The Curator as Translator
Translation is not limited to texts as curating is not limited to exhibitions. But both roles are humble roles relying on networks, taste, and leadership. In this paper, I explore 21st century practices by emerging translators and rising curators to situate themselves within highly dynamic cultural discourses and shifting economic realities. Building a case with arguments and examples from contemporary practices, I explore the power relations and hegemonic realities of translating and curating. I draw from theory, discourse, and many characterizations of these roles to explain how the fields are changing.
In this presentation I will reflect on “In Between,” an exhibition project I curated at Hafnarborg museum in 2011. Aiming to provide an alternative to curating practices on the one hand and academic research on the other, the project explored the possibility of moving beyond the dichotomies of practice vs. theory, intuition vs. knowledge, artistic practice vs. scholarly practice. It was the output of a collaborative working process involving a group of contemporary artists and scholars from the field of humanities and social sciences, reflecting on the concepts of collecting, wonder and knowledge. The project was rooted in the Renaissance, drawing on the history of museums as public institutions with particular attention to curiosity cabinets and the dawn of the scientific revolution. Employing an institutional critique approach, my intention was to create a platform for artists and scholars to examine the historical and cultural context of the means and modes of knowledge production within the particular context of museums. Central to the project was the juxtaposition of universities and museums as institutions for the production and dissemination of knowledge. Being a PhD student wanting to place academic work a cultural sphere, I found myself oscillating between the two contexts. Both are vehicles for fostering and hosting research, although museums tend to present themselves as repositories of knowledge while universities like to think of themselves as producers of knowledge. In many ways, the Renaissance curiosity cabinet can be seen as a common denominator between the two, being an attempt to make sense of the hitherto unknown world in an empirical, tangible way; through the process of collecting, storing and displaying of natural and artificial objects.
In this presentation I will describe the curatorial process as epistemic practice, with particular attention to the visual artwork made for the exhibition and their situatedness in the museum space.
The Art of the Intimate. Enacting Small-Scale Art Encounters
The notion of ‘intimacy’ has various facets. Deriving from the Latin superlative ‘intimus’, it is literally to be translated as ‘the inmost’ – indicating spatial concepts of closeness and small-scale arrangement. While it functions in a rather pre-paradigmatic way in today’s semantics, there has been a distinct artistic discourse at the beginning of the 20th of ‘intimacy’ as its programmatic key term. With the concept of an ‘intimate theatre’, first proclaimed by August Strindberg in his manifesto-like preface for the play Miss Julie, a newly arranged form of (theatre or interior) display and spectatorship was composed by means of miniaturisation and internalisation.
Against this theoretical background, my paper aims to focus on the exhibition One on One (2012) at KW Institute for Contemporary Art and its conceptual approach towards forming an array of ‘intimate art display’. The curatorial concept allows for an almost ‘inter-personal’ encounter of one spectator and one artwork in a separated, enclosed room for a self- chosen period of time. The majority of works indicate a certain degree of sensitive-ness for the act of ‘gazing’ as a potentially intruding, yet intimidating operation of entering the zone of privacy. The torturing intimate gaze is implicated as well as the general paradox of ‘arranged intimacy’.
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.
Building a Research Repository of Street Artists and Performers: The Zozimus Project
Throughout cities around the world, thousands of street performers show their art and ask for the patronage of passersby. They are puppeteers, percussionists, dancers, singers, sidewalk chalkers, and a host of others plying their artistry in the public sphere. While street performers are a vibrant part of global environments, for the most part they are here today and gone tomorrow. How can they become a source for urban research, a cultural dynamic variously expressed throughout the world? How do we document the art that has at its core an identity of being “in-between.”
Through an emerging effort at the University of Cincinnati, the Zozimus Project is designed to gather images and information on street performers in order to preserve aspects of an ever- changing international cultural element. Named for a 19th project is building a database on street artists that contributes to an ethnological understanding and to promote a cross-cultural dialogue using original source material. Soliciting contributions from any traveler, tourist, or resident, Zozimus advances the viewpoint that university special collections have a mandate to collect and make accessible unique and primary documents to scholars, students, and the general public throughout the world.
Stealing Styles: Audio Description in the Visual Arts
Defined as a narration service which makes theatre, television, cinema and graphic art accessible to visually impaired recipients, audio description is not only an enabling device, but also a thought-provoking material for researchers interested in inter-art relations. A contemporary form of ekphrasis, which recreates verbally the visual experience, it raises questions of the borderline between recountal and reconstruction, explanation and expression, description of a work of art and its translation into a different medium.
In my paper, I analyse and contrast audio descriptions of paintings exhibited in British and American museums and galleries (National Portrait Gallery, V&A, MOMA), selected to present a diversity of visual styles and narrative strategies. I approach these texts as intersemiotic transpositions, which reveal different degrees of equivalence to their visual models. Adopting a cognitive poetic view on translation (Tabakowska 1993), which understands equivalence as identity of style, I investigate which verbal techniques used by audio describers help them not only to explain, but indeed to re-express the aesthetic qualities of the masterpieces.
Work cited: Tabakowska, E. (1993), Cognitive Linguistics and Poetics of Translation. Tübingen: Gunter Narr Verlag.