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The Translation of Fragments:

A dialogue between photography and displacement in the practice of selected Latin American emigrant artists

Cecilia Mandrile

University of the West of England, 2004

Thesis Abstract

Photographs displaced and displacement photographed: visual ‘documents’ accompanied travelers for more than a century emphasizing their double position, as protagonists, as witnesses. This dissertation will investigate and develop ideas relating the nature of photography and the nature of displacement based on a shared experience: the fragmentation that touches their discourses. Here, the passage, where multiple gazes encounter, is the transient position from where this study towards the translations of fragments is approached, a process that has a double significance in the practice of migrant artists: translation as a technical means to articulate a photograph in order to interpret its behavior in changing contexts; translation as a means to move subjects and images from one place or condition to another.

Being informed by times where displacement becomes a global phenomenon, this thesis intends to explore the concepts of ‘incompleteness’ and ‘in between-ness’ based in a more intimate frame, my own migration, a migration that is simply one more arising from a circular process of displacements: Latin America’s history. Occupations, encounters and abandonment; construction, destruction and reconstruction: acknowledging transience as only certainty, photographic fragments appears as cohesive elements in the installation work of emigrant artists, settling points for the continuation of the journey, documents from where to articulate another evanescent present.

A dialogue between photography and displacement was established after the close observation of the development of the photographic image in the practice of selected Latin American emigrant artists. In chapters III, IV, V and VI, the trajectory of photographic fragments in the installation work of Alfredo Jaar, Graciela Sacco, Felix Gonzalez Torres and my own practice respectively, was subjected to the same questions with the intention to identify a common ground that could provide some understanding to the use of a fragmenting device for recording an already fragmented experience. 

Throughout this journey, the significance of the process of work of the selected artists was particularly emphasized in order to understand the concepts and phases of reconstruction behind their practice. Comparing and contrasting the behavior of moving-still images in impermanent background in the work of each one of the case studies, Chapter VII proposes a parallel between photography and displacement revealed through the observation of these artists’ attitudes towards their practice as a constant rehearsal, a practice in which what is recovered does not appear as significant as the act of recovering itself. 

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