132 Abbey Roads

abbeyroads

Before I settled on making drawings as the primary way of making art works, I tended to take lots of photographs of similar images. I have a Facebook group called Found Paintings and Sculptures which is a legacy of this sort of activity. Two other works – Reading the Bible in Hotel Rooms and Gallery Fountains – can be found on dedicated blogs. These two works are ongoing and open-ended, though I only add to them sporadically.

Another work – Abbey Roads – has neither a blog nor a Facebook page. It was started in those pre-social media days and I hadn’t yet worked out how to use Facebook, Twitter, or other platforms to disseminate work properly. I did have a website onto which I loaded images as and when I collected them. The following text is from the page of the now defunct website that was dedicated to the project. It outlines my motivation for starting the work:

This piece started as a way of returning to art making using collecting as a methodology. I was living, when I started, in Abbey Wood in South London. There was an Abbey Road close to us and I wondered how many more there were in the country. For a brief while it could have been Downing Street or Coronation Street. I figured that there would be too few of the former and too many of the latter.

The are over 130 Abbey Roads in England. I have spent the last few years photographing all of them. Aside from one on Tresco (on the Scilly Isles), I completed the collection on 26th May 2011.

131 Abbey Roads were exhibited as part of Bath Fringe Festival in 2011.

It’s grown out of a piece about something being ‘first among equals’ into something that plays with the idea of similarity and difference, while doubling as a sort of portrait of England.

Why just England? Well, the famous one – the first among the equals – is English, as were the people who made it famous. If I did Wales, which would be possible, I’d have to do Scotland (trickier, based on where I live) and Northern Ireland (almost impossible). Perhaps when I’ve finished this, I’ll keep an eye out.

I’m going to add the individual photographs to this post over the next week or two, but for now this large composite image and the GIF at the top of the post will have to suffice. And if you spot that there;s one missing, I’m not sure I want to know. I think that some new Abbey Roads have been built since I started the project, but my practice has moved on…

If you are interested in buying a digital print of 131 of the Abbey Roads (the 132nd was discovered after I made  the print. Sorry), then please leave a comment to that effect with contact details on this blogpost or email me directly at bryan (dot) eccleshall (a) virgin (dot) net.

There are only ten posters left, from an edition of twenty-five. They are 596 x 422 mm in size and cost £25 plus p+p. I will ship worldwide but the postage will reflect that. All posters are shipped in a tube. Payment is via PayPal only.

postersample

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In Conversation with Ricarda Vidal – 21st November 2014

This interview forms an appendix to the Bryan Eccleshall doctoral thesis (Reiterative Drawing as Translation: Making, Resistance, and the Negotiated Encounter) and is reproduced here in full with Ricarda Vidal’s permission. The PhD was conferred on 11th March 2016.

Ricarda Vidal is a teaching fellow at King’s College, London in the Culture, Media and Creative Industries department. She convenes ‘Translation Games’ which ‘brings literary translators, artists, designers and academics together to explore translation in a ludic programme of workshops, symposia, public exhibitions, performances and publications’. A website recording the translation games can be found here.

When I asked Ricarda for permission to publish this more widely, she replied that at the time of the interview Translation Games was an experiment rather than the fully-fledged research project into which it has subsequently evolved.

Ricarda turned the tables on me by asking a question which changed the dynamic of the conversation as we started by discussing my research, not hers. As a consequence there’s more of me in this conversation than I had planned. We both spoke quickly, finishing each other’s sentences. In transcribing the text I have edited it for the sake of brevity.

————

Tell me about your Ph.D.

Well, it’s practice-led. The work that I’m doing … I’m drawing other people’s art works from photographs. I’ve drawn a Joseph Beuys sculpture that was displayed in Sheffield: a sixteen panel drawing, a metre by a metre. The idea is that by reiterating another work the authorship slips away and becomes problematic and I’m managing to interpose myself between the viewer and the work. But also, part of it is that it isn’t my work.

Do you think of it as adaptation or as translation?

When I started the Ph.D I was interested in copying and tracing, Marcus Boon’s book In Praise of Copying and Kenneth Goldsmith’s Uncreative Writing were important.(1) Also, I was interested in processes. But I realised that I wasn’t making copies, I wasn’t replicating. I was doing something more freewheeling: you’d never be fooled into thinking you were looking at ‘the thing’, you’d always know you were looking at a version of the thing. I stumbled across Antoine Berman’s ‘twelve deforming tendencies of translation’ that form part of his essay ‘Translation and Trials of the Foreign’, which is in Lawrence Venuti’s Translation Studies Reader, and I thought ‘oh, these are really interesting, they’re about what happens when you translate: you clarify, you gentrify, and so on’. There’s a whole body of theory that relates to translation that’s really useful. I’m not sure that what I’m doing is translation in a pure sense, however, I can use translation theory to understand a process. It unlocks something about reiterative art. I’m looking at artists like Elaine Sturtevant, even Duchamp with his Boîte-en-Valise as a translation of his own work. It’s not been thought of as that, he’s thought of in terms of appropriation, adaptation and so on, but actually if you think about it in terms of translation, it unlocks other things about the work. And now there’s Kate Davis who’s making drawings of DeKooning postcards…

Okay, that’s very interesting.

It’s flawed. I’ve likened it to buying a pair of trousers that don’t quite fit. They don’t fit, but you can wear them. The theory isn’t perfect, but you can use it. And it’s interesting and we’ll probably get on to this, but I was interested in how scholarliness in translation comes from how things don’t work. If things fit perfectly, there’s nothing much to learn.

That’s interesting; the gaps …

Yes, the gaps and these bits that rub up against…

…and sometimes you think something works perfectly and it doesn’t. The more you think about it and you realise ‘actually I’m missing a lot of what’s in the original there, so I need to do it differently. What I thought was perfect is not. Why is it not perfect?’

Also, it’s become a close reading as well, through spending hours drawings it.

I’m just interested, because normally when I talk to artists it’s me that has to explain what I mean by translation. You have just done that very wonderfully, from your position as an artist, and I wondered if you’d come from a literary background or…?

Not really.

You’re also talking about reading and close reading the art work.

I did a Fine Art BA a long time ago and more recently an MA in Sheffield. I’ve always been interested in Duchamp, reiteration, Conceptual Art, appropriation, so I’ve come from that angle. Artists like Sol LeWitt are important. In the same way that Sol LeWitt wall drawings are done from instructions, like a score. I started to think of them as equivalents though people tend to think of them as copies. I have this thing about trajectories. Copies tend to move back towards the source, whereas translations are pulling away from it, though they’re always linked to it.

It’s the movement of taking something somewhere else.

Yes. The perfect replica is the undiscovered forged banknote. It is so much the ‘thing’ that it stands for the thing, functions as the thing and nobody realises. That’s a replica. Translations don’t do that. You’re aware that these things are not the thing, but they are of the thing somehow.

They use a different material. When you forge a banknote you have to use the same material, do everything the same, whereas you have to use a different material.

And there’s a kind of ‘passing off’. Copies and replicas try and pass themselves off as the thing. You have a print of the Mona Lisa because you can’t have the Mona Lisa. It stands for it. The thing with translation – and Kate Briggs says this  – is that we forget. People say ‘I’ve read War and Peace’, ‘Do you read Russian?’, ‘No’, ‘Well, then you haven’t. You’ve read a version of it.’

It’s interesting when you think of re-translation. When something has already been translated and you translate it again, which is something that comes from literary translation. War and Peace, for example, was translated when it first came out and recently has been re-translated, because language has moved on and maybe when you do something like that in art you have to take into account other things that have happened in the medium you’re using so even if someone has done it before at the beginning of the twentieth century, when there was a whole thing about ekphrasis and translating work, but they would do it with the medium and the art history of the time; in the art context of the time. But when you do it now, there’s a hundred years in between…

…and technology changes.

Exactly.

…and this is where contingency comes in. Translations are always contingent. Originals remain originals, broadly speaking. We read Shakespeare in English and it’s basically the same but when it’s translated into German or French they…

But Shakespeare’s been translated into ‘English’. When it’s updated for different contexts, it’s transposed or mediated into ‘our time’, using different language.

I was reading on the Translation Games website a quote that I’m fascinated by. I suspect, although it’s not attributed, that you’re the author of it:

with every translation game I play, I become more and more convinced that there really is an essence to every text and it’s possible to capture it and preserve it no matter how far removed the target is from the source.

I think that’s really interesting and it’s a really bold claim. What made you come to that contingent conclusion?

