

“Against Translation” runs at the Total Museum of Contemporary Art in Pyeongchang-dong, northern Seoul, through July 10. For more information call 02-379-3994.

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