Kulaktan kulağa, Chinese whispers, or Arabic telephone

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2019
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“I’m on the hard drive. When the gift came. Both disk and memory disappear”. Kulaktan kulağa, Chinese whispers, or Arabic telephone reveals mis(machine)translated stories of found images through tangible interaction. The installation uses what is (at first glance) just a box of old photographs to examine the western-centric lens of the internet by humanising machine translation errors. The artist collected old photographs from London’s flea markets, and wrote short stories for each photograph in her non-native English. Using an online machine translation tool, she machine-translated the stories into her native Turkish, and into other ‘foreign-looking’ languages such as Chinese and Arabic. The garbled outcome then is machine-translated back to English, carrying its inaccurate interpretation alongside. The stories and photographs are integrated into an interactive installation that invites readers to reveal mistranslated stories through tangible interaction. The installation invites spectators to pick a photograph from an old box and explore its interpretation. The interpretation becomes garbled along the way, until it significantly deviates from the initial meaning due to the inaccurate machine translations of non-Indo-European languages. By acting as a mediator of the interpretation, the reader is invited to reflect on the displayed errors, and the reader’s own position within its commonality. The name of the artwork is an analogy to question socially accepted neologisms for what is foreign-looking or foreign-sounding to us. The title refers to the name of a children’s game in Turkish, Kulaktan Kulağa, in which a message is passed through a line of players through whisper. The name translates from Turkish as ‘From Ear to Ear’, literally describing the act of whispering and emphasising the act as the centre of the game. The title of the work is completed by two Western naming for the same children’s game, which emphasise the foreign-sounding of the garbled messages as the core of the game.

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Vian Rasheed