Have you ever heard the Italian expression “traduttore, traditore”?
It means “translator, traitor”. The pun is lost in English, but it works very good in Italian, as both words are very similar but not the same. This expression has been moving around my mind during my month in residency.
I make stencil art. Stencil art is the same as printmaking: you have a matrix (a template) and then you use it to make another image. The matrix and the final image are different objects, but they are somehow the same (one negative, one positive; one dependant on the other.)
In my own personal method, I start with a digital image, printed on a large scale. Then, I cut the stencil by hand, resulting in a slightly changed image, in comparison to its digital origin. This is due to the fact that the medium is not the same: the material changes, so does the size. After the stencil is complete, spray paint is applied to reveal the second image. When the paint is applied, some details are inevitably lost, and some mistakes appear. This final image is not the same as the original digital image. This sucesion of events is a translation from one language to another, from one medium to another, and several “treasons” to the image happen along the way.
This is why I’ve been thinking so much of the “traduttore, traditore” expression. Every part of the process has its own particular set of characteristics. Also, each situation encountered throughout this process has its own set of rules. This is analogous to what we encounter in different languages. Every language has its own unique grammar, its own cases, its own order, structure, and restrictions. Anytime you translate something from Estonian to English, for example, you are capable of transmitting information by adapting the languages and the rules pertinent to both the language of origin, as well as the language of “destination”, so to speak. This is exactly what happens in the process of the mural and in all of the stages the stencil goes through: the wall, the paper, the cardboard, the spraypaint… they too have their own grammars, restrictions, structures, and orthographies.
This experience happened constantly in my work. Translating, adapting and changing things from one language to another. This always happens when you travel, when you have experiences in new languages and new places. You do enormous efforts to translate your ideas and be able to communicate with others, even when you don’t know the language. From Spanish to English, to English to Estonian, Estonian to Spanish. This translation of languages were in place constantly in my journey, and they are just as present in the mural I painted at the museum.
One day I was painting the mural, very high up on my ladder. A car passed by and an elderly man came out said car. “Tere”, I said, “I don’t speak Estonian!”. The man was very out of his element. He probably did not think I wasn’t able to speak his language. He started to ask some questions in Estonian, making a huge effort to be clear. I just repeated my sentence, trying to smile and be nice to him, as he did not speak any English. My only idea was to tell him I was from Chili. Somehow, he understood. And somehow I could understand the word “Hispania”.
“Yes!” I said “I speak Spanish!”
As we could not communicate, his last resource was to ask me if I spoke Russian.
Of course, I did not. I just mumbled “niet” to him. To be honest, I have no idea how I understood that he was asking me if I could speak Russian in the first place. We said goodbye -kind of- and he went about his way.
This encounter was very touching and very interesting to me, because it was as unsuccessful as it was successful. Such encounter made me think: it is very beautiful when we find common ground and we are able to make an honest effort to understand each other (in our cultures, in our words, in our ideas, in our art). It made me think of the minimum amount of information we need to comprehend a message, and how open we need to be to receive what the other person wants and intends to say.
Information will always be lost when translating from one medium to another. The “traduttore, traditore” will always happen. But – in my opinion – the important thing is to be willing to communicate, to translate in the first place: that is where everything starts.
I could understand the importance of being flexible in order to adapt from one material to another (or one language to another) and also the importance to be able to improvise on the go, and of course, being very open in order for the communication to be successful, and the final image to be able to appear.