Over the past year, I’ve thought more and more about the relationship between translation, history and the activity of making images. Any process of translation reveals the inevitable failure of attempts to accurately reconstruct a foreign text or idea, but also the potential productivity of this failure – the mistranslation. This tension is replicated in the work of creating images, where there is often a great distance between the image intended, the image made, and the image apprehended by the viewer. Related to this is the way in which a story travels through time, how it fragments, expands and distorts, while continually being pieced back together in hindsight. Again, this is the activity taking place in the studio – piecing together fragments and relying on the retrospective glance that assigns significance to a process by observing its outcome.
Consider a basic question, for instance – how does one read an image of a landscape in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2017? Of course, any understanding of a landscape is informed by the way it is rendered and the historical forces brought to bear on this, which we can’t escape. To put this more directly, there is a double sense of history at work – the history of the landscape in question, and the history of the artistic tradition being engaged. Similar questions can, of course, be asked of a bust, a portrait, or a still life. Each carries its own symbolic history that prompts a response.
In my case, much of the work emerges through experimentation with an image or idea in different mediums, where the material constraints directly the terms and structure of the final outcome. Drawings of damaged sculptures lead to making plaster casts of my own head, which are chipped away until they no longer exist. The process is repeated for the camera several times and eventually filmed only as a shadow. There is the creative work done by the mould and the destructive work by hand. A still life is slowly covered in white paint, and a landscape drawing becomes the source material for a large woodcut where the original view is obscured. Consecutive automated translations of a well-known myth are used to distil its message into an unexpected ‘haiku’. And incomplete online image searches operate as snapshots of a concept in its least complicated form. But each time there is the sense of an inability to make the ‘right’ set of images – the productive mistakes, the attempt to understand the contingency of the process, what the images mean and how they ended up like this. The historian and the translator are always present, and the images that emerge serve as a stand-in for those that do not exist – a mistranslation of the initial impulse.
– Ben Stanwix, 2016
Ben Stanwix completed his Fine Art Degree at Michealis Art School in 2016 and is currently living and working in Cape Town.