Carrying the Image Across: Drawing as Translation

This is the abstract for the round-table discussion that I will be hosting in a couple of weeks at the On The Image conference in Berlin. The drawing, published in my previous post, will be shown as part of the conference.

The act of translation generates hybrid objects that are positioned, Janus-like, on a threshold between spaces. Although usually thought of as the mediation of one linguistic form into another, this research explores an expanded definition to explore visual reiteration and using that to investigate knowledge production.

Translators stand between source and audience, using footnotes and prefaces to acknowledge their work’s shortcomings and contingent status. This practice-led research, in which images of art works by others are redrawn, uses knowledge from one discipline – translation theory – to better understand and reframe reiterative visual art practice. Antoine Berman’s ‘twelve deforming tendencies of translation’, for example, offer a yardstick against which to test reiteration, exposing and codifying the inherent flaws and difficulties of the practice.*

Carrying across knowledge from translation theory and applying it to the visual is an analogue of the translation process itself, folding practice and theory together. Discussion of how drawing might be akin to translation provides an equivalent of this research: testing and investigating how contingent art works provide, en passant, negotiated encounters where rethinking ideas of authorship, originality, and learning can take place.


*Translator Antoine Berman (1942–1991) identifies/codifies the following ‘deforming tendencies’ that he considers likely to occur in even the most conscientious and diligent acts of translation:

  • Rationalization
  • Clarification
  • Expansion
  • Ennoblement
  • Qualitative impoverishment
  • Quantitative impoverishment
  • The destruction of rhythms
  • The destruction of underlying networks of signification
  • The destruction of linguistic patternings
  • The destruction of vernacular network or their exoticization
  • The destruction of expressions and idioms
  • The effacement of the superimposition of languages.
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5 thoughts on “Carrying the Image Across: Drawing as Translation”

  1. This is very relevant in the history of Oriental art, where copying has always had a different status to how it’s seen in contemporary western art. There are classic cases where only a copy survives of a painting which was highly respected and valued, and so the copy’s now studied, including addressing the sort of issues I think you’re raising.

  2. Thanks for this Jennifer. I started my PhD journey by looking at Marcus Boon’s ‘In Praise of Copying’ and Hillel Schwartz’s ‘The Culture of the Copy’ and they both touch on the difference between ‘Western’ and ‘Eastern’ conceptions of copying/reiteration. While I didn’t pursue that line of enquiry (a lot of it gets bogged down in digital copying and cut and paste culture which I’m not that interested in), I am aware that ideas of authorship and originality (my REAL concern) are fundamentally cultural and different in different places. And at different times.

    Since drafting that abstract/proposal I’ve read Efraín Kristal’s ‘Invisible Work’ about Borges and translation. He was, at times, fairly cavalier with texts by others and thought nothing of swapping the gender of protagonists or ruthlessly cutting sections of text. His attitude seems to have been that texts are raw material and never really escape that status. I suspect that the only thing holding him back was legal issues and the need for publishers / public to approve of the work. He added a tale to his translation of ‘The Arabian Nights’, for example.

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