Nose against the window


Just another site


he new media artist Antonio Muntadas explores another form of colonization on the electronic frontier, the colonization of world languages by English, with his site On Translation. The bulk of early Internet communication, over 80 percent, is in English (Tehan, 2000). Thus, it is not surprising that a Cisco Systems’ 1998-99 U.S. advertising campaign featured children from around the globe, all of them speaking English, and declaring the promise of the Internet: ‘Are you ready?’ English is undeniably part of the reality of global modernization. At the same time, many of the world’s languages cannot even be represented as text on the Internet due to the technical limitations of the communications software architecture based on ASCII, the American Standard character set [8]. Muntadas’s On Translation visually reveals the diversity of 45 different languages. Seeking to overcome and simultaneously draw attention to the Internet’s inherent language biases, many of the languages in the piece are actually rendered as images instead of text. The site is based on the initial phrase: ‘Communications systems provide the possibility of developing better understanding between people: in which language?’ The process of creating the visual translations was modelled on the children’s game ‘telephone’. In Muntadas’s version, the phrase is translated into another language before it is passed on. The resulting process reveals difficulties of translation in the quest for meaningful exchange: language is presented as a never-ending spiral of differences which viewers scan to see the different languages/translations.

Artists are using the medium of the web to think about ‘networks’ within individual art pieces as well. The database or information archive is a structure intrinsic to websites. Such mechanisms particularly foreground the fluid possibilities of Internet space. Muntadas made one of the first such works, Fileroom, in 1994. It began as a collection of instances of censorship, inviting visitors to add to this history and creating a partial, fragmentary, and ever-changing global record of censorship and its effects.

Dunn, A. (1996). Language: Final Frontier For the True Global Network. In New York Times: CyberTimes, 25 December 1996. Retrieved August 7, 2002 from

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