Day 30 – Artifact and Translation

There are two terms which have become pathways to think about my work that have become very important to me here. I’m now starting to think about how they can be applied to other works – both scientific and artistic.

They are Artifact and Translation. You can look them up in the OED, if you still own one!

But to my mind their definitions can be paraphrased as –


In the archaeological sense, an object or device created in connection with a culture, or in fact any cultural element – both the television set and ‘I Love Lucy’ are artifacts of mid-20thC American culture.

In the scientific sense, a (mostly unexpected and/or undesirable) attribute or effect of using a particular process.

I made a comment in a previous blog that an artifact and a ‘mark’ are very similar – artists cherish the unexpected or particular attributes of a process and in some disciplines it is called or defined as a ‘mark’.

In the aWay station, the first example of artifact/mark was the mark made from the knife while whittling. At first its a simple consequence of knife against wood, then it starts to flow along the form of the whittling, and soon it becomes the finishing detail that defines the tactile quality of the finished object. Another artifact that is at the heart of the Rodeo Project is the characteristic curlycue of ‘live trace’ – a tool or artifact of Adobe Illustrator. I  used and abused this tool to make the images in the Rodeo project and its the source of the fractal landscape/camouflage effect in the detail of these prints.

Whittling facets – knife artifacts

Rodeo charlie – riddled with live trace artifacts


All of the works I’ve made in the aWay station (and some earlier works in the Genius loci series) have gone through some form of digital translation, where object, images or sounds from the real world are abstracted into the virtual/digital world and then outputted again to the physical with a scale, medium and/or dimensional translation. I’ve been wondering what gets lost and what gets gained in these translations. Any new material or process of rendering the translation carries its own artifacts and associations. These need to be ‘mastered’, tweaked and left feral to express their inherent qualities.

I’m still looking for the material qualities I would like to see in the translations for my whittlings.

During my recent public talk at the aWay station, in defining ‘artifact’, I talked about the birth of radio astronomy in the work of Karl Jansky in the 1930’s. While Jansky was working with Bell Telephone Labs he tried to work out the source of the strange noise found in all short wave, trans-Atlantic radio transmissions. He thought it was an ‘artifact’, an incidental unwanted signal arising from the equipment used, but no matter how much he twiddled and fiddled it wouldn’t go away. It wasn’t until he traced the source to the sky, noted the cycle of its activity and consulted astrophysicists, that he realized the artifact was in fact an artifact of the galaxy – the radio frequency electromagnetic radiation emanating from the dense center of the Milky Way.

The moral?  Sometimes the most important information is buried in the smallest scale artifacts.


  1. Well said… I walked away with a feeling that many new ideas still lurked in the process. Thus, I was excited for you and looking forward to what’s next. But remember what Robert Frost once said, “Poetry is what gets lost in translation”.


  2. […] So what aspects of making could be relevant to this project? I’ve already talked about some concepts which I’ve been finding useful in some earlier posts. In my recent travels and spending time with students, faculty and the general public I have been introducing, discussing and enriching my own understanding of the notions of  ’artifact’ and ‘translation’ that I introduced in  a previous post – which you can read here. […]


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