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Margaret (Back Translation)
Saskia Holmkvist

“You know how history affects things? But it’s probably not the history… it’s, you know… the problems after hard times… without the history being there…”

Margaret (Back Translation) is a film which suggests how difficult it is to identify how, precisely, history informs our present – even when that history seems inescapable. Weaving together staged scenes, documentary elements and archival footage, the film explores the recent history of Belfast through a series of tonally diverse scenes, by turns comic, elegiac and speculative.

In 2001 an artist called Heather Allen gave an extraordinary performance in Belfast entitled KLub. Her performance commemorated Margaret Wright, whose brutal murder took place in the city in 1994, the last (official) year of The Troubles in Northern Ireland.

The artist Saskia Holmkvist undertook an idiosyncratic investigation into Allen’s performance and its context. She started from the idea of “back translation”: in translation terminology, the act of retranslating a text back again into its source language, in order to check it against the original. Holmkvist’s film undertakes to “back translate” Allen’s performance, via Holmkvist’s own experience of post-Troubles Northern Ireland and its contemporary artistic community. In the film’s translation of past to present, a younger generation of women reflect on and re-perform a history they have only heard told.

In the process, however, Margaret (Back Translation) explores how we can never simply return to, or recover, an “original” context. Somehow the film’s real subject itself remains fugitive, always just out of shot. Instead the film constructs its delicate narrative from absences, halting conversations, memories of secondhand experience, people who never quite appear from behind half-open doors…

Mike Sperlinger

Aspect ratio 1.78:1 (16:9)
Prod. format Generic HD-video
Duration 00:19:11
Language English
Color Color
Sound Stereo
Year 2024
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About the artist

Saskia Holmkvist

Saskia Holmkvist´s work is concerned with exploring the limits of translation drawing from ways of practice within the domain of translation and how it shapes and forms relations and historical trajectories, in particular the impact on agency. The work combines aspects of ethnography and theatre to create films and performance that relate through past artworks, language, and contested history. Zooming in on gestures, fragments and distorting information so as to reconfigure histories, layered entanglements with performative translations is part of the aesthetic and theoretical fabric of her practice.

The practice builds on long-term research, where the art-making always comes out of working with a diverse array of people from a variety of backgrounds over long periods. Holmkvist considers these people, who often become friends, the main agents of the transformative potential in her work, creating non-linear narratives, suggesting alternative readings or possibilities, juxtaposing documentary with fiction and storytelling. She works in a circular mode of connectivity, bringing together themes of historic erasure and limits of translation through critical listening, oral speculation, repetitions into works of performance and film installation. Examples of this can be seen in works such as Margaret (Back Translation), Blind Understanding – New Commentary (2009-2019), Procession Action Tour (2018), as well in earlier video works such as System (2001) and Interview with Saskia Holmkvist (2005).