We’ve done quite a few translation games. At the beginning, when we set out with it, it was ‘really, is this possible at all?’ The first conversations with the artists were ‘what do you mean by translation?’, and then you talk more about it and then it’s ‘oh yeah, that’s what you mean’. Then we got translators and literary translators together with artists and we got them to talk to each other and that’s when the artists thought ‘okay, that’s a method I could use which is different from adaptation or illustration which would then perhaps be translation. Then they went away and did their translations and because we had the chain it was really very questionable whether it would be possible to relate the final piece in the chain back  to the original text. I really wasn’t sure if it was going to work, but it worked phenomenally well. There was this question at the beginning as well: ‘is there an essence?’

Which is a real ‘Benjamin’ idea, isn’t it?

Yes, but also, if you talk of an essence it has to be the same thing. One of the questions was also ‘if we all agree there is an essence, do we still agree that it’s the same, constituted by the same elements?’ The first translation games had twenty-seven versions [of the same text], and there seemed to be something preserved throughout. The same element came up in different versions. So that’s why I thought there does seem to be some sort of agreement…

You can’t quite lose it?

Yes. Exactly. So something stays, which could actually be that essence. That is, of course, very controversial. With every workshop that we do people say ‘no, no, no, there’s no essence. Can you really speak of an essence?’ When you’re a literary translator you sort of start out from the idea that there is something, one particular content that really should stay the same when you translate a piece through different languages. It might vary and it might be cloaked in different ideas and materials but it should, in the end, still boil down to the same elements and so far that has actually really worked. We’ve also done translations where we’ve asked literary translators to translate from the visual and that has also worked surprisingly well. Again, I thought it would be easier for an artist to start from that text to translate it into a different medium and then to carry that text… I wasn’t sure if it would work the other way.

That’s more like the standard ekphrastic practice, which is either descriptive or …

Yes, and it has worked the other way round, but we’ve only really done that twice.

I suppose it [the claim, above] is like a conjecture. All you can say is that ‘we did it again and worked.’ You only need one to go the other way and then you have to say ‘well, it doesn’t work for all of them’.

I’m still in the collecting phase, and I want to gather more. What is really really interesting is to have these workshops and to get people talking and to see what everyone thinks, and then to get people to do it, because sometimes we get … when you have … the most critical ones have been creative (specifically, theatre) practitioners, because they go, ‘what we do with every play [we put on] is put on a translation, so how is what you’re doing different?’ When you do translation … When you create a stage set, is that translation? I would say it isn’t, it’s really an adaptation – there is a difference – stage sets can be wildly different from one another. There’s a lot of overlap between adaptation and translation. Once you get theatre practitioners to take part in a translation game they say that there does seem to be a difference and that the difference is that translation is always more limiting. It’s much less free than the adaptation.

I think that one thing that I’ve noticed in making drawings of photographs of art works is that you can’t be glib. It can’t just be a sketch. A rough ‘back of a cigarette packet’ drawing of a face can’t be a translation of the Mona Lisa. It can’t be, because there’s something about judicious attention to detail, something ethical, a consciousness that you’re doing justice to the thing, in a funny sort of way.

That’s what everyone who takes part (in the translation games) always says. They felt this pressure to respect the work and to do it justice.

That’s where scholarship comes in. When I was thinking that translation … I’m basically monolingual – I don’t speak any other languages – so I’m coming at this from a very strange angle, but that Medieval idea of scholarship is about translation. Translation is the root of scholarship, turning a Greek text into Arabic, and then into Latin and when people start comparing texts it’s scholarship. That’s what we still do in literature reviews and when we tell students to compare Rembrandt with Caravaggio. We’re asking for them to compare and contrast two texts which have something in common but that aren’t the same. Translation is just a more radical version of that.

But also what you’ve just said about being monolingual, that you don’t do (linguistic) translation is not true.

Well, if you gave me a French book and said ‘translate that’, I couldn’t do it.

In translation games that’s also one thing that we want to contest: that people say ‘I’m monolingual, if you give me a French text I can’t deal with it’, but you actually can, because a lot of words are related. It’s more obvious with German, but French also has a lot of words related. So when you give a text to people they all say ‘oh I don’t speak that language’, but they can break it down…

I accept the point…

… and the visuals can help. And also the idea that we’re constantly translating is also something visual so when you’re confronted with the French text it might conjure up images for you as well and via the images you might get to what it actually means.

Oh right, so you use it as a conduit back to the…

This idea that translation is always between one language and another is what we try to break down. Even when I read a German text – my native language – I might have a particular image in mind, so it’s sort of the understanding of the text, the linguistics, that is related to other forms of communication. The step to take those other forms of communication, to translate them, is not as radical as it might first sound.

I suppose what I mean is that I couldn’t earn a living as a translator in the normative sense. What I find interesting about the idea of translation games is that whereas what is traditionally seen as a solo operation, you’re using collaboration and actually the side of my project in which I’ve become more and more interested is in this space of work that opens up. Translation is the cultural form that acknowledges this space of work – one is saying that there’s the author and there’s me and that something happens between them. We sort of pretend that nothing happens when the author did it, they just did it. It sprang from nowhere, whereas the translator has to work at it and it exposes that. We see it manifested in footnotes and prefaces and apologies and little brackets with bit of italics, and we’re constantly reminded that somebody has managed a text into another text – wrangled it, somehow – and it seems to acknowledge a site where an encounter has happened, where a negotiation has happened. By having people collaborating you making that very, very visible. There’s a literal encounter, not an intellectual encounter between a person and a text; it’s a discussion.

Which is very much part of translation. If you read a text and are not quite sure how to translate it, you get in touch with the author and you talk it over. Obviously that’s the ideal.

I was listening to a podcast of the woman [Anthea Bell] who translated W. G. Sebald’s Austerlitz and she was saying that he was writing it as she was translating it.

He was very much involved.

And he changed some of the latter bits because of the way she translated it. He changed how he wrote it because he knew how it would come out. That’s the perfect storm, in a way. If the author is dead, there’s more of reliance on experts and expertise and so on…

There’s someone interesting you might want to talk to — Stephen Fowler, have you heard of him? — he’s a poet and he has a project called ‘enemies’ in which he gets different people to collaborate across languages. He might get an English poet working with a Mexican poet, neither of them speak each other’s language, but they each translate each other’s work and they do collaborative work in that space of not really being able to communicate, but actually communicating quite amazingly.

And they must establish a new language to deal with that, I imagine.

I’ve worked with him on a couple of translation games. His idea of translation is much wider than mine. My idea is probably quite limiting because it’s very tightly focussed on the respect for the original and because of my fervent belief that there is this kind of essence. Within Stephen Fowler’s notion of translation it doesn’t matter if there’s an essence or not. What matters for him is the collaborative part and he sees every translation as something new. A new work. I don’t see it as necessarily an entirely new work. I think that relates to what you said at the beginning that it is a new work because it uses new material, other forms of expression, but it also comes out of something else and has a very very tight link to that original, from which it comes.

I recently came across a book by Efraín Kristal, Invisible Work, about Borges’ translation practice, how crucial it is to understanding his literary writing practice.(2) His approach to translation was that he could do the conventional, normal translation for publishers who want to make good, straight forward, representations but he could also … well, for example when he translated The Arabian Nights he added a story because people have always added stories and he saw it as completely in the spirit of the thing. (3) Also, he used stories, adapting them, shortening them because he wanted to highlight something. He’s almost after the essence, saying ‘that’s what they would have written, had they written in Spanish now, but they didn’t, so I’m going to do it for them’. But also there’s something – not disrespectful – it’s a strange sort of imposition of authorship…

I think with fairy tales that’s entirely permitted because they’re in the oral folk tradition and they’ve always been … but fairy tales are the ones that are of the essence and when the Brothers Grimm went out to collect fairy tales, they wrote down what they perceived to be the essence. If you bought that story book it was up to you to make the story up from the bones of it, basically.

I see. This serves your argument, the more extreme you can play with it, something is still there.

It’s the same story, but I don’t know whether it always is because when you think about what has happened to Little Red Riding Hood, for example… That has had numerous re-shapings, translations and where the moral of the story is entirely different.

And the moral could stand for the essence, the thing you’re meant to get from it…

… and it did for the Brothers Grimm, but maybe it doesn’t for us, now. Which kind of means that there isn’t an essence. (Laughs).

It reminds me of the film Company of Wolves. (4)

Exactly, I was thinking of that particular one. A student of mine made a sound version of that. It was quite a few years ago: you had to take a CD player and headphones and walk through Epping Forest and have the experience.

Wow.

That was a way of taking it into the twenty-first Century.

Going back to the thing about essence which I think is, appropriately enough, the core of the problem. When translating, does complexity in the source material makes a difference? Does it matter how complex it is?

