Drawing of a History of World War One
In undertaking the task of translating the spoken text of British historian John Keegan’s The First World War into visual images, Kristan Horton charts a chain of transmission: from the war itself, to Keegan, and, finally, much later, to himself. The process of manifesting knowledge in the form of a drawing, as well as the challenge of representing such an epic event, begs the question of origin. Horton’s project attempts to sketch possible positions relative to the original event via the apparatus of mediation. Of this work, Horton explains:
There are events in the world that we are aware of but not witness to. Our relationship to these events is formed through the media: we read, we listen, we watch. In Latin the word “media” refers literally to something “in between.” The closest we can get to the real thing is an examination of what lies in between.
In a lecture given by Jorge Luis Borges at Harvard University in 1967, he spoke about literal translation. He pointed out that in English, we say “good morning” and in Spanish, “buenos dias” or “good days.” They point in the same direction but are hardly the same. These literal translations give the reader small jolts of surprise. With this work, surprise occurs when speech meets image—both in the labour involved and the effects witnessed. In the past, preliterate societies relied similarly on the ability of the image to take the place of speech. King Ashurbinapal’s story in stone relief recounts the Battle of the Elamites for all to understand without written language. In that case, it is the lack of a common language within a vast empire that the artist attempts to overcome. With my work, it is an attempt to overcome the overabundance of language spinning through magnetic tape.
Horton’s project for Fillip 7 was produced in collaboration with the exhibition Signals in the Dark: Art in the Shadow of War, organized by Blackwood Gallery, Mississauga, in collaboration with Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, Toronto.
About the Author
Kristan Horton’s work is inspired by popular culture, particularly film. He has shown work internationally, including at the Glassbox, Paris; and the InterCommunication Center, Tokyo; Art Metropole, Toronto; and the Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver.