Rafael Lozano-Hemmer

‘Translation Island’ in Abu Dahbi

Nov 20 2023 - Jan 31 2024

"Translation Island" consists of ten audiovisual artworks—six of them world-premieres—that transform Lulu Island, a deserted island right across the water from downtown Abu Dhabi. Visitors are welcome to interact with the artworks by walking a two-kilometre-long lit path inside the island, alongside sand dunes, desert flora, beaches, and fresh water lakes.

The project was commissioned by Abu Dhabi’s Department for Culture and Tourism for the new MANAR Light Festival, and it is a conceptual “ode to translation”, which the artist understands both as the rendering of one language into another as well as the relocation of a subject in space.

The installations on view use technologies such as AI, computer vision, environmental sensors, and 3D mapping to create poetic shared experiences in a desert landscape. “Collider,” for instance, detects invisible cosmic radiation arriving on Earth from stars and black holes, translating the radiation and making it visible as gentle ripples along a colossal curtain of light that can be seen from a 10 Km radius. Other works such as “Thermal Drift”, “Dune Ringers”, and “Pulse Island” make tangible our own biometric signatures like our body temperature, voice, and heartbeat, using projection mapping and fields of glimmering lightbulbs.

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Several installations are literally live translations of language. “Translation Stream” is a fluid stream of letters, projected onto the sandy trail, which organize themselves around visitors, revealing the poetry of contemporary Emirati poets Nujoom Alghanem, Khalid Albudoor, and Adel Khozam, in both English and Arabic. Meanwhile, “Shadow Tuner” allows visitors to use their shadow to tune-in up to 12,000 live streams of radio from around the world, and “Translation Lake” uses AI voice avatars to endlessly translate James Joyce’s recondite masterpiece “Finnegan’s Wake” into 24 languages, celebrating the impossibility and absurdity of fluid machine translation of complex human literature.

Each of these works engage and play within a long history – from the Tower of Babel to the Library of Alexandria, from the House of Wisdom of the Abbasid era to the Toledo School of Translators, and now through the automation afforded by artificial intelligence and machine learning – of how we convene to express ourselves and make embodied meaning together, all the while finding both uncertainty and solace in that which remains untranslatable.