I would say that – and I’ve got two poems in my mind right now that we used, one was a conceptual poem by Paul Brown from 2012 and another by a Serbian poet (Vasko Popa) which is quite a bit older and quite simple. It uses very easy metaphors and language whereas Paul Brown has made up a few words; it’s very powerful and more difficult. We had that translated into film and then back into poetry and it worked amazingly well.

The Popa poem was translated into a picture, it was a very multi-layered photograph, you could throw all sorts of narrative at it. What came through was that the poem, which also had a narrative in it, could, like the Brown one, be translated back into poetry and that the spirit or the atmosphere was kept. Also, with Paul Brown’s poem, some of the metaphors actually came through. With Popa’s we gave people just the image and got them to write down a draft of it and then gave them the Serbian (which none of them spoke, but we had a couple of Hungarians), and they started translating the words. Then we put up the German and everybody just figured out the German and although it watered down the original idea of just working (with the Serbian), it was interesting.

Because there were too many clues?

Yes, but we asked people to set their initial response to the image aside as an idea for a translation and they did capture that atmosphere and what was going on in the poem. There was something there that worked quite well. One of them wrote a poem as an initial response to just the image. It was quite a new work, but it did have a similar story in it, about two people and the breakdown of a relationship.

There’s the phrase ‘deaf air’, isn’t there?

It worked with the simple and the complex work. I initially thought that the complex one would be easier because if you have a complex work as an artist, you have more to play with.

… and more to read into it. Lawrence Venuti talks about ‘domestication’ and this is an idea I’ve become interested in.(7) It was first presented to me as almost colonialist. It’s like you’re literally taming something and turning into something recognisable in your culture and denying its cultural specificity. I was just sent a text by The Guardian’s Tim Parks about writing from your place, that some things shouldn’t be translated. He writes that there are Dutch and Swedish authors writing in their own language but with a view to being translated into English and it’s changing how these authors are writing in their own language, because they want an international bestseller. You don’t get rich as a Swedish author unless it’s translated into English. This seems to argue against – I think – trying to write for a general audience, writing something ‘domesticatable’ and that it’s good that some things aren’t translatable and are inaccessible to people who don’t speak Serbian and they should stay Serbian as they have something to say to Serbian culture.

Which is the ideal, but I recently went to a talk [by a representative of Phoenix Yard Books] a press that specialises in children’s books and translating them. The woman who gave the talk had an example of a Swedish children’s book. With children’s books obviously the visuals are very important as well as the words. But the words go with the visuals and they had this wonderful children’s book which had been translated into German and French and the English publishers rejected it because they thought it wouldn’t work for an English speaking audience, but not because of the content or the words, but because of the images and of course you can’t translate those. Well, you could, but that would be one of our translation games then, if you also had to translate the images. For me it was interesting how these English publishers make this connection between not just the written language but the visual language as well. They actually see it as something that is understood differently within different national and cultural contexts.

The irony of that is just because someone speaks English doesn’t mean they have anything like the same visual understanding, because English is such a widespread language. Living in New Orleans might be very different from living in Vancouver.

But then again, you do translate between British English and American English. The Harry Potter covers were different for the American market and some of the words were different. There is translation going on between the Englishes as well.

This reinforces an idea that you started with, that perhaps we don’t think we speak more than one language, but in fact if we think of them in term of dialects then we speak across more borders or linguistic borders.

It’s just occurred to me that we always think visuals are internationally comprehensible and speak to everyone, but it seems that they don’t, or that the fact that those publishers thought they wouldn’t be able to sell this book because the visuals might not appeal to a five year old British child when they do to a five year old in Sweden or France.

Rudi Meyer – a speaker I recently saw at a conference – spoke about the dialects of drawing: blueprints are different from 3D modelling, sketches, Leonardo’s sketches and so on. If you think of them as dialects you can see what is common (a hand looks like a hand looks like a hand), but sometimes they’re diagrammatic and serve a different purpose. (8) To paraphrase Kate Briggs: each translation is almost a translation from first principles, being based on the source, your ability to do it, and the target. You’re aiming for something, for example building a building, you have to do blueprints. You mediate the information according to where it’s going to end up, as much as being dependent on where it’s from. You have to negotiate with that.

Comics and animation are interesting to look at. A comic like Asterix has been translated through many languages and that seems to work. Japanese Manga is being translated and that seems to works as well. So what’s the difference with the children’s books?

I’m of an age that I grew up reading comics and remember manga appearing. I remember it being too rich. There’s so much going on in the panel. I’m actually not very literate in those terms. I’ve read graphic novels that are and always were in English but when I look at Japanese stuff it’s so dense visually and people have told that that’s like Japan. It’s visually very dense and hard to read.

The signs comprise so much more than our alphabet. The pages in Japanese aren’t quite as overloaded as when it’s translated. That’s also when you translate from a language in a different alphabet and when you translate the visual – like a comic – that’s something else to think about. When translating from Arabic, for example, you read from that side (the right), so you have to turn the whole book round, and the speech bubbles and the direction. And Hebrew, for example, is much shorter because they don’t have any vowels.

Which brings me to another thing I’m interested in which is the surplus created when something is translated. Often there’s leftovers. Often it is in the footnotes and prefaces, but often translated texts are far longer than the source text. Even in languages which ought to be shorter, they end up being longer because there has to be a bit of explication: the clarification that Antoine Berman talks about. I wonder in the projects you’ve done what that surplus looks like, because I’m almost convinced that there’s bound to be one. When you get groups of people making things, are they taking things away that are surplus to the exercise?

You definitely get a whole lot of notes and first drafts and then you also get the interpretation, because every translation is always an interpretation. You get things added on to the narrative if there is one, or you get a narrative transposed into where there wasn’t one. Those are the new things that go on. Footnotes are quite interesting. Our first visual translator, Anna Cady used footnotes for her film of an original piece of fiction. In the film she has these footnotes which say ‘listen to this piece of music here’ or ‘look at this bit of writing in this book’. She actually used footnotes in order to make the translation work. Her final footnote in the film is ‘this is not translatable in this language.’ She then left it up to the viewers to follow up on the footnotes. The next translation that came up after that took those footnotes and worked around it. The translation after the film was a ceramic translation where the artist made pieces and asked the viewers/audience to enact the narrative with those pieces and in that way sidestepping the ‘this is not translatable in this language’ but maybe you can contribute here yourself. It’s a kind of an invitation to interpret and do something with the text, but the footnotes were really important to make the film work as a translation.

And they’re a signpost for translation. Translations tend to have footnotes. A Tom Clancy novel probably doesn’t…

They do when it’s a classic work.

It’s a sign of serious literature. If you read Joyce in French you get footnotes because it has to be readable.

But when you’re not allowed, as a translator, to put footnotes you have to make decisions like, for example, when you translate a work that has dialects in it…

…Like D. H. Lawrence and his Nottinghamshire miners.

Exactly, so what do you do if your publisher says ‘we don’t want footnotes because we want people to enjoy it, to be entertained?’ Then you have to make a decision about what to do with the text and do you then, if translating in to German, use a German dialect, or slang? Is the slang from the particular era? Do you update it?

This is what Berman talks about, the loss of rhythms and contextual stuff. […] What’s become more and more interesting as I’ve looked into this is what the process opens up, especially what happens in the making of the translation, and in the attention given to translation.

And in the errors. Translation always opens up lots of possibilities of making mistakes which doesn’t always have to be bad. It can be a productive mistake. In the first translation games, one of the textile designers who is a bit dyslexic misread the word ‘sliver’ for ‘silver’ which determined his choice of thread for his embroidery work, which was very nice. It was just a mistranslation. The Turkish textile designer had a Turkish translation which had used… The original text contained a boxing scene […] and in the Turkish translations it says ‘he boxed until he was black and blue in the face’. The Turkish textile designer used this to determine the choice of fabric, so again we had something where it wasn’t an error, but was a particular way of translating something – using a colour – which then determines the translation that came after it.

It sounds like that the processes you’re generating or using, has the people translating into their own language, which is generally what people do. It’s logical. There are very few people who translate out of their own language, even if they can do it, they choose not to.

Because you’re at home in your own language. You can’t ever be quite as ‘at home’ in a foreign language.

It becomes about facility or skill. You can do more in your own language, be it textiles, ceramics, film-making, writing in English, or making drawings. And it’s a kind of domestication, but the paradox is that, yes, it domesticates it or takes it across into something inappropriate but it gives you the biggest range to accord it the most respect. If you can’t make films you’re only going to make bad films … If you choose to do something you can’t do very well you’re limited and your vocabulary is small.

In the first translation games we worked with students and some were translating from one foreign language into another. That really opened up all sorts of different sorts of errors that could be made which was interesting – it wasn’t ideal – but it was the nature of the project.

But that’s how you find out things.

Exactly. It did open up a lot of new ways of interpretation, of seeing, and perhaps more ways for the artists to grapple with, or explore.

It’s this tension of doing something right – the judicious translation with an attention to detail – that actually generates the knowledge of the error. ‘Silver’ rather than ‘sliver’, for example. Without that [judiciousness] it’s just something else. That doesn’t mean to say that the error is a bad thing, but it’s not correct. That yardstick becomes an interesting way of testing what you’re doing. You were asking me why translation and not adaptation or variance or version, but translation actually comes with the check. You have to check things.

It’s the thing that limits you that makes it challenging.

And because it’s difficult, you find yourself bouncing up against it. If I make a drawing of a Joseph Beuys and it doesn’t look like one, I can’t test it and and it doesn’t uncover anything. It’s the difference from drawing a flower from a photograph or from life. It’s different because I can compare the photograph with my drawing. Although I don’t want to make a replica and you can see differences because I’ve used a pencil but it’s not just a drawing of a flower, but a drawing of that photograph of a flower.

Translation is almost like a research method because when you have a text or an art work or a ritual or something and you start translating it you start looking at it with a different eye or gaze than when you just enjoy or read it in a normal way. You find out things about that ritual that you didn’t know and you also find out where perhaps you haven’t quite understood it. That’s also why, for example, some of the German philosophers are easier to read in English, because someone has already been in there and tried to make sense.

That’s Berman’s clarification.

That’s also something you can do for yourself as a research method. When you have a complicated poem you go through it and translate it into a drawing perhaps or into a different language. And you suddenly realise points that are interesting that you didn’t know about before. The point that you haven’t understood and things that can be interpreted in different ways and which are perhaps very idiosyncratic to that particular author or to that particular context and it suddenly opens up all sorts of different worlds where you discover new things about that ritual.

And you can’t really ignore parts of the text that you’re translating. There’s a great Nabokov text in which he writes about the translator of Shakespeare who ignored all the obscene bits and cleaned it up.(9) Didn’t translate it and clean it up, just didn’t translate those parts, so there are bits missing. When I’m drawing from a photograph, I can’t ignore the complicated bits. I have to make a go at them, even if I’m not good enough. I have to try and it’s here that the difficulty becomes an extreme version of negotiation, which is really hard. I’m very interested in language, which you’ll have discerned, and this idea of the dialect becomes very close to the dialectic. You rub up against something and the difficulty of not quite getting it, of having to work something out becomes really important and ongoing.

That’s also why it’s different from illustration because you don’t have the liberty to leave out or to change, you have to stick to the source.

At this point I detour into an account of the various iterations of We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, (Philip K Dick, 1968). (10) This is the source text for the film Total Recall (Paul Verhoeven, 1990), all better explained elsewhere. In summary, the various versions of the story are adaptations not translations because they are free with the content and not beholden to any fair representation.

… replicas lie about honesty. Embedded in a replica is the idea that they’re the thing, but they’re not, but the translation says ‘I’m not the thing, so I can be true to the thing’. In a funny sort of way, the translator is free to be true to the thing (source), but the translation is always saying ‘I’m not it, it’s over there’.

Of course, where it’s also different or where it’s special is that when you translate you interpret the truth that you see is your own truth, but at the same time as a translator you’re trying to place it into the context into which you are translating. You’re never just ‘you’, you’re working with a material that is being used by lots of other people and has to be understood. You’re doing it for other people. Your gaze that is looking for the truth is one which tries to look with multiple eyes and not just yourself.

And this is where translation is never expressive or expressionistic, because that’s in the original work.

That’s also why it’s different from you reading something or looking at a painting for yourself. You’re not doing it for yourself but you’re trying to do it for others, to take those other views into your own endeavour of supporting what the essence of truth is in the language.

I think that I’m not as whole-hearted as you on that.

[Laughs]

I think there’s something about dissemination that’s embedded in the idea of translation in that it takes something to a new audience.

When you’re a literary translator you have an audience in mind.

Absolutely. I’ve been redrawing art works now for a couple of years and it feels quite selfish because I’m doing it for my own purposes. It’s helping me understand the process, but with the rhetoric of drawing, which is interesting because drawing doesn’t have an ideology attached to it because it’s so prevalent. It’s not oil painting, watercolour, film-making, or photography which all have loaded political and philosophical texts. Drawing doesn’t and nor does translation. Translation is very specific in the sense that when people talk about translation they talk about specific instances or anecdotes, rather than a general thrust. Drawing, too, resists being co-opted into an ideology, because everybody in visual practice draws.

And usually it’s something that can be associated with something that can be understood … as opposed to something like abstract oil painting … though obviously you can make an abstract drawing, too…

It’s the thing that people do before they do the next thing.

It’s the basics.

It is the sketch that becomes the work. I like that it sits before the work. Do you think you might come across the idea of untranslatability?

Yes. I’m waiting for when it goes wrong, where it becomes something so different I can no longer draw out any connection at all. It hasn’t happened yet, but it probably will at some point. I obviously want there to be that essence but if I realise that it’s me interpreting, interpreting, interpreting in order to find a common denominator then that’s when I will need to say ‘okay, now it has gone wrong’. But the nice thing about the format of the workshops is that you always have everybody else looking on as well and the people who have taken part so far have been quite outspoken about when they felt critical, or about when it wouldn’t work. So it’s not just hoping that people will say ‘Ricarda, stop. You’ve found something that’s not there.’

Because you can project meaning…

…which is why I’ve put everything up on the web. So far nobody has responded, but people could say ‘I don’t agree with what you’re doing’.

I’ve thought about whether we need a new term for what we’re doing? I’m not doing conscientious translation (the normative idea, that is), but neither am I doing adaptation or variation. I started thinking that there’s a word that we do have in English, but it’s the French for ‘translation’: traduction. In English to traduce something is to violate or slander it. French has it almost better than English because it’s not a neutral ‘carrying across’, there’s a kind of breaking. We’ve done something to it. But I think the implication of violation is too negative.

In Italian it’s ‘traduttore’ which is the same word as for ‘traitor’. (11)

And what is it in German?

Übersetzer (‘translator’). We also have the word übersetzen. When the emphasis is on the second part, ‘überSETZEN’ it’s ‘translation’. ÜBERsetzen is ‘to cross a river’. (12)

The nice thing about all those words is they carry this idea of trajectory, something moving from one place to another place, and formal changes. Something shifts and there’s an acknowledgement that there’s a shift. You could sit in a room with ten people and ask ‘what does bonjour mean in English?’, and you’d get ‘good morning’, ‘good morning’, ‘good morning’, ‘hello’. We don’t even agree on one words which pretty much anyone in England would reckon to know. Of course, it actually means ‘good day’, but we don’t say that anymore.

But if you were Australian, you might.

Even at the simplest level, where you think there’d be no argument, it breaks really quickly. There’s not even a verb.

It’s not even a sentence.

————

Notes:

1 Marcus Boon In Praise of Copying, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 2010 and Kenneth Goldsmith, Uncreative Writing: Managing language in the digital age, New York: Columbia University Press, 2011.

2 Efraín Kristal, Invisible Work: Borges and Translation, Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2002.

3 Kristal, Invisible Work. p. 26.

4 Company of Wolves dir. Neil Jordan, Palace Productions, 1984.

5 The poem was translated into film and then back into poetry:  http://translationgames.net/output/p-o-w and  http://translationgames.net/output/tg-meets-enemies.

6 The Vasko Popa poem was part of the Far Away Within Us workshop: http://translationgames.net/output/far-away-within-us.

7 Lawrence Venuti, The Translator’s Invisibility: A History of Translation, London: Routledge, 2008, p. 18.

8 A summary of his abstract: ‘Dialects of Drawing. Drawing […] can be regarded as one more language, in addition […] to text and the spoken word, used by designers to generate, develop, record, represent, and transmit ideas. […] It is interesting to note that the types of drawings used for certain kinds of discussion seem to have been determined by some sort of professional consensus. […] one might ask whether using certain types of drawings for predetermined tasks not only establishes a language and its use but also inadvertently limits not only access to that language, but also to the range of thought expressed in that language.’ This can be found on the following website, but requires log-in privileges: http://ontheimage.com/the-conference-2014/program-and-events/list-of-accepted-proposals.

9 In fact, Nabokov uses a translation of Anna Karenina to make his point: ‘Perhaps the most charming example of Victorian modesty that has ever come my way was in an early English translation of Anna Karenina. Vronsky had asked Anna what was the matter with her. ‘I am beremenna’ (Nabokov’s italics), replied Anna, making the foreign reader wonder what strange and awful Oriental disease that was; all because the translator thought that “I am pregnant” might shock some pure soul, and that a good idea would be to leave the Russian just as it stood.’ Vladimir Nabokov, The Art of Translation’, The New Republic, 4 August, 1941, 160–162.

