Dec. 1, 2023

Translation Workshop: Translating Art Writing

Published May 16, 2023, 2:20 p.m. by Arrik Motley

Art is not a static object. It is in a constant state of flux, always evolving and moving forward. This is especially true for art that exists in the digital world. translation is one of the key ways that art can move forward, by allowing it to be accessible to new audiences in new languages.

translation is an essential part of the art world, and there are many different ways to approach it. One way is to attend a translation workshop. These workshops can be incredibly helpful, as they provide a space for people to come together and share their knowledge and experience with each other.

At a translation workshop, you will learn about the different challenges that come with translating art. You will also get to practice your skills by working on translations of artworks. This is a great way to improve your own translating skills, and to learn from other people who are also passionate about translation.

If you're interested in attending a translation workshop, there are many different ones to choose from. Art Platform Japan is one organization that offers workshops, and they have a wide range of different topics that you can choose from.

translation Art - translation workshop translating art writing by Art Platform Japan is a great way to learn about the different challenges that come with translating art. You will also get to practice your skills by working on translations of artworks. This is a great way to improve your own translating skills, and to learn from other people who are also passionate about translation.

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thank you everyone for joining me today

for this Workshop translating art

writing we have some 200 participants

registered for today's program which I

think gives some indication of uh sort

of the interest around this topic

and for those of you who

uh might not have noticed we sent out

some Suncoast studio uh in an email last

night that I prepared for you you can

also download it from the chat


um the Suncoast studio is not anything

uh that you need to prepare for

one of the documents is the style guide

that I prepared for the art plot from

Japan translation project

it's a reference that you can have on

hand and review at any time

uh both now and and uh afterwards in in

your translation practices

um there's also

a copy of the uh first Japanese

translation of the futurist Manifesto

which I will be introducing uh in the

presentation and then finally

um a very interesting document called

the prototaryability or in fact the

envelope for the prototaria be discussed


um which I will also be introducing uh

at the end of of the workshop as uh um

material that you could use to work on

on your own so to get started I'll just

explain a bit about myself I'm an art

writer editor and translator based here

in Tokyo

um and uh

I've been working across all those



but in particular uh

since 2020 I

worked as the the founding editor of the

art platform Japan translation project

and and through those experiences I've

had a chance to


work a lot with my own translation work

with other people checking my

translations and check other translators

so uh

today's presentation is going to be

based on on that experience but

to begin with I think it's also


to establish what we're talking about

when we talk about art writing so now

I'm going to share my screen

and I'd like us to begin



an art space

we are looking at one of the rooms from

the recent exhibition that was held at

the moriart Museum in Tokyo listen to

the sound of the Earth turning

our well-being since the pandemic

this is an installation view of yokono's


grapefruit an important uh book of of

instruction pieces

and that was published here in Tokyo in




you see that it is presented in the

exhibition space

if we go up close to one of the works we

see that it's a text

titled Earth peace listen to the sound

of the Earth turning which is the

namesake for the exhibition

um and

simply in

presenting these words

uh or simply in in reading these words

and visualizing what Yoko Ono is

proposing we are in fact now

essentially creating our own artwork or

uh visualizing our own artwork

um and so

I think it's really you know this was

one of the earliest


earliest examples of what we now know as

conceptual art where artists are using

words and language to create

works that are more or less immaterial

although of course we can see here there

is a material apparatus behind the text

there's paper there's ink there's a

frame and there are people uh

around me you can see the reflection of

someone in in the glass of the frame

that that informed the experience of the

work but uh

since you're going to in published

grapefruit in Tokyo in 1964


it's opened the door to many artists

working with words and language

here's another installation view from

the same exhibition of iama Yuki's uh

artwork we have a neon piece


in Japanese at the top of the screen and

then text in Japanese and English

uh at the bottom of the screen

the texts are visitor voices

uh you know this this is a work that is

dealing with uh domestic violence and

experiences of domestic violence and the

artist has asked people to contribute uh

their own comments about their

