themes / Lost in Culture

Foreign Arts

Interview with Karolina Breguła

The project’s main idea is to open people to more creative interpretations of art – says Karolina Breguła, the creator of Art Translation Agency

What is the Art Translation Agency?

It is an online agency that translates contemporary art for all those who have trouble understanding it. Using a special form, via the ATA website, you can ask for a translation of any work of art. The orders land on my desk and I send them to selected translators, those who, I believe, will interpret the given work in the most interesting way. The project’s main idea is to open people to more creative interpretations of art. I also try this way to stir things up a little in the available knowledge on contemporary art. I hope to cause exhibitions to be officially described, by accident, on the basis of the ATA translations.

The ATA is your graduation project at the Łódź Film School. Aren’t you afraid how it will be received in the academic circles? The postulate of granting equal rights to lay interpretations of art can be considered as rather subversive.

Yes, the ATA is my graduation project in Prof Józef Robakowski’s studio. What I’m doing here may not be a typical example of academic thinking but it is completely subversive either. The ATA alludes, for instance, to Umberto Eco’s The Open Work.

The subject will not come as a surprise to the review committee because I have been pursuing it for some time now. My bachelor’s degree grad project was called 66 Conversations on Contemporary Art. It was a series of conversations with people who are not professional recipients of art. I asked them about selected Polish works of art that critics regard as good and important. I found out how they understood them and what they thought about them. All that to create an instrument that would allow the contemporary artist to learn the public’s tastes, expectations and doubts and, in effect, to reach the public more effectively. An artist who functions chiefly in his own milieu has no contact with the man in the street, who is bored with art he does not understand. Perhaps this is why his works use such a hermetic language.  

How has your interest in the reception of art by the so called man in the street evolved in your work?

Conducting the 66 Conversations…, I got into the habit of taking notes of overheard comments on contemporary art. At some point, I realised I had filled an almost entire notebook with them. I used those notes to create the work I Don’t Understand for the exhibition Video Point. In it, I become an actress reciting excerpts from about twenty comments on contemporary art, some of them enthusing about it, some complaining about its incomprehensibility. The video is a kind of confession. I am not an art historian, my knowledge of iconography is very uneven so I often have the same problem that the comments’ authors do. The purpose of my film was to put the artist in a situation in which the recipient of their work may find themselves, as well as to show the artist as someone who themselves is a confused recipient sometimes.

Why, do you think, art has this communication problem?

I think it is because we believe the work of art is a finite product, created by the artist-demiurge, and its significance can only be understood by someone who possesses arcane knowledge. As society, we have not learned openness and a “take it easy” attitude towards art, which blocks us and prevents us from experiencing it in the right way. For me, the work of art is an insignificant object that becomes art only in contact with the viewer, who filters it through their emotions, knowledge, experiences. It is only at the recipient/artist contact point that value is created. In the ATA, I try to make sure that every work is translated by several people from different milieus that participate in culture each in its own way – so that the breadth of the possible interpretations becomes evident.

What exactly do you expect from your “translators”?

I practically make just one condition – that the translation deviates as far as possible from the official version set by the curators. Contemporary works present no problem because often no set canon exists but with the classics, the translators are often hard pressed to free themselves from the dominant interpretation.

Interview by Agata Diduszko-Zyglewska


Originally published in #9 of