Thesis Abstract

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‘After Richard Serra’

A few people have expressed an interest in the contents of my Doctoral thesis, which will be submitted on Monday February 1st. I won’t be posting it here, but here’s the abstract, should you want to read it. I do plan, should the whole assessment process go smoothly to produce a ‘lulu.com’ version of the thesis to go with other volumes I have published, but I suspect it will be the summer before that happens.

Thanks to all of you who have shown an interest in this project or supported it in any way.

Reiterative drawing as translation: making, resistance, and the negotiated encounter

Reiterative art, art that remakes art, is a significant strand of twentieth and twenty-first century practice, encompassing the work of artists as diverse as Marcel Duchamp, Elaine Sturtevant, Kate Davis, and Yann Sérandour. Prevailing discourses on such works often focus on replication and appropriation as the source of their critique while overlooking what might be understood by exploring their making. Founded in an examination of my own work – predominantly drawings of extant works by others – this doctoral project frames reiterative art in terms of translation and its attendant theory, transforming the act of making into a close reading of its source, and following up on the implications of that reframing.

Translations plot trajectories away from their sources and towards specific targets, exposing the space, conceptual and actual,­ between precursor and product as one of making through remaking and where ‘an extended apprenticeship’ occurs (Briggs, 2013). An expanded description of translation is proposed encompassing visual and literary forms, incorporating the importance of resistance in complex making processes through the generation of sites of negotiated encounter (Sennett, 2008). Negotiation is considered here as a variant of the ongoing and contingent ‘figuring out’ of interlocutors, described by Jacques Rancière as a hallmark of emancipation, and predicated on a striving for an understanding that ‘must be understood in its true sense: not the decisive power to unveil things, but the power of translation that makes one speaker confront another’ (The Ignorant Schoolmaster, 1991).

In translation, as in the drawings produced for this research, negotiation is verifiable and tripartite: occurring between translator, source, and target works. Antoine Berman’s analytic, the ‘twelve deforming tendencies of translation’ (found in his essay Translation and Trials of the Foreign, 1985), when deployed to analyse visual rather than linguistic reiteration, facilitates this verifiability. Berman’s tendencies are revealed as a regulation of the maker’s voice, allowing the artist to understand how works of art are deformed even as they are made, and furthermore providing a new vocabulary for understanding works of art, particularly those founded on reiteration.

Berman, Antoine, ‘Translation and the Trials of the Foreign’, The Translation Studies Reader, ed. and trans. by Lawrence Venuti, London: Routledge, 2000, pp. 284–97

Briggs, KateOn Table-making and Translation, http://www.cupblog.org/?p=8832 (Accessed 15 October 2015)

Rancière, JacquesThe Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation, trans. by Kirstin Ross, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1991 [Le mâitre ignorant: cinq leçons sur l’émancipation intellectuelle, Paris: Librairie Arthème Fayard, 1987]

Sennett, Richard, The Craftsman, London: Allen Lane, 2008

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Twenty-Two Drawings

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For my PhD submission I have produced a short (56pp) publication to accompany the thesis. You can buy it by following this link. As with 365drawings – a version of which will also accompany my thesis – I have used lulu.com to produce the book meaning that you can buy it directly from them and, as they have production facilities in several parts of the world, it’ easier for you to get it from them than me.

After After… is priced at £10 (plus p+p), but I’ve discounted it to £8 as an introductory offer. I don’t have spare copies so they cannot, at present, be bought directly from me.

If you want to buy 365drawings, it’s still available at £15 (plus p+p) and the link is here.

After After…  contains a mixture of images and text that explores a work that I consider fatally flawed, but needed to come to terms with for my research. The drawings aren’t that bad, though some are better than others but what was really useful was reviving them through reflective writing. Much of it isn’t that academic and might be of interest to anyone who draws. I like this book better than I like the work (which was called After, hence the title).

An extract from the introduction:

I began making After… in the autumn of 2012 and abandoned it a little over a year later. In excess of thirty drawings could be considered part of the larger work but only twenty-two are discussed here. Writing about the entire corpus would serve no real purpose and the observations would have become repetitive. As production of After… proceeded it became obvious that the larger work had become a vessel into which any drawings that fulfilled conceptual criteria I had established could be placed, regardless of what they offered the project as a whole. This was due in large part to my preoccupation with accurately representing the appearance of the photographs that were the source material for the drawings, a preoccupation that overwhelmed any interest in what was actually shown in the photographs. Simon Morris, in the interview granted for this research, speaks of the importance of appropriateness when ‘mapping’ processes onto sources in order to make work. The process used for After… – the making of drawings of art works by others – is possible, but it is not always appropriate.

Below is a double page spread to give you an idea of the book’s content. If you click on the image, it will open in another window enabling you to read the text.

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Watching ‘Derrida, The Movie’

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This post is more of a reminiscence that contextualises the reposting of an entry from my old blog than documentation of any work as such. Bear with me.

Several years ago I bought a set of four badges (from this guy, who is still going strong and worth a look though he no longer sells the set I’m writing about) that riffed on the I love New York design but declared the buyer’s love for, variously Jacques Derrida, John Peel, Russ Meyer, and someone else whose name escapes me. I only have the John Peel one now. I’m pretty sure I gave the Russ Meyer one to an old friend and I know I gave the Derrida one to a woman at an opening in Berlin.