experiences with domestic violence and

masculinity and gender issues and those

who are in turn uh

presented on the wall of the exhibition

and translated as well so we see here

that you know whereas Yoko Ono's piece

is a sort of detached imperative

statement we can also have very uh

personal and

emotional content being presented as

both text and artwork in the space of

Contemporary Art




here's another piece from the same

exhibition by mayro koisumi good machine

bad machine which is an installation

comprising multiple videos

and Robotics as well as Articles of of

clothing and other sculptural elements

um what you notice is in the back

ground the screens have a sound element

but they also have

um subtitles in English and Japanese and

as part of the installation the artist

is also in the upper left

projected some of

the text or some of the some of the the

content from the videos onto the wall uh

as almost like a sculptural element

um and so from conceptual art

to today's exhibitions uh with the

prevalence of video art

uh I think it's just important to

recognize that text is very much

part of

art itself uh you know we're Familiar of

course with waltex that introduce people

to exhibitions we're familiar with

object labels that maybe explain

about artworks and also give precise

details about artworks such as

measurements and and materials

um and those are very much part of the

traditional apparatus of art but when we

talk about Contemporary Art in

particular we see that there's a lot of

fluidity between uh

artworks and art writing or art or text

and our artworks and that I think is

important to recognize

when we think about how to translate

Contemporary Art so I know there are

there are a lot of people who come from

different disciplines joining us today

uh the focus of today's presentation

will be on contemporary art


but it is also something that you can

you know in turn apply to uh

translations of of of craft or or

um pre-modern art for example


on some level


I wanted to actually I think it was

important to start off uh with uh one of

Yoko Ono's instruction pieces

uh because

there is

I think a lot of there's a pervasive


in the broader public

that that

you know art writing is somehow

something like The Emperor's New Clothes

that uh

it's it's

um sort of overburdened with uh


you know uh

sort of over complex uh

statements and thinking about what art

is or that it's creating uh you know

words out of nothing or or as


um and I think that's

a a perception that we have to confront

if we want to produce better

translations of art writing and if we

want to understand what art writing is



I think it's really necessary to take

art writing seriously as a genre

especially if you are in the business

position of being a translator what

we're looking at here is uh

an excerpt from an article that was

published in uh 2012 called

International art English where two



went through the Corpus of eflux which

is essentially an email listserv sending

out press releases for contemporary art


and they they took all that material and

uh put it in a text analysis program and

analyzed uh

you know

um the the type of language that was

being used to discuss uh Contemporary

Art and I'll I'll just read uh from

their opening uh synopsis The

internationalized Art World relies on a

unique language its purest articulation

is found in the digital press release

this language has everything to do with

English but it is emphatically not

English it is largely an export of the

anglophone world and can thank the

global dominance of English for its

current reach but convenience can't

account for iae our guess is that people

all over the world have adopted this

language because the disruptive

capacities of the internet now allow

them to believe or to hope that their

writing will reach an international


so ah

the the writers of this article somewhat

uncharitably take

art writing to task

as as

um sort of uh


sort of a mishmash of

non-standard English

but behind that critique is we can also


um a mistrust of

translation as well


and I think uh you know it's important

to understand that uh

in you know


that um

that uh

sorry let me gather my thoughts


you know that that people are uh

interested in in uh


internationally when it comes to

contemporary art

um so

I don't want to

necessarily make a value judgment about




you know what language is appropriate or

not for writing about

uh contemporary art


I think one thing that this article uh

does well and that that would be

interesting for you to uh

look up on your own is that it it does

at least identify uh

some of the uh characteristics of art

writing that make art writing what it is

so uh they go on to write

a iae has a distinctive lexicon aporia

radically space proposition biopolitical

tension transversal autonomy

an artist's work inevitably interrogates

questions and codes transforms subverts

embracades displaces

though often it doesn't do these things

so much it serves to functions to or

seems to or might seem to do these


iaea rebukes English for its lack of

nouns visual becomes visuality Global

becomes globality potential becomes

potentiality experience becomes

experiential ability

so Rule and Levine are scandalized by

this use of language which they identify