10 I wrote a blogpost exploring the different iterations of Total Recall and of the texts and other products that orbit it which can be read here: http://translationasmethodology.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/recalling-total-recall.html.

11 After the interview I looked this up and couldn’t find this relation. Traduttore does mean translator, but traitor is traditore. When asked for clarification, Ricarda replied as follows: ‘the Italians have a saying ‘traduttore, traditore’ – ‘translator, traitor’ That’s what I meant to refer to here.’

12 This connection, between the two iterations of übersetzen makes plain the ‘carrying across’ implicit in the English prefix ‘trans’, also found in transfer, transport and so on.

In Conversation with Simon Morris – 29th April 2014

This interview forms an appendix to my doctoral thesis (Reiterative Drawing as Translation: Making, Resistance, and the Negotiated Encounter) and is reproduced here in full with Simon Morris’s permission.

Simon Morris was Reader in the School of Arts and Media at Teesside University and Programme Leader in Fine Art. Since being interviewed he has moved to Leeds Beckett University where he is Professor of Art. He is a conceptual writer whose practice is a response, as he explains in the conversation below, to reading. He has produced many publications and, as an editor with Information as Material, has been involved in the publication of many works of conceptual writing.

In the following conversation Morris refers to his own practice and works with that of others. Much of the conversation is relaxed and anecdotal. I have tried, wherever possible, to let his words explain all these works and the way they relate to one another.

————

A lot of your work that I’ve seen seems to revolve around an idea of reiteration. I was wondering where reiterating gets you as an artist? Where does it take you?

I’m thinking, having done quite a bit of work with Pavel Büchler – I made a film for him called Making Nothing Happen – and I listened to him talk quite a lot. He’s got particular things that resonate within his practice. I’m talking about Franz Kafka, Samuel Beckett, Andy Warhol. These are major figures that feature in his work and he was saying in the film that actually knowing that the ideal audience for him is someone for whom those figures are also important, but he also says that he’s not really into theory as such. His practice isn’t a response to theory, he’s not reading Jacques Derrida or Michel Foucault, but people like Kafka and Beckett and Warhol are central to his thinking. It’s a difficult question ‘where does reiteration get you as an artist?’ I never sit down and think ‘I’m working on a programme of reiteration’. What I’m trying to say is that it’s not a conscious programme of reiteration. The way I work as an artist … I was talking in Holland last week at the Royal Academy and I said to them that my book works are inspired a bit like a stuck record. I get a sentence and I get stuck with it and I feel I have to do something about it and that will generate an entire project. I can almost tell you the exact moment of all my book works exactly what you got stuck with.

I’ll give you some examples to make it more clear. Bibliomania (1998) was the first major project I did. On the night on 1st of September 1998 I’d got Sol LeWitt’s autobiography. In this book three’s no text in it whatsoever. LeWitt documents everything in his house (I think it was previously his father’s house because it’s got a Dr LeWitt nameplate and I think his father was a medical doctor). So it’s got all of Sol LeWitt’s electrical electrical sockets, plan chests, etc., etc., etc. Then I got to Sol LeWitt’s books and I thought ‘that’s really cool, we can see what Sol LeWitt reads’. So I turn the book sideways and I can read the spines to see what Sol LeWitt reads. That was the inspiration for Bibliomania. That moment of turning the book and wondering ‘what on earth does LeWitt read?’ made me think wouldn’t it be great to suck out the bookshelves of a series of really wonderful artists and put them in a gallery and see how their sources and references reflect their practices. So it’s a very conceptual model in that it’s generating an idea of something form the footies that from the actual thing.

The Royal Road to the Unconscious (2003) is another book work. I worked with a psychoanalyst on a creative practice for five years, and I was looking at Freud one night and I came across the famous phrase ‘dreams are royal roads, the unconscious knowledge of the workings of the mind’, or something like that (1). As soon as I hit the words ‘royal’ and ‘road’ it of course made me, of course, think of Ed Ruscha’s Royal Road Test and that was the moment of inspiration. It was like ‘okay, Ed threw a typewriter out of a car window. Why don’t we throw the words afterwards? Cut up the entire Interpretation of Dreams and throw it out of a car window’. And that’s it. And it becomes the whole project to do that, which takes quite a lot of work.

And having read some of your Getting Inside Jack Kerouac’s Head and the chapter in Uncreative Writing which is dedicated to it seems like such a simple idea, ‘what if I blog the book?’, and you do it. And of course there’s a vast amount of labour between saying you’re going to do it and actually doing it, which is interesting. You have have to make it happen, it has to be concretised into the world. It can’t be conceptual in the sense of ‘what if we do this?’. Did you feel, because you called it Getting Inside Jack Kerouac’s Head, not Typing On The Road or On The Blog, that you did (get inside Kerouac’s head) and at what point did you think that you were getting somewhere with it?

I’ll go backwards a little bit and then answer the question. Talking about the stuck record moment, with that particular project it comes entirely from a Kenneth Goldsmith quote. I’d made a film on Goldsmith in 2007 called Sucking on Words. Inside the film we put a booklet that was a series of blogposts he did for the Harriet Foundation. With the Harriet Foundation he said that he’d given a lecture at Princeton University and after the lecture two students came up to chat to him and they were complaining about their regular, full-time tutor and it happened to be Joyce Carol Oates, an author of over eighty fictional works, and Kenny asked what was wrong with her teaching. They said ‘she gives us these really lame homework exercises’. Kenny asks ‘what like?’ And one of the students says ‘she says go home to your dorm room and pretend you’re a famous writer and write a piece in their style … which is probably okay when you’re at High School but we’re first year undergraduates at Princeton. It seems a little bit ridiculous.’ Kenny asked who they had tried to be and she said that she tried to be Jack Kerouac, but that it felt ridiculous sitting in her dorm room pretending I was Jack Kerouac. And Kenny said that without screaming across the States at high speed in an open top car, typing like a maniac, popping pills and drinking bourbon, she probably wasn’t even going to get close. And then his mind wanders… In the Met in New York every day artists pay money to go and copy the work of the masters with the idea in art being that if you copy the brush strokes of the master enough times, you eventually become the master. So he said, if it’s good enough for artists why is it not good enough for literature. What she should have done was copy out a month and if she was really ambitious, the entire book. Well that… It’s the stuck record moment. I’d worked on the project (the film), I’d proofed it, I’d read this series of posts quite a few times because I was making a film on him and it just hit me and I thought ‘I have to do something with it’. It’s good to experiment.

It is an autobiographical text, so in a way it’s ideal for getting inside the writer’s head than something more abstract. It is what he did and what he thought about what he was doing. In a way the door is open to getting inside his head whereas retyping someone else’s work might be trickier to get inside their head, I suppose. Something I’ve found from redrawing photographs of other people’s art works is you’re suddenly aware of things that work, that you wouldn’t be just by looking at it. By drawing it you spot rhythmic things, rhyming, construction. And it’s almost like you can’t know until you do it.

Yeah, Kenny quoted Walter Benjamin, a lovely quote: ‘it’s not the same flying over a country as it is walking along the country’s roads’ (2). The person flying across it can see the way the road unfolds through the landscape but only the person who actually commits themselves to walking the road on foot will feel every bend and travel round every corner. He says it’s the same with reading and copying. Reading is not the same as copying. If you really want to get into the soul of a writer you actually have to copy their text out and Gertrude Stein said the same thing. You have to polish things every day, or dust them down every day or in the case of reading… Reading wasn’t good enough on its own, you actually have to copy it.

[…]

This is interesting to me in relation to the idea of translation because one of the things that Kate Briggs has said is that translating Roland Barthes’ Preparation for the Novel (3) was like an ‘apprenticeship in writing’ because it broke her of her own habits (4). It’s a new way of writing because she’s trying to write like somebody else. Now, she’s obviously approaching the surface of the text but there’s also research into the background of it. How much research did you do when you were doing the Kerouac. Were you just doing the text or were you searching out more information about why he might have done things.