Before giving it away I wore the Derrida badge a lot. This was done as an ironic gesture, as I wasn’t a fan of Derrida’s awkwardness and obscurantism. While studying on my Masters it was recommended that I watch the film Derrida (2002) directed by Amy Ziering Kofman. I did so and, guess what, I started to fall in love. The following list was made while watching the film (which I thoroughly recommend to anyone interested in how philosophers go about thinking and their daily lives).

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  • L’avenir (the Other) might be a route to the dystopia.
  • The work and the life needs exploring.
  • Encounters are flawed on both sides as each brings to it their own agenda, which will include expectations, hopes, fears and the like.
  • By observing a situation we change it.
  • Shaking hands and blinking. Can we know what we look like with our eyes shut?
  • What is it like to shake hands with us? Tickling ourselves is impossible.
  • The relationship with a portrait is unheimlich/uncanny. How does the self-portrait fit with this.
  • If I name a film “punchline”, what happens?
  • The clip/fragment (film trailers, next week on…)
  • How does dementia play out for philosophers?
  • Recognition. How do we do it? How does face recognition software work?
  • Echo and Narcissus (daffodis)
  • Two futures – one predictable and programmed
  • The other isn’t. Derrida calls it “L’Avenir” and it brings with it The Other. A “real” future beyond the one that is programmed.
  • A rigorous and inventive interpretation of even a fragment of philosophy will reveal more than a “proper” biography of the philosopher.
  • Biography of the philosopher is traditionally external to philosophy. Heidegger said of Aristotle: “He was born, he thought and he died”.
  • Deconstruction recognizes that which is not natural and underlines and exposes the unnaturalness wherever it exists. It does not happen “after” but is in the architecture of the situation.
  • We have learned to ignore recording devices.
  • “You should know that I stay dressed in my pyjamas and dressing gown until I go out”. Deconstruction again.
  • “The gaze has no age”
  • The hand is the way one encounters The Other. The Other knows better what we look like as we are hampered.
  • “I can’t tell a story”.
  • On love: Is one drawn to The Other because of them “in and of themselves” or rather as a collection of “somethings”? If the latter then love can (will?) die. The Other returns, in other words. The difference between the Who and the What.
  • 200_s“Do we forgive someone or do we forgive someone, something?”
  • “Now, how would two blind people love each other?”
  • The documentary is as much an autobiography of the maker as it is a biography of the subject.

Jacques Derrida says Viola

 

Antoine Berman’s ‘Twelve Deforming Tendencies of Translation’

Antoine Berman, in his essay Translation and Trials of the Foreign, shows the ‘deforming tendencies’ inherent in the act of translation. These tendencies are, to a greater or lesser extent inevitable but, Berman argues, should be mitigated against by the conscientious translator.

The twelve deforming tendencies:
  • Rationalisation
  • Clarification
  • Expansion
  • Ennoblement or popularisation
  • 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 exoticisation
  • The destruction of expressions and idioms
  • The effacement of the superimposition of languages

These terms may be offered as a series of warnings to those carrying out conventional linguistic translation, but are also a formal manifestation – a map, if you like – of the gap that exists between ‘source’ and ‘copy’. When applied to understanding reiteration, or even when thought of while making works of art, the list is revealed as a more generally applicable regulator of voice.

Lawrence Venuti, an American translation theorist, has used Berman’s concepts to write a genealogy of translation in an Anglo-American context to introduce the ‘foreignizing’ strategy that is ignored in translation. Berman wants the translator to retain an element of the exotic (the ‘foreign’ in the title of his essay) as it signifies that a translation has taken place and can enrich the target language. Culture is congealed in language and carrying across s much of the exotic into a translation allows access to this. When, for example, an element of French culture, reflected in language, is retained in a book translated into English the new reader learns something.

I am currently using this list – Berman calls it an ‘analytic’ to help understand the results of my own practice and trying to adapt it for teaching purposes. I believe it can be used to help artists better understand their own work while providing a vocabulary or ‘terms of reference’ for talking about work in teaching environments.

‘Expansion’ for example, is concerned with the way that translated texts tend to be longer than their sources which has the inevitable effect of spreading out the language used. Words placed in close proximity by the author become separated and a sensual aspect (though perhaps not the meaning of comprehensibility of the text) can be lost or compromised. In the realm of visual art we are familiar with scaling works up from sketches or maquettes. This is an act of expansion that risks changing the work. In contemporary art practice it is not unusual to propose a work in writing before executing it under the auspices of an institution. This, too, is an act of expansion. It is not my intention to insist that whatever is in the source (sketch, maquette, proposal) should be perfectly rendered in the finished, larger, work but rather that makers must manage that process and be aware of the process’s difficulties.

Berman intends for his analytic to be used to regulate the voice of the translator to be quiet and respectful, but an artist may intervene in the reiterative process using a more familiar authorial voice. Artists like Elaine Sturtevant remake works by others but interpose themselves between source and viewer, forcing the viewer to consider the status of her reiteration in relation to the original. Bermans’ list can help the viewer explore this difficulty by identifying elements that are at play in the act of reiteration.