Slate Gray Pantone 16-5804

The last few days have consisted of incredible work avoidance, serious naps and writers block, courtesy of having to go to work and the aftermath of Paris. I think little breaks and holidays always make it harder to get back into PhD mode. Back to it, with the help of music. At the moment, I am attempting to finalise my 9R so it can go off to the FDRC at BIAD, hopefully never to be seen or thought about again. Hence, the Pantone selected today is about colours coming through (I think I’ve mentioned this in a previous post). I don’t see as a grey in my book, it is more of a blue coming through…and blues make sense to me, signifying knowledge for some reason. I’ve read a couple of things that have literally made me shout yes! Or believe in my research…it’s like i’ve found ammunition…dialogues to deconstruct…words for a page…a PhD in motion.

I have to tell you that I am writing this post to the very profound music of Japanese pianist Ryuichi Sakamoto, specifically his album ‘Playing the Piano’. RJW found this as we were having dinner last night. Sakamoto’s music envelops me, makes me forget about everything and breathe. It makes me slow down and want to stare at the clouds moving in the sky whilst watching the sunlight break through my fingers as I hold my hands up in the air in front of the sun. It brings a tiny smile to my face behind sunglasses. Untouchable. His skill is something else. Listen to it on your own if you can, specifically the track ‘Rain’ or ‘Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence’ shown below…

Now I think I’m ready to talk about what I’ve been reading, what I’ve been researching and what I’ve stumbled upon…it’s a real mixture of things.

I came across the blog ‘Curatorial Translation’ which represented and very vaguely disseminated the outcomes of the project and conference of the same name, that took place from 24 to the 30 September 2007 in Skopje, Macedonia. Coming across this project did make my heart just stop for a second, but then you remember that all research is never completely new, it has always been touched upon in some capacity, and anyway it wasn’t specific to contemporary Chinese art, it focussed on curatorship in the Balkan region during the transitional period, so I was fine! The basic curatorial theory is comparable though and very relevant as you will see. ‘Curatorial Translation’ aimed to question whether curatorial projects can be appropriate means for facilitating the processes of negotiation of cultural, ethnic and gender differences, and will attempt on activating the awareness for urgent need for social change and for overcoming of hegemonic curating, whilst addressing professional issues such as:

  • Translating theory into curating
  • “Intercultural” curatorial translation – I liked the sound of this one…
  • Translational relations between curatorial concepts and art works

Good use of terminology here…but what are their definitions?

Luchezar Boyadjiev looks at the responsibility of translation, which he sees as often neglected when it comes to communicating with the audience. He thinks there is a lack or correspondence (or translation) between the concept of a show, the artworks in the show and the overall space-message of the show that is ultimately meant to be communicated to the audience. He also believes that if you are aware of the concept of an exhibition, you feel no need to actually go and view it, as the artworks are there only to justify the curatorial concept, the funding mechanism, the money spent and so on. Therefore, he questions how do we arrive at ‘curatorial decadence’? and avoid curatorship for curatorship’s sake?

Out of all the speakers at this event, my research seemed to agree with Nat Muller’s perspectives the most. He looks at the process of translation between “cultures”, seeing the curator as often navigating and translating concepts between “cultures”, expectation and perception, specificities and generalisms, sameness and difference, and of what he sees as the big debate – between regionalism and internationalism, whilst often ignoring that which is simply untranslatable. This is completely what I believe, that the untranslatable is left or unapproached out of difficulty or obstructiveness. He believes instead of viewing an act of “intercultural translation”, where in my view I see it as “transcultural translation” (again like Muller this needs to be contextually defined as a term), as,

“…a practice of conversion and decoding something to something else, or if you will adapting one fixture to another, can we view translation as something “talking back”, arguing with us, making statements, and disagreeing with the very premise of what we are translating (into what), how and for whom?”

This paper got me really fired up. Yes! Can we view this translational process differently and use it as a curatorial tool?

Finally, Suzana Milevska looks into the notion of the curator as a translator of theory into practice, and like myself, sees the process of curatorial practice as a translational strategy. She defines,

“The usage of the term “translation” (rather than “application”) stands for the awareness of the confinements that appear whenever theoretical concepts are used as justification for curatorial choices of models, strategies and attitudes towards art, rather than as starting points for self-assessment and for pondering of our selection of art and curatorial models.”

She puts forward two different curatorial models for discussion – curating as a cross-disciplinary profession that often “translates” different theoretical concepts uncritically into exhibitions, projects and/or events, and curating which informs and enriches cultural theories through referencing artistic and creative practice. Milevska wants to reconcile these two different models by focussing on their reciprocal influences, entanglements and confluences between the theoretically, academically and artistically informed curatorial practices.

She, similarly to myself, highlights the loss of subtleties and particularities through curating and translation where she presents the term “mediating” as a new curatorial construct. However, she states this,

“…is never pure distant and a neutral intervention because it is “always already” contaminated by inhabited and internalized preconceptions about different arts, cultures and the world in general.”

Surely this applies to the idea of translation as well?

This discussion led me onto the work of French Philosopher Alain Badiou and his essay ‘Fifteen Theses on Contemporary Art’ who questions in his third theses,

“…is there, or is there not, universality of artistic creation? Because the great question today is the question of globalization, the question of the unity of the world. Globalization proposes to us an abstract universality. A universality of money, the universality of communication and the universality of power. That is the universalism today. And so, against the abstract universality of money and of power, what is the question of art, what is the function of artistic creation? Is the function of artistic creation to oppose, to abstract from universality only a singularity of particularities, something like being against the abstraction of money and of power, or as a community against globalization and so on? Or, is the function of art to propose another kind of universality?”

Art is always a proposition of universality, specific to locality, culture, economics and many other factors. In my view, art should always be an attempt to uncover, present and unravel a “new” type of universality through, as Badiou states, opposition and abstraction, as well as through collaboration. In this respect, I see contemporary Chinese art as this “new” universality not against but embracing globalisation, since the development of China’s cultural, economic and political infrastructure over the past 30 years since the Cultural Revolution.

I think I might leave it at that today and write more tomorrow…it can be a little heavy going to state a lot of theory at once…this is another mere starting point…perhaps for a chapter?

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