Documentary Film-Making as Intersemiotic Translation
This paper examines the concept of intermediality in my 10-minute documentary film, ‘Towers of Babel’ (2014). Part of a broader project exploring the nature of documentary film-making as a form of intersemiotic translation, it focuses more specifically on the various types of translation (i.e. written and oral; visible and invisible; professional and social) at play in a multilingual and multicultural working environment like the United Nations.
Itself conceived as an experimental translation of Jacques Derrida’s essay ‘Des Tours de Babel’ (1985), my film enacts his concept of ‘double bind’ (the idea that translation is both impossible, yet necessary), by bringing to light the contradictory demands at work within the organisation (the impossibility, yet necessity, to overcome plurilingualism through translation), and shows that in a multilingual environment like the UN the ideal translation is also paradoxically a negation of translation.
Reflecting on the intersemiotic dimension of documentary film-making as a form of translation, this paper suggests that translating reality into film is itself an impossible task, one that cannot be accomplished without also transgressing the very notion of objective reality that documentary film-making seeks to represent. As such, it invites us to think about the possibility that, as a partial and subjective response to reality located between reality and fiction, documentary film-making is itself a space of intermedial translation.
Art Brute: When the Artist Is Animal
Given humans’ limited ability to communicate with other animals through language, what can we learn about them through the art they make? Can art be a unique medium through which we can more closely empathize with other species—a form of mediation between cultures across species lines? Can art even help us relate to creatures previously considered unappealing or uncharismatic? These are among the questions to be explored in a presentation that is part personal essay, part scholarly paper inspired by academics and artists working in interspecies aesthetics.
Yeats Between Two Worlds
As a professional musician, I have had many opportunities with which to explore a facet of William Butler Yeats’s plays: his fascination with Japanese Noh theater. Many of Yeats’s short plays are built on stories from Irish mythology. These plays inhabit a strange world somewhere between East and West. Here is an Irish poet/playwright writing in a traditional Japanese form, utilizing elements of each culture. The subject matter is near and dear to the Irish sensibility: stories drawn from ancient Irish history, mythology and religion, but the language is terse and formal. Yeats specifies where in these plays he expects music to be played, and which parts of the script are to be sung. He specifies what instruments are to be played and where.
Over the last several years I have been commissioned to compose music for three of these plays. When doing so, I similarly found myself caught between two worlds, not simply those of East and West, but also those of music and literature. What, then, are the boundaries between music and literature? How does one find an appropriate “sound world” for these stories, the characters within them and two geographically distinct cultures?
Arabic and translation: Past and present.
In this presentation I propose to look at Arabic language and culture in the broader context of translation as an inter-cultural activity. I will begin by tracing some of the most significant translation movements in the Arabo-Islamic world in the pre-modern era, but then concentrate on the issues connected with translating modern Arabic fiction into English, both the translation process itself and the multiple issues connected with its reception.
The Border Complex: Investigating Spaces of Transition and Permanence.
National borders are ultimately imaginary constructs, whether topographically based or conceptually drawn. Frontier lines are forcibly introduced into highly fragile ecosystems and frequently separate common indigenous communities through a series of manufactured filters, restraints, voids, and junctures. Borders as such represent very real manifestations of human frustration and intransigence. Centuries of creating confines, building and dismantling borders, erecting fences and walls, digging channels and tunnels has contributed little in the understanding the long term impact of such divisive practices. The more a nation improves its passage and barrier technologies, surveillance and armed patrols, the more a community on the flip side invents ways of getting around them.
Exchange above all is the factor that most dynamically plays on inequalities, deficiencies, surpluses and human resources that build up on one side or the other. All of these factors weigh heavily in developing the hierarchy of transient and permanent spaces, contributing to a situation of instability and crisis that are precisely the defining terms of the contemporary border complex. Projects include participatory programs developed together with students and a local border community, specific proposals for survival strategies related to border crossings in the Rio Grande Valley, and investigations into housing and living structures for refugee communities from different global regions.
Forty Five Symbols From the »Phaistos Disc« to Global Language — A Cross-Cultural Project
A prominent example of unresolved visual code — and a milestone in the history of visual language — is the so-called »Phaistos Disc«. The clay-impressed notation on this ancient disc is assumed to be a textual representation and comprises 45 unique and recurrent symbols. It is considered to be an early, if not the earliest, document of movable type printing. The true intention of the »Phaistos Disc«, the intangible aspects, the syllable language and the narrative that is told through the symbols, all remain uncoded and are still discussed.
