To articulate or translate between languages and cultures is to navigate between continually changing fields or bodies. Between Bodies is a group exhibition that assembles artworks whose meanings can be drawn out through the idea of translation. The title Between Bodies emphasizes a recognition of two modes at work within the dynamic of translation: communication and embodiment. The selected works propose translation as an alternative process for negotiating economically, socially, and culturally dominant narratives. Within this exhibition context, we understand translation as mediation between the artists represented, between artist and viewer, and between publics, through the very act of representing bodies, physical as well as ideological. The possibility of communication to illuminate meaning is counterbalanced by the frustration of knowing that there is no neutral language or transparent view. Nothing less than misinterpretation or misrepresentation is at stake. Translation is inherently risky, but it is also a creative process.
This exhibition brings together historical works from the 1970s and 1980s with more recent works; all of these negotiate encounters of difference and exchange. The participating artists, Eleanor Antin, Artur Barrio, Juan Downey, Ghana ThinkTank, Melanie Gilligan, Simon Leung, Andrea Longacre-White, Evan Meaney, Adrian Piper, and Gala Porras-Kim, have all worked in the decades following political events of catastrophe and dissent, including the start of a two-decade long military dictatorship in Brazil, the worldwide student uprisings of 1968, the U.S.- sponsored Chilean coup d’.tat of 1973, and, more recently, September 11, 2001, and its political aftermath in the United States. These historical ruptures coincide with technological transformations, including the introduction of the Portapak, the first battery-powered video recording device, in 1967; the development of the World Wide Web in the early 1990s; the accessibility of MiniDV home editing software; and the proliferation of “smart” mobile technology and touch-screen tablets starting in the 2000s. Utilizing various representational modes, with an emphasis on time-based media and technologies of reproduction, these artists take on subjects that surround us but whose narratives often remain invisible. The exhibition poses crucial questions: How are suppressed or repressed political, social, economic, and cultural conditions expressed aesthetically? How is an absence rendered?
By framing the discourse of cultural translation in the early 1990s, Homi Bhabha’s writings emphasize language as the place where cultural difference happens or is named —a process that continues to be relevant and compelling today. All the works included in the exhibition can be seen as a form of political critique, and what they primarily share is a questioning of the stakes involved in the process of representing bodies. What persists is a sometimes radical, sometimes playful re-evaluation of the social positions we occupy, how they are affected by and effect broader cultural paradigms, and the role of artistic agency in proposing alternatives.
We began collaborating on Between Bodies in the spring of 2012. Our work involved regular meetings, studio visits, and ongoing exchanges in person and in writing. At one point, we considered making our own failures and frustrations an overt part of our project, but the emergence of “translation” as a core theme marked a shift in our working process to one of productive debate. Based on this conceptual framework, the artists and their practices grounded the dialogue as we independently argued, using different critical interpretations, for a work’s inclusion in the exhibition. This difference of interpretation is what we hope to privilege, between the works and the practices of the participating artists.
Left: Artur Barrio, Situação T/T1 (Situation T/T1) 1970, Registros: slides, black and white, by Cesar Carneiro, Belo Horizonte / Minas Gerais / Brazil, April 17–21, 1970, Collection : INHOTIM / Brumadinho - Minas Gerais, Courtesy of the artist
Right: Andrea Longacre-White, Untitled (touchscreen), 2013. Archival inkjet print. 24 x 36 inches. Courtesy of the artist.