I get quite involved. The piece that followed the Kerouac was an experimental intervention in Georges Perec’s Species of Spaces and Other Pieces, and for both Kerouac and the Perec I would read as much as I could humanly find before or while I’m engaged in the project, just because that’s my particular interest at the moment. I try to get as much related material as possible and there’s fascinating stuff. I’d never read On The Road as a conventional novel, so I was reading it as I was copying it which was made it more entertaining. There’s certainly stuff I never noticed. He mentions ‘on the road’ thirty-four times in the first hundred and ten pages. In a film you’ll usually have the title of the film popping up at a seminal moment – at the crux of the film, they’ll say the actual title. In On the Road it’s like a mantra being chanted that drives you along: on the road, on the road, on the road, on the road. It’s continuous. There are other things you notice, like they’re always trying to get forward, they’re physically pushing themselves through the novel. They actually lean forward, all the characters in the car, because they want to get to a place faster and it’s actually driving you through the text. Things like the hyphens. There’s so many hyphens, they’re like the actual markers on the road if you’re driving down the highway. There’s different spellings of highway. There’s spelling of highway in English and there’s spelling of  it in the American form (hiway). I’m wondering if Howard Cunnell who was chosen as editor who worked at Kingston University and who was British and who actually transcribed the scroll (so you could say he copied it out first, if he did copy it all himself, he might have had help or assistants doing it as well), but whether he threw some of these English … How good is a proper translation? To be honest about it, people have asked me ‘did you make any mistakes?’ And, yeah, there are loads of mistakes. Otherwise I might as well have scanned the damn thing. If I’d wanted a perfect copy I’d have scanned it, not copied it. I actually made a mistake on the first line.

[Laughs]

The first line of Kerouac’s text is ‘I first met Neal not longer after my father died’ and I proofed every page before I put it on the blog and I probably saw the words ‘met met’ and thought that I’d put the word ‘met’ twice and deleted one. And Howard Cunnell in one of the four introductory essays to the original scroll says ‘I left the double ‘met’ in on the original scroll because it sounds like a car mis-firing at the start of a journey’, which is really beautiful. And some people who buy the book off me ask me to put the extra ‘met’ back in, so I have to write a little ‘met’ in.

Which is interesting how work generates work. You talk about the stuck record moment, but there’s also the idea that by doing work you generate other work. There may be a moment in the work that generates a new piece of work but it definitely comes from doing something rather than waiting.

From reading.

It comes from reading?

For me. Yes. I’ve got a problem with books. Every piece of my work revolves around books. Which is the book-madness… I don’t like it to be honest because they cause me a huge headache. Every time I have an idea – luckily I don’t have too many, because I do find them really problematic because I feel compelled to do something about it…

And it’s quite time consuming…

Yeah, the complexities of The Royal Road to the Unconscious… I mean remapping… Once I decided that I was going to use Ed Ruscha’s Road Test as a ready-made set of instructions, a lot of people think I’m doing an Ed Ruscha’s project. It had nothing really to do with that. I was using Ed Ruscha literally as a ready-made set of instructions but the project is about doing an experiment on Sigmund Freud’s writing. I was working with a psychoanalyst, I was much more interested in Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams and conducting this experiment and he just gave me a very exact set of instructions. I like the idea of what the Dada artists called ‘the yes and the no, they always belong together’. The tension between opposing things. So you’ve got very very tightly structured set of instructions and when you throw the words out of the car window, it’s about as random as you can get.

And this is something else that’s interesting. I went to a conference in London – Generative Constraints – and a lot of it, perhaps a significant minority would be fairer, was people using digital technology to generate infinite texts. One guy had got a novel he’d never finished and he put it into a generator that rearranged it and read out something that goes on forever. It seems to me that the advantage with translation as opposed to that generation is that there’s a boundary. You’re typing a book or using the Interpretation of Dreams. There’s a boundary, a finitude to it even if what you generate is absolutely huge, like Raymond Queneau’s Hundred Thousand Billion Poems but it comes from a hundred and forty lines. This brings me to editing and I notice that Craig Dworkin edited some of your work.

Yeah, he edited Re-writing Freud which is like you say a generative text. My wife made me an algorithm and you can buy it as an app and you can rewrite Freud with your finger. Originally it was an interactive touch screen kiosk and you pressed play and it takes seventy-eight hours to rewrite Freud’s text, so all the same words but it spurts them out in a differ order. Of course, it could technically spurt them out in exactly the same order, but it’s highly unlikely. It generates endless, limitless possibilities and one instantiation of that I had turned back into a book of similar dimensions to…

So it resembled…

Yeah, exactly. We’re into this thing called undesigning or brand-jacking where you take a host source and you mimic it. It’s actually harder than you think. Peter McGrath, the designer who has designed most of my books, is amazingly precise and has the mantra that the devil is in the detail. He actually realised that on the Penguin copy of On The Road they’d mismatched the actual spine and so he did the same mismatch on our copy, so we actually copy the mistakes Penguin had made. And Penguin intentionally reversed the paper you’d normally use for the cover. It has a particular effect. That’s the level of details he goes to; it’s fantastic.

Notwithstanding this generation of text, does this editing or controlling or limiting bring back a kind of authorship? There’s a questioning of authorship with you moving between being and not being the author, like a post-authorship agent. You’re re-authoring something. That runs throughout the Goldsmith book, the idea of managing text not making it. The agency that an editor imposes on it by choosing this bit, or doing that, does that place you as an author in the work. That’s a long-winded way of asking does that allow you to claim some ownership of the thing?

The editing?

Yes, even in the vaguest sense. You do something but then you choose what goes out. For example, you proofed the Keroauc pages rather than just typing them and posting them. There’s an element of control. Is that where authorship is at least partially reclaimed?

I’m trying to think of an answer.

If the answer is ‘I don’t know’, feel free to say so.

Obviously when you make any project you think very carefully about what you want to have in or leave our of the book. Have you seen Pigeon Reader?

No.

Morris tries to find a copy on his office shelves.

I’ll describe it for you as I can’t find one right now. Basically it’s Georges Perec’s Species of Spaces and Other Pieces, which we originally commissioned by an architect, so if you look at the table of contents it goes something like ‘the bed, the bedroom, the apartment, the apartment building, the street, the city, the town, the countryside, the country, the earth, and then space, and then the universe’. He writes a short text about each and whoever put the edition together put some other short pieces of writing together – which are the ‘other pieces’ – by Georges Perec in it and they’re really wonderful. One of them is called ‘Reading a Socio-Physiological Outline’. I love that, because it talks about the activity of reading, how you read and how your eyes move across the surface of the page. At one point he says ‘you read lie a pigeon, picking at the ground in search of breadcrumbs’. You don’t read straight, in a linear manner but, he uses the word ‘aleatory’, that poetic form. Going back to my Royal Road project, it was called ‘the aleatory moment’, chucking the words out of the car window. Anyway, that was my stuck point: you read like a pigeon pecking at the ground in search of breadcrumbs. Even though the sentence he says immediately afterward is ‘this is image is, of course, rather suspect’. I was stuck with that, and there was a piece by Rodney Graham, he’d done an intervention with [Ian Fleming’s] Dr. No and Yann Sérandour’s done one with sentences by Lawrence Wiener. Rodney Graham’s one was a page insert. There’s a bit where Dr. No is being tortured by a poisonous centipede, if such a weird thing exists, and it’s going up and  down his body. It ends at the bottom of a page and began at the top of the next, and with this inset it just rolls over for another entire page of torture and he just popped this insert in. Yann Sérandour’s is a nice piece called ‘the needle in the haystack’ – I’ve got it here – and he’s used the form of Lawrence Weiner’s Specific and General Works (5).

Morris now tries to find the piece in the book.

And this is going to be the tricky bit because it is like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

Here it is. Same paper, same layout and he just drops an extra page in. Now the question I was trying to work with with the Perec was these inserts by Graham and Sérandour are brilliant, but they’re relatively easy to do though you have to put some effort into the typography and paper management, but who would be mad enough to reproduce an entire book just to change one chapter? It’s also playing with British copyright law in the sense that in academia you can photocopy five per cent of the text, but not ninety-five per cent of it. I’m doing exactly the opposite: I’m copying ninety-five per cent of Perec’s book and just changing five per cent. So this book was a facsimile reproduction of Perec’s and you read through it in the normal conventional way, but when you get to the chapter on reading it’s being read by pigeons. I went to the Georges Perec Association in Paris, […] and I asked for any photographs they had that Georges Perec had taken of pigeons. Of the 2500 photographs Perec had taken I found about eleven of pigeons. He used to work in a park and write notes on everything that happened in the park and he’d taken a picture of a guy feeding pigeons on the park bench, and he’d actually chopped the pigeons out of the photograph. Then again, reproducing the book there was this thought of putting some of Perec’s pictures of pigeons, but then it becomes an art historical work. In terms of editing, there’s decisions you have to make. It is actually a bookwork, and restrict it to that. There are games to be played. On the back cover …  there’s a blurb of course on the back of Species of Space, and on the back of Pigeon Reader we had a blurb by Craig Dworkin and then I gave the blurb to the Canadian poet Christian Bök and asked him to write another blurb, something sensible, using the same words. It’s a very Perecian twist for the back cover. So that’s lots of decisions like that that get made, which I guess do reflect our thinking and interests and what we’re aiming for. So in terms of editing, yeah I think even when talk about ‘uncreative writing’, being uncreative is a creative act in and of itself. If someone stood absolutely still – let’s take Kimsooja and Needle Woman – it has a profound effect because everyone, when she’s done the piece, she’s doing nothing and it’s incredibly profound.

