Lost in Translation

Vermont College of Fine Arts

Cover and Selected Pages
Selected Pages
Detail, Google Translation of artwork from the Pompideau Center (Paris, France)
Detail, Google Translation of buildings (Paris, France)
Detail, Google Translation of highway signage

“Lost in Translation” is an experimental publication documenting a family’s trip through Europe via Google Translate as part of an arts residency at Frans Masereel Centrum in Kasterlee, Belgium.

The smartphone application of Google Translate uses augmented reality via the camera, therefore translating the family’s experiences in real-time by overlaying the original text with translations into English. Both the technology (AR) and the tool (Google Translate) are still relatively new and therefore prone to irregularity and breaking. Several of the publication pages display multiple attempts at capturing the translations and the resulting iterations. These so-called irregularities create experimental, floating typography that captures the essence of time and place.

The experiments were taken over five weeks and included over 2000 smartphone camera screenshots. Translations include:

- German to English and French to English in Switzerland
- French to English in France
- Dutch to English in the Netherlands and Belgium
- Icelandic to English in Iceland
- English to various languages (upon returning to the States)

Google Translate assisted the family with everything from the mundane to the spectacular—including, grocery store purchases, ATM withdrawals, automated coffee/beer vending machines, museum trips, works of art, bike rentals, wayfinding through beaches and parks, and many tourist sites. The experiments showcase Google's translation not only of words, but also objects and spaces that reference the shape of letterforms. These experiments create abstract, collaged, typography that is augmented over buildings, faces, works of art, landscapes and even the texture of cobblestone roads. Many of these studies have reoccurring nonsense words like naked, fetus, email, slut, sin, venture capitalist, ultraviolet, and bra—questioning the nature of the algorithm behind the tool itself.

Creative Director
Heather Snyder Quinn
Joe Quinn
Jane Quinn
Mae Quinn