Being BorgesBeing Borges, presented by Office Impart, proposes a new form of literary translation, begging the question: What’s at stake when language becomes literal via the visual? In this ongoing series of imaginary beings, Ana María Caballero takes Jorge Luis Borges and Margarita Guerrero’s The Book of Imaginary Beings (a vast compendium of humanity’s imagined creatures) and its 1970 English translation by Norman Thomas di Giovanni as points of departure from which to explore how AI interprets Spanish versus English text, unmasking biases ingrained in large data sets.
This collection also delves into the impossibility of translation–AI cannot “read” Spanish and English in the same way because they are different sign systems, with nuances and meanings that exist beyond their constructed signifiers, their words.
Caballero’s process was three-fold. She first used Borges and Guerrero’s Spanish descriptions of imaginary beings as prompts to create a large corpus of images, from which one was selected. The process was repeated using di Giovanni’s English translations.
Thirdly, Caballero wrote a new poem—an inspired, compressed recasting of the original Spanish text and used this poem to create an additional array of images. Her poems delve into the poetics of prompts, incorporating text-to-image generation semantics in their construction.
‘I do not know which of us has written this page.’
Jorge Luis Borges
No additional words or punctuation marks were used other than Borges and Guerrero’s, di Giovanni’s and her own. The image-generation was guided solely by these raw text inputs and via parametrization, thus each output represents a literal, visual translation of the texts.
Collectors will also receive a triptych that brings together Borges and Guerrero’s descriptions of the imaginary beings, di Giovanni’s translations and Caballero’s poems into a triangulation of shared signification and of striking contrast. Each of Caballero’s original poems may be collected as an edition of one, with a signed print available via special arrangement.
Sophie Calle’s Suite Vénitienne, via which Calle attempts to describes a subject by documenting her efforts to approach him, inspired Caballero to access the core myths in Borges and Guerrero’s book through multiple texts, seeking to humanize the fantastical by mapping these stories as analog, documentary-style photographs rather than painted, digitized or otherwise imagined forms. The interplay of text and image in Being Borges pays homage to Calle’s work.
Being Borges invites viewers to experience language as a transdisciplinary work of art, one that expresses meaning beyond its systems of signification.
The Tension Between Translation and Interpretation in Ana Maria Caballero’s “Being Borges”
By Virginia Valenzuela
What happens to an artwork once the artist whispers its existence into the world? The artist’s
intentions, though primal to the work, disappear, and it is but the viewer’s reaction that defines its meaning. The same thing can be said of any thoughts we are brave enough to translate
into the spoken or written word. The listener, or reader, decodes our meaning. The original is
at the mercy of the interpreter, just as the interpreter is at the mercy of the skill and precision
used to create the original.