• Young-Paik Chun Universitat de Barcelona (UB)
  • Marquard Smith




The question that initiated this article was: ‘What does national identity mean in this transnational era, given Okwui Enwezor’s comment that one can witness “the terrible nearness of distant places” within the globalized circuits of international exhibitions?’ It may well be that thinking about ‘difference’ would be better understood in light of these nearnesses and distances. In this article we are attuned to these spaces as a means of thinking about national identity as what is to be grappled with for a realistic rendering of cultural translation.


Starting from Walter Benjamin’s discussion of translation’s vital emphasis on there having to be a reciprocal relationship between languages, this article’s main concern lies in the cultural translation taking place in the visual. When transmitting certain meanings of artworks from one culture to another, there is no such thing as a ‘transparent’ translation between the two in the visual. As a consequence, we are led to turn to the realm of un-translatability, with all of the challenges that this presents. In this article, we intend to examine this global issue in a ‘local’ way, so it is fitting, then, to consider Korean contemporary art on British soil in terms of cultural translation.


In reading Korean art within a British context, we seek to reveal the distance between the two cultures; a cultural distance which is at once both translatable and un-translatable. To this end, we first consider the works of contemporary artists such as Chan Hyo Bae, Eem Yun Kang and U Ram Choe, who have either exhibited or are currently working in Britain. These works are utilized as examples in which the artists are seen to expose different ways of keeping their ‘transnational’ position in representing their work while being categorized as ‘Korean’. Following this, we then concentrate on two extended case studies: Nam June Paik and his nomadic way of eluding nationality by way of global resettling; and Mee Kyoung Shin’s concern with cultural translation as sculpture. We examine how, through her work, she sheds light on the translation taking place between different cultures when crossing the dubious border of ‘nationality’.