Being Borges

I do not know which of us has written this page.
-Jorge Luis Borges

Being Borges 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, 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 two were 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 compendium of images. Her poems delve into the poetics of prompts, incorporating text-to-image generation semantics in their construction. 

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, original textual inputs and parametrization, thus each image represents a literal, visual translation of the texts. Caballero then triangulated each imaginary being into a triptych underpinned by excerpts from the texts that created the images. The red excerpts denote Caballero’s original poems. 

Sophie Calle’s Suite Vénitienne, via which the artist 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 book. By presenting words-–the inputs-–beside the suite of images they generate–the outputs– Being Borges invites viewers to experience language as a transdisciplinary work of art, one that expresses meaning beyond its systems of signification.

Presented October 2023 in partnership with Office Impart and Verse Works.