The »Phaistos Disc« and its 45 symbols became the starting point for the cross-
cultural project FORTY FIVE SYMBOLS — a collaborative exploration of visual language that unites students, teachers, scholars, and ideas from 6 cities across 4 continents. Inspired by the cryptic characters on the disc, students translated the semantic of signs into artistic works as sculpture, video-, sound-installations, sign- collections, concerts and performances, using translation-processes as artistic methods. The project strives to investigate signs, symbols, and writing systems, forms of transformation, contemporary and future developments, and the various ways they are expressed through media and artistic interpretation.
In this spirit, the artistic works created in the context of the FORTY FIVE SYMBOLS project reflect the cultural continuity of writing systems and their impact on our past and present while also representing the search for a personal and individual visual language. The exploration does not only reveal the tremendous variety of phenomena and systematization that human beings invented for their different purposes and objectives; it also depicts the fascinating connections between the contemporary and the ancient.
‘They don’t really look like Moomins, do they?’:Tove Jansson’s Visual Translation of the Classics
Tove Jansson is above all known as the creator of the Moomin world which includes novels, short stories, picture-books and comic strips. In the second half of the 1950s, the Moomins were at the peak of their fame. Unexpectedly, in 1958 she took on a commission. She agreed to illustrate the Swedish translation of Lewis Carroll’s 1876 nonsense poem The Hunting of the Snark: An Agony in 8 Fits (Snarkjakten, 1959). In 1966 readers would see her take on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865 (Alice i Underlandet), while in between the nonsense classics Jansson, encouraged by Astrid Lindgren, illustrated J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit: or There and Back Again, 1937 (Bilbo – en hobbits äventyr, 1962). The illustrations in these books and their choice, represent a curious juxtaposition of Jansson’s own interests and idiosyncratic style with a very English tradition. In my paper I will look at selected aspects of Jansson’s visual translations within the context of her own works and with references to the original illustrations in order to investigate the strategies she uses to reinvent the classics and at the same time her own artistic repertoire. All three books marked an important step in Jansson’s move towards writing for adults.
A Case for Halldór Laxness
A case for Halldór Laxness is a multi media installation that fits into a briefcase. It contains moments from Laxness’s novels translated into objects and activities. As well as by reading Laxness it has been informed by a field trip to and residency and exhibition in Iceland in 2013. Part of a larger work in progress, it will be edited after the conference to incorporate new findings that emerge from further research into the sites and events connected to the literary works and from audience responses.
Translating Halldór Laxness
My research project Translating Halldór Laxness consists of creatively absorbing, distilling and performing selected elements of this Icelandic, Nobel Laureate’s literary works through my art practice.
I first read Laxness’s World Light as a sixteen year old in Montevideo. At the time I probably didn’t give much thought to the efforts of the translators involved in making it possible for me to experience the tetralogy in Spanish secondary translation.
My project posses the question, How might creative practice based research be used to pay tribute to Halldór Laxness and allow an audience to be imaginatively engaged in his literary works?
A field trip and residency last year, to visit sites relevant to Laxness’ life and work, and make initial creative responses to my findings culminated in a relational performance in the green cabinet covered kitchen of the SIM gallery in Hafnarstraeti.
The final version of the work in progress presented at Art in Translation will be exhibited next year as an immersive multi media installation at Southern Cross University in Australia. At the conference I will read from an early draft of the accompanying exegesis and show a portable component of the work titled A case for Halldór Laxness.
“Can a Book Talk?”
This presentation takes up an unresolved question in the history of recorded literature: is a talking book still a book? In 1934, the United States Library of Congress established the world’s first talking book library in order to provide reading material for war-blinded soldiers and blind civilians. The Bible, Shakespeare, and best-selling novels were read aloud by professional actors on a set of long-playing phonograph records. The talking book represented the most significant advance in blind literacy since the invention of Braille. Yet, at the same time, it raised a profound set of questions about the nature of reading. Hence, this talk traces a series of controversies that arose over the appropriate way to narrate a talking book. Audiences faced a choice between a deliberately understated style that privileged the printed book and a theatrical style that took full advantage of the record’s sound. Such disputes call into question the legitimacy of reading practices among people with visual disabilities and, ultimately, what it means for anyone to read a book.