There’s an idea of dissemination embedded in the idea of translation in that Kafka, written in German but if translated into English it’s implied that you’re opening it up to a different audience at least potentially. The last thing the translator does is step aside. I’m interested in not standing aside and this is my dilemma. If I hold onto the idea of translation, there’s a paradox there. Because I’m standing in the way. You never say that you’re entirely original, there’s a very clean admission of the process.

It’s not plagiarism. A lot of people got upset about plagiarism saying ‘this is a copy of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road’ and there’s no pretence that it’s anything but that.

What I find amazing is that you can say ‘if it’s good enough for visual art, why don’t writers do it?’, because it’s also good enough for music. Bands start out as cover bands or do cover versions. How were the Beatles that good? Well, they played seven hours a night in Hamburg doing Little Richard songs. By doing them and doing them and doing them you learn.

Through the brushstrokes of the master, you become the master.

Yeah. I read somewhere and it may not be true that Kurt Cobain, as a kid, was in a Creedence Clearwater Revival tribute band. And it makes perfect sense because there’s a classic structure to what he did (6). That honesty, and I think translation does hold onto an idea of honesty in its ‘I’m not it, this isn’t thing, this is a different thing’ whereas replication seems like a lie (the ‘authentic copy’), or at least speaks out of two sides of the mouth.

I am fascinated by the whole question. Kenny Goldsmith often points out that none of these strategies are particularly new. There’s nothing original about the strategies we’re employing because they’ve been done in art a million times before, but it is new in terms of literature: actually applying some these methods across to literary works. I was obviously fascinated by Sherrie Levine and I think there’s something really amazing about taking a photo that is, to all intents and purposes, to anyone looking at it with a naked eye, exactly the same [as its source]. But they couldn’t be more different. I remember Douglas Crimp, a university professor had two pictures in his office, one by [Edward] Weston and one by Sherrie Levine. And students who came in to his office for a crit would say, ‘Hey Doug, why have you got two of the same image’ and Doug used to tell them, but it took half and hour to explain and after while he started saying, ‘you know, I liked it so much, I bought two’.

This is the Richard Prince problem with re-photographing the advert of the couple. It’s not the same as the thing.

It’s a philosophical problem, this. I don’t know if you know this piece but in 2011 Richard Prince did a facsimile copy of J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. Penguin recently brought out a facsimile of the 1950s edition of the book for thirty-one dollars. Richard Prince makes a totally perfect version of that edition, the only difference being is that it doesn’t say ‘J. D. Salinger’, it says ‘Richard Prince’. Penguin are selling their facsimile retro copy for thirty-one dollars, Prince sells his for sixty-two dollars. He puts a blanket out in Central Park, sits down on the blanket surrounded by copies of the book and sells it for sixty-two dollars saying that art is worth twice as much as literature. He says if you want a signed copy of my Catcher in the Rye it’ll cost you $59,500 which is what it would cost for a first edition signed by J. D. Salinger. The only other difference is that inside instead of their being a list of J. D. Salinger’s publications, it’s got a list of Richard Prince’s publications and on the colophon page, right at the end, it says ‘this is an art work by Richard Prince’ and then ‘copyright Richard Prince’. It’s a complete provocation on the idea that art and literature are not the same thing.

I was in Holland last week and I said to people ‘if you want to read Keroauc’s book, for God’s sake, by his book. I’m making art works; this is an art work. You don’t read an art work from left to right, top to bottom, in a linear manner. You might walk down the street thinking about it. You might chat to your mates about it at the weekend, you might have a chat in a bar about it. You might think think about it, but an art work is completely different in the way you engage with it.’

I was in the National Gallery and you can absorb a visual thing, all of it, in a moment. Which is why people go round very quickly. You can’t read great works of literature by just looking at them. There’s something different, a temporal unfolding.

But with Conceptual Writing you can. What Kenny calls ‘the wrapper’. You can get all of his books in one sentence flat. So, Soliloquy: ‘every word I spoke for an entire week’. Fidget: ‘every movement my body made during a day’. Getting Inside Jack Kerouac’s Head: ‘a facsimile reproduction of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, copied word for word, one page a day for an entire year’. In one sentence, and you don’t have to read it. I don’t want people to read it. If you want to read Kerouac, I suggest people buy the Kerouac. Mine’s a little bit annoying in the sense that it’s back to front, because blog posts by nature get pushed down. I brought it back into the analogue from the digital form and of course it’s back to front, but There’s a guy called Joe Hale who has copied mine which is called Getting Inside Simon Morris’ Head which is kind of nice because it’s going to put Kerouac back into the original [order]. There’s another guy online I could show you who has done a marathon retyping of Jack Kerouac’s The Subterraneans, which he typed up in twenty-three hours and fifty-eight minutes, non-stop. It’s beautiful to watch.

I asked Juan Cruz about this kind of durational work, though of course with a typing work there’s the production of a thing and it moves in one direction, but with his Translating Don Quijote there’s lots of back and forth, ers and ums, half-steps and revisions that reveal quite a lot about the text. It shows up this contingent quality of any translation. We have an idea that a text is fixed. Kerouac’s an ideal one as it was ‘typed’ and not really sculpted in a literary way…

Well, I don’t know, there are four essays at the beginning that talk about that particular piece. The scroll is the one he typed on a hundred and twenty foot piece of paper in very fast typing, but the last twenty pages were eaten by a dog called Patchkee. So the scroll, which was left with a friend, had the last twenty pages eaten by a dog. That version doesn’t exist. Earlier versions are in diaries that he was recording while he was actually on the road. Later versions, it goes through massive editorial changes to 1957, when Kerouac himself says they’ve ruined it and Allen Ginsberg says the original version of the scroll won’t come out until we’re all dead. And they were all dead – Burroughs, Ginsberg, Kerouac – by 2007 when it was printed, but they can’t print the last twenty pages. The point they make at the beginning in the essays is that there probably is no original version. There’s no definitive version of On The Road.

I didn’t know that, but when I was reading about Kafka, of course we shouldn’t have any Kafka because it should have all been destroyed by Max Brod, and there’s an argument that there was ‘destroy it’ and a wink. But Amerika was unfinished and we don’t know – and I’m no Kafka scholar – what the structure of these things was going to be. They were heavily edited, like The Wasteland, which is as much Ezra Pound’s as It is T. S. Eliot’s. This idea that there’s an original text is poppycock anyway. It seems to be literature, and maybe this is the interesting thing, that perhaps there’s a preciousness in the literary arts, something purer and maybe visual artists are happier to ride roughshod over things.

I think people are admitting this in literature too. James Joyce some seventeen different language, write the most amazing book – Ulysses – which has 30,000 different words in (a feat in itself and is the average vocabulary people have in their heads), and he said that he’d be happy to go down in history as a cut-and-paste man. It’s a little bit unkind, but it would be true. I’ve got a fantastic quote from Mark Twain, and he’s talking about the book he’s written and the epigraph he’s used, and he says to his friend ‘did you like the epigraph I used?’ and his friends answers ‘yes, I liked it the first time I read it.’ Mark Twain then says ‘what do you mean ‘the first time you saw it’?’. He said, well it’s the same epigraph as in Oliver Wendell Holmes’ book The Song in Many Keys’, so Mark Twain writes to Oliver Wendell Holmes: ‘Dear Mr Holmes, I’m so apologetic but in my first act of literary theft, I appear to have rewritten, completely without knowledge, a copy of your epigraph.’ Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote back: ‘Dear boy, do not worry about it. We all repeat things we’ve heard in conversation or have read before in other stories’. We’re all continuously recycling language. This idea of the original is a nonsensical one on almost every level.

And this kind of work, like Kate Briggs’ Exercise in Pathetic Criticism, exposes the idea that even if we agree on a text that we’ve all read, what we remember is flawed and broken and how, when returning twenty years later to read something that you love, you realise that it’s not very good or that you didn’t get it, and now you do. The ‘re’ thing changes everything and I think that the work that you’re doing, and that Yann Sérandour’s doing with art (and it was interesting when I interviewed him because he’s moving away from Conceptual Art and published pieces and starting to work with statuary and so on). […] when we look at a reiteration, it’s not the thing but we’re so used to seeing reiteration (Sherrie Levine, and so on) … Most people when they see them, see them in reproduction anyway, so they look like the original would look in a book, which reinscribes the importance of being present with the work.

