“All Things Equal”, October 30— November 30, 2011
Reception Thursday, Oct 6, 6:00-8:00 PM
901 12th Avenue, Seattle WA
All Things Equal
Catharina Manchanda, the new modern-and-contemporary-art curator at SAM, has organized a politically-charged, international game of telephone by asking 20 artists from different backgrounds to look up the words “capitalism,” “socialism,” and “terrorism” in encyclopedias in their native language and then interpret their findings into English.
All Things Equal is perhaps better understood as a creative inquiry. The title of this “exhibition” can be interpreted as a democratic gathering of texts, each of equal importance, or as an equation where the individual parts add up to a larger whole.
The premise for this collaborative project is an exploration of three politically resonant terms through a cultural and linguistic lens. The idea developed following the 9/11 attacks when “terrorism” emerged as a dominant term in news broadcast, political round tables, and election speeches. It begged the question, do we all have the same understanding of this charged term, and if not, how does it resonate in different cultural and political contexts?
Capitalism, socialism, terrorism are three weighty concepts that have had a profound influence on the global histories, politics, and economics of the last century. I asked participating artists to look up these three terms in their “native” language encyclopedias or dictionaries and translate the sections they consider most relevant to English.
When looking for clarification of succinct definitions of a term, encyclopedias and dictionaries are the traditional repositories of knowledge that provide an answer. But how comprehensive is that answer? This project is an exploration of that question. Although Wikipedia has emerged as an alternative to the objective definition of the standard reference book, many users seem to forget that the publicly compiled entries may have omissions or peculiarities of their own. Whatever the source(s) we like to consult, our individual interpretation of these key terms might diverge or place different emphases. The process of selection and translation highlights in a larger sense what which we include or exclude, individually as much as geo-politically.
When I initiated this project I anticipated repetitions and occasional gaps, but entirely new issues arose in the process. At a time when we except to have all information just a few mouse clicks away, Olga Chernysheva discovered that the online version of the standard Soviet encyclopedia had no entry for any of the three chosen terms, but the older, printed versions did. A careful reading of these assembled texts in this room reveals many other mysteries and surprises.
As expected, some artists decided to expand or move beyond the prescribed boundaries. Jonas Pam Dick conducted a mis-translation of the American dictionary terms, and Denzel Hurley decided to invite a colleague to replace the encyclopedia definitions with illustrated excerpts from a colleague’s article. I consider these and other inconsistencies a vital part of the process that prompts us to consider how we think about defining a set of issues. Some artists chose Wikipedia entries over “official” dictionary ones, others opted for Google Translate instead of a personal translation – highlighting the hiccups and oddities over the machine generated translation, which has also become part of our contemporary lives.
Last not least, I should note that this project inadvertently frames the networks that we have established over time and a s such, it bears traces of our own history. It is not intended as an all-inclusive or even representative selection of global voices. Instead it should be understood as the proverbial tip of the iceberg.