II - Translation as a method


One can notice how the same principles may apply to different systems. Looking at linguistics, the inherent mechanisms of a system of thought become evident to the translator when they are used in a different language: in the very impossibility of translating, what is not reversible becomes exposed.1 Words are hardly directly transposable into a different system because they grow in entangled relations resulting from history, assonances and related meanings which necessarily become something else in a different language. This chain of relations remains invisible until the translation endeavor is undertaken. To think or act like a translator could be thought of as a way of looking through the metaphorical veil of what is taken for granted, in order to gain a glimpse at a different possibility of perception. In a way, I would say that translation is never fully possible, never fully real, but is both an attempt at knowing and a radical transformation in one's attitude towards knowing, insofar as one becomes aware of the limits of the capabilities of this knowing. The idea of looking through a metaphorical veil, therefore, also reveals itself as an essential failure, but perhaps a failure that matters: even if bringing about only the imagined idea of a movement, translation as a method to create a space of rupture can produce a shift in perceiving the 'complete form'.

From these premises, my artistic process reflects on methods of translation that I think of as the ever-present movement of becoming otherwise, as a possibility for a different way of lookingone that attempts to acknowledge what is necessarily lost, and to allow space for difference. To do so, my artistic research uses the re-appropriation and re-creation of rituals, identifying in the relationship with the symbolic the possibility of generating practices of opening. I think of rituals as themselves incorporating a form of translationof symbolic images into performative acts. This project started at Rucka Residency, Latvia in 2021, within the context of my doctoral research Archetypes of Contamination. This research seeks to understand how symbolic images could be linked to processes of environmental contamination caused by human intervention, with a special focus on radioactive contamination. The need to look at this particular form of contamination comes from the pressing question of seeking to understand what drives humans' attraction to an energy like radioactivity, one that could destroy, at the very least, human life on Earth. Not finding an adequate answer (a mere will to dominate and impose power upon others would surely be too nihilistic to be accurate) I came to think that what lies beneath humans' attraction to radioactivity could be a longing for knowledge. But with this statement I am not addressing the techno-scientific satisfaction one would gain through reaching an intellectual outcome, or discovering new technology, because the question of reaching 'something' is a different matter. I would try to define this longing by comparing it to the wish for transcendence, for what does not belong to this world, which is common in mysticism. An opening is sought as a means to cross a specific threshold between ordinary existence and its possible beyond. But by seeking an opening in this way, the result sometimes means the opening of the body itself, as in the case of stigmata: this dimension appears not to allow that kind of reaching. Moreover, a connection between different levels of existence is often symbolized by the image of the opening, but as this peculiar longing brings one closer to the possibility of entering in contact with the source—perhaps of energy itselfthe body collapses. Departing from looking at this longing I started wondering about the possibility of considering radioactivity a psychic form, or whether radioactive energy could symbolize a form of (unreachable or untouchable) beyond. My initial aim for this research was, therefore, to look at radioactive contamination in relation to a symbolic image that could represent it. Therefore I started this research by looking for a correspondence between radioactive contamination and the mythological image of the Sun, itself a generator of natural radioactivity, as in the dainas. This process of transposition, of reading one form of radioactivity to or through another, was intended as a way of understanding radioactive contamination through the symbol of the sun.

The image of Saule, the sun in Latvian mythology, is often associated with the figure of the mother, in relation to orphans, or to her own daughters, or maidens. Strangely, physics names the radionuclides in the decay chainor the modifications which occur through the emission of different types of radiation when a radioactive isotope transforms into anotheras 'mother and daughter nuclei'. During field explorations I visited remnant structures of the Soviet occupation in Latvia, looking for the presence of radioactive contamination by using a scintillation detector to protect myself from radioactive exposure. Although it was the best possible outcome of the measurement, I must admit that I was disappointed to discover no significant radioactive traces. A sort of strange longing was there instead. The decontamination process which occurred in the past few years has been effective in the areas I visited. Still, the presence of the past was palpable. I explored the nuclear missile base of Zeltiņi, which was a secret base built during the Cold War. Zeltiņi used to host missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons over long distances, to reach targets across all of Europe. I wandered around bunkers and hangars hidden and covered by the forest to discover traces of paths and objects melting into the ground. They appeared as ghostly figures, reminders of a haunting past. The base was a secret place. Military forces working in the area did not belong to the local population: Latvian soldiers were sent abroad during their mandatory military service to prevent this knowledge from becoming public, as a physical veil imposed from above. Political occupation as a colonizing practice involved in the appropriation of space departs from a thought form that considers spaceenvironment, landas a blank surface to be used and written upon, interchangeable and disembodied of its affective significance which was carried through the myths and symbols connected to it.2 By looking at these structures which were built for very different purposes, I was seeking a physical understanding of the nature of radioactive contamination which could lead me to a symbolic representation of this principle. I mapped 9 lighthouses that were built or re-adapted to function with radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs), which produced energy from radioactive decay. These types of lighthouses are spread around the territory of the former Soviet Union including the Arctic. They have been built to operate without requiring human intervention for many years and, after the fall of the regime, information about their placement has been particularly difficult to retrieve.


In imagining the landscape of a planet where technology would no longer exist in the same way as today and an old way of conceiving space would hypothetically have taken over again, the full symbolic value of some places may perhaps have arisen again, or for the first time anew. Perhaps a lighthouse would no longer be housing light to indicate the route to the mainland, and the fact that this rather strange object was once the dwelling of light, of an untamed radioactive light beyond the control of humans, would have perhaps generated stories about the Sun and the Sun’s daughters, or maybe about the appearance of a mysterious tree, by the path of the sun.

Ainazi lighthouse, Latvia 2021

Research question


  • How can ancient traditions and mythological images bring about an embodied understanding of radioactive contamination?

Images taken during a visit to Zeltiņi, Latvia 2021