I don’t think it’s about reproduction so much as a philosophical argument between a work of art and a work of literature. Rob Fitterman has talked about not requiring a readership but requiring a ‘thinkership’ and Goldsmith says the same thing in that he doesn’t expect anyone to read his books but he’s always amazed that people do. For example, Re-writing Freud is a scrambled version of Freud’s text, so why anyone would want to read that would be beyond me, but I’m taken with the idea that someone has shaken Freud and made the words come out differently.

Are you aware of the piece of work that Robert Good made that’s a facsimile of Bourriaud’s Post-production and he’s replaced every single word in the text with the word ‘word’. All the punctuation and paragraphing is correct, it’s about the same length and he sells it for the same price. You see it next to the Bourriaud and you think they’ve got lots of copies of Bourriaud. It’s painstaking and dumb and fantastic, but you wouldn’t read it. It’s a thing, an object…

It’s an art work, something to think about. It’s nice that people do these ideas. And the thing is, a guy from the Penguin Collectors Society wrote to me last summer. He was absolutely perplexed. He’d been on holiday somewhere in Britain and he’d picked up a copy of a Penguin edition of Freud in a bookshop, because he collects Penguin editions. He got home and was completely shocked when he opened it because it was Re-writing Freud, and not Freud. He was completely bemused. He wrote to me to say that he wanted to write about it for the Penguin Collectors, and I said absolutely. I love that someone picked it up by mistake.

So that closeness is working.

Yes, and thinking it was the original. I thought it was hilarious.

Is he okay with it?

Yeah. I sent him the Kerouac one as well to show him the sort of games that were being played. Recently there was one online that was very fascinating. The Mummy, Peter and Jane series…

Is this the art gallery one?

Yes. It’s almost got to the point the where Penguin UK were going to sue Penguin America, because Penguin America want to publish it and Penguin UK were saying ‘no way’. In the end they agreed that they’re both going to say ‘no way’ and give her lots of trouble. The idea of Penguin suing itself is just great (7).

This rearranging text is not a way of uncovering – because with Re-writing Freud it becomes a kind of automatic or automated writing – some kind of ‘hidden in plain sight’ meaning that’s sitting in the text by rearranging it. You’re more interested in the repurposing of the text than what that text ends up saying. Is that fair?

A friend made me an algorithm to take out all the words from a paper written about Gustav Metzger that we were doing called A Text That Destroys Itself In The Process Of Its Own Reading. Afterwards I asked if I could use the algorithm he’d made for that piece on the Freud. He was saying that he was thinking of doing it on Moby Dick, but I can’t see any reason for doing it on Moby Dick. The point about doing it on Freud is that he’s writing about dreams and dreams are upside down, back to front. I think that the sites that map these ideas onto are incredibly important.

It’s not arbitrary.

Right. Pavel Büchler has done a series of books based on Walter Benjamin’s Illuminations. He got Sharon Kivland and other colleagues around the UK to go to their local library to get a copy of Illuminations. I went to my local library in York to borrow the book and Pavel asked me a to photocopy a particular text like ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ and then he would transcribe the marginalia that had been written by students into the equivalent typographical form, delete the main text and produce them as books themselves. They were very lo-fi. Nick Thurston does the same thing with Reading the Remove of Literature, but it’s the level of intent and the book that Thurston picked on to do it on that matters so much. It’s the perfect book to do it on: Blanchot’s The Space of Literature because he’s talking about the reader becoming the writer.

And it’s also in the little decisions about the paper selection, font, the colophon page, the cover. This is where this kind of work is different from the arbitrary works that just comes out with text forever. Because there’s an attention to detail, a yardstick against which it has to be measured, and the new product has to carry the day somehow, by being able to sit next it. Yann Sérandour said that when he did his first piece (Twentysix Fire Stations) it had to sit between the two Ed Ruscha books that he was quoting. He first did it in Canada and just photocopied it because he didn’t have any money. Then he got some money to do it properly. He said that it was important to get that craft element by talking to printers and so on. Like someone could buy it by accident, thinking they’re getting a Ruscha. But in a way it’s apparent almost immediately that you’ve not got the thing.

People said to me about the Kerouac ‘why don’t you shave off your goatee and do your hair a bit more like Kerouac’s?’ I said ‘but that wasn’t the point. I wanted almost everything on the cover to look exactly… the typography, the type of clothes, the shadow, where the shadow was, the position of the two figures… And then for people to say ‘who the hell is this little fat man?’ It’s not trying to actually be Jack Kerouac, it’s to have fun as well with what they call the paratextual information, the cover and so on. It’s an interpolation of two books in fact: the Penguin Edition and the scroll. The scroll has no paragraph breaks, that’s the content that’s inside but all the paratextual information is form the 2001 version of the 1957 version of On The Road, because I wanted to play with that amazingly ridiculous cover.

There is always a shortfall. Antonine Berman talks about the deforming tendencies; there’s nothing you can do about it. You can’t help but clarify or tidy up. Even the things that you’re really careful about: being fair and honest with a straight translation of, for example, a novel, there are things you can’t get right. For example, if an English writer wrote about their childhood and wrote about Blue Peter and John Noakes. If it gets translated into Spanish, what does the translator do? Mention Blue Peter and John Noakes, or find an equivalent and insert someone else so that the reader can get it straight away, or do you put a footnote that explains it? And this is how translation creates a surplus. It always ends up making more. However you remake something, stuff will always pop out. I love the idea of the surplus. In Tom McCarthy’s novel Remainder the protagonist restates events and there’s often a stain left behind. He ends up with stuff on him. There’s always more. In fact you gain from translation. You end up with prefaces and footnotes. Even the paratext, it explodes outside the object when someone writes to you to ask you what you’re doing…

A curator friend of mine, years ago, was trying to debunk the idea of originality and said ‘just set your students the task of trying to copy someone else’s art work. They’ll soon find that it’s absolutely impossible, however hard you try and however diligent you are.’ I love the idea that a book can be almost identical, with exactly the same words in it but it can be completely different.  In the same manner as Sherrie Levine… the two pictures of Edward Weston’s son ostensibly to the naked eye look the same, but they couldn’t be more different in what they’re talking about and what they mean and I think that’s a fascinating place to be.

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Notes:

The actual quote is ‘dreams are the royal road to the unconscious’, and can be found in The Interpretation of Dreams.

Goldsmith quotes this in Uncreative Writing when writing about Morris’s work. p. 151. ‘The power of a country road when one is walking along it is different from the power it has when one is flying over it by airplane. In the same way, the power of a text when it is read is different from the power it has when it is copied out. The airplane passenger sees only how the road pushes through the landscape, how it unfolds according to the same laws as the terrain surrounding it. Only he who walks the road on foot learns the power it commands, and of how, from the very scenery that for the flier is only the unfurled plain, it calls forth distances, belvederes, clearings, prospects at each of its turns like a commander deploying soldiers at a front. Only the copied text thus commands the soul of him who is occupied with it, whereas the mere reader never discovers the new aspects of his inner self that are opened by the text, that road cut through the interior jungle forever closing behind it: because the reader follows the movement of his mind in the free flight of daydreaming, whereas the copier submits it to command.’ Walter Benjamin, Reflections, New York: Schocken, 1978, p. 66.

Roland Barthes, The Preparation of the Novel: Lecture Courses and Seminars at the Collège de France (1978-1979 and 1979-1980) trans. by Kate Briggs, New York: Columbia University Press, 2010.

4 Kate Briggs ‘On Table-making and Translation’ Columbia University Press Blog.

Although the text on the insert is indeed ‘a needle in a haystack’ the piece is actually called Supplement (2004).

According to Nirvanapedia Cobain and Krist Novoseliv (Nirvana’s bass player) did indeed form a Creedence Clearwater Revival tribute band but it was ‘not successful’.

The artist – Miriam Elia – has a website here.

‘Post’ – A pop-up show of drawings in support of my PhD

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As part of my PhD I was required to submit a ‘body of work’. for the archive, this will consist of three books: 365drawingsAfter After…, and one that contains seven interviews that cannot be sold under the terms they were granted.

For the benefit of the rapporteurs I wanted to display a lot more work and for them to see it in the flesh and to that end I installed a pop-up show in two galleries at Bank Street Arts in Sheffield. This is appropriate as it’s where the first work covered in my thesis – Gone – was made.

Below are some documentary shots of the two spaces. I will, in time, be producing a bound version of the thesis to match the other books and I will make but for now these are the images of the show.

Incidentally, I passed the viva…

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