WORD PEACE 2021
Lucy Chapman’s limited edition screen-print PEACE UNITY LOVE & HAVING FUN speaks through a precious and undead fragment of a lyric from 1984, already an iconic year in the cultural imaginary. It was back in the day when the original, live polyphony of Afrika Bambaataa and the Godfather of Soul presented a reality with a sense of future left to be re-hashed. Liberal democracy, it seems, has since been crashing and proroguing towards a necropolitics where power can literally no longer ignore death* on our television screens. In the deadliest of years, we may be achieving herd immunity and the text-as-image has a charge.
We should know the drill by now as tragedy and farce** chase each other in a fever-dream where being severed from the collective of Europe continues to cause separation anxiety. Politics-fatigued Britain gets locked in a vitriolic slanging match in what becomes a spectacular showdown of democracy ordered by the will of the people. And if we listen closely to the trickery and jokery of language it might be possible to pick up a loop of the death drive. This ghost of ideology flashes its vulgar teeth in conversation precisely when that neoliberal order to be ‘HAVING FUN’ reaches ‘BREAKING POINT’. In that myth of the enemy other, the sovereign wall we crave could symbolise a noble sacrifice to purify the body politic of all foreigners coming over here and having more fun than we happen to be having.***
In the end, whether voters did order death or life, there is always a sense we are not quite living in the present, our gaze is scrambled in a temporal jumble of vision. We can fantasise all we like about how tension vibrates between this and that but what happened to those dichotomies that existed before and after? Some antagonisms sit at the edge of the real and we can ask if we can ever trust language again in this divisive mess of reality, where words and images have already said too much and never quite enough.
WORD PEACE speaks through the medium of Google Translate to present a series of web-produced utterances for the process of communication.
Google Translate offers an instantaneous and democratised translation service representing, perhaps, a digital Tower of Babel. It deploys a statistical process and behind the words are neural lines, distributed by the algorithm to draw other lines, dots, curves and words. Aligned with Google’s ideological goal of global information flows, the cyborgian translation network is part of the conglomerate’s wider strategy “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”****
We stand at a particular moment of mis-flows and dis-connectivities. In the Tower of Babel, communication becomes confounded. As the image of global Britain rises, the status of global English is set to be challenged by a clever algorithm that is imagining – as we speak – its very own pivot language into existence. Translate's Interlingua becomes a kind of universal translator, with its own inbuilt hegemonic narratives and cultural biases. In the Googlian Empire, the greatest infrastructure ever to exist in history of civilisation, this monolith of Big Data becomes a towering presence. It governs our information economy and produces global knowledge – and is now set to become a even bigger part of our daily lives. Translation and war have gone hand in hand and we can explore this relationship as we decouple from the bureaucratic, multilingual monolith that lives next door. Through this everyday medium on our phone, it may be possible to examine translation as a task that goes beyond the function of code transmission.
WORD PEACE calls for an exploration into what universalism, uniformity and unity mean through the role of translating an original piece – as translation itself sits on a wall between the original-translation, local-global, familiar-foreign, and real-imagined communities.
Four fluke-lyrics emerge as the fragment-lyric PEACE UNITY LOVE & HAVING FUN gets translated over and over again into all the official languages of the European Union and then back to English – as they existed both before and after the event of “getting it done”.
WORD PEACE speaks to the desire to communicate in many languages and in one, and to be communicable in one’s mother-tongue. Here, we can think about possibilities that might render these events perceptible to generations both here and there.
WORD PEACE is a limited edition piece made for the Unity Art Project, a collaborative project devised by Lucy Chapman who selected 23 artists to re-interpret her screen-print PEACE, UNITY, LOVE & HAVING FUN. All works were auctioned 17th-23rd May 2021 and proceeds went to the Trussell Trust.
*Foucault, M referring to spectacularity of death
** Karl, M Zizek,S theorises how farce often comes first but we can definitely see a circularity
*** Lacan’s idea about envy in enjoyment of others
**** Google’s mission statement