Can Translation Be Part of an Artistic Expression?

People have used graffiti as a form of social, political and artistic expression for many years. The emergence of hip hop and the widespread use of stencils allowed graffiti to become an art form that now enjoys a certain level of legitimacy.

In a previous blog entry, I mentioned  a mobile app that allows one to  make sense of the scarce standardization of graffiti, which makes graffiti extremely difficult to understand right away and even impossible to the untrained eye. There is no instruction manual to this sinuous code, and a symbol, when drawn by different people, can have very different meanings.

Just as there is no doubt with regard to the relationship (or proximity) between translation and the expressive or creative arts, there’s no doubt that some lexical and periphrastic devices in the translation of poetry (to give just one example) are true works of art.

But can a mere translation be considered an art form? On an abstract level, this may seem like a difficult case to make, but if we analyze the case of the artist Mathieu Tremblin, we can see that he has succeeded in taking the combination of urban art appreciation and translation  to a new level. Thanks to his detailed knowledge of the street art scene in Rennes, France, Tremblin was able develop his own (and original) artistic device from the graffiti painted in the streets of that city.

Carefully respecting the size and color of the original images, Tremblin replaces the usually indecipherable inscriptions with neat and intelligible “translations” that allow ordinary passersby to be able to understand what they say, transforming a purely graphic element of the urban landscape into a code capable of being understood by regular people.