as somehow being deviant to Standard

English and which they in fact argue

stems from translations of French

critical theory

uh in the 1970s and 80s

um but

I think

nevertheless it it shows that there are


ways of using language that distinguish

art writing and if you're translating

out writing


it is important to think about how

people in the Art Space

use language to communicate and and and

it is important you know you don't

necessarily have to reproduce jargon


as is but but you should be aware that

people are using words that are

circulating within their uh professional

sphere and that these words have impact

as such especially you know one thing

that I see with uh Japanese to English

translations is that uh

you know this this sort of

use of constructive


components to create new words so visual

individuality you know shikaku into

shikaku say

uh tends to get flattened out and so

shikaku say instead of being visuality

will be translated as visual essence

and that that creates a different

register I would say maybe a more

conservative register and linguistically

speaking than what that writer in

Japanese might be doing

and I don't think we have to say that

English is one way or another you know

uh you know I think uh

English or all languages transform and

evolve through translation as much as

through the Innovations of its poets and

and writers


but so I think you know this

identification of

of a particular language


uh characterizes art writing is

something that uh Rule and Levine pinned

onto the rise of Internet culture but in

fact we can see going back uh

again into that period after Yoko Ono

emerged and and conceptual art emerged



artists have always been using language

in a quite particular way what we're

looking at is a text that Lawrence

wiener contributed to Art Journal

special issue on Words and word works

and if we read just the first of these

texts that you see at the top of your

screen we can get a feel for uh

winners unique approach to language

art is not a metaphor upon the

relationships of human beings to objects

and objects to objects in relation to

human beings but a representation of an

empirical existing fact

it does not tell the potential and

capabilities of an object material but

presents a real reality concerning that


so you have a very stripped down

language uh I think you know some people

on upon encountering it for the first

time might feel that it's it's difficult

to access but I think you know weiner

would say that he's trying to be as

Elemental as possible

uh one thing that happened with the

emergence of conceptual art is that

there was a reaction against the image

and imagery

and so you see that



winner is is trying to identify the

basic components of art without

resorting to uh

elaborate metaphors


and part of that is

using words such as objects

or relation

empirical existing fact but also

using a kind of redundancy or even

willful monotony so human beings to

objects and objects to objects in

relation to human beings

uh which has its own poetry and and uh

is you know it's hard to imagine this

existing as literature uh but neither is

it you know

technical technical writing uh or what

we would normally associate with art


we can see uh that

uh artists in Japan uh were also uh

you know working with similar ideas and

approaches to Art writing

um we're looking at the back matter of

which is one of the uh leading art

journals in Japan uh from the May 1972

Edition you see uh this ten nankai annai


which has uh exhibition upcoming

exhibition information on the top half

of the screen and then


uh short statements by artists uh

on the bottom half of the page

and I'm looking in particular at this

statement uh associated with Suga

kissio's exhibition uh

where we have things like work details

that have been inserted by the editors

but then we also have a statement

by the artist that was submitted to the

magazine and and inserted into the uh

exhibition announcement section so you

know where wiener is contributing to a

special issue on Words and and word

works uh we can nevertheless find even

in in sort of strange corners of the

magazine of magazines


significant art writing and since the

text is a little hard to read uh I've

I've typed it out uh this is suga's

statement uh in tandem with an

exhibition that he was preparing


uh so Suga is uh you know quite famous

uh for for his

uh difficult to parse uh writing


but I think if you look at the first

sentence for example

and you were to translate that think

about how to translate that into


a lot of times

translators tend to declutter the

Japanese they want to streamline it into


and if you saw this

structure you might just say okay well

this is a definition so a thing is that

which blocks The View

and then you might decide to streamline

it further into a thing blocks The View

and that might you know be considered

initially a stylistically strong English

translation but if you're aware of uh

what Lawrence winner and other artists

were writing in English around the same

time and you know that they were

engaging in in a kind of willful


then you might

realized that you know this repetition

of mono monowa nagames mono

is is part of the poetry


the writing and is as integral to the

writing as as sort of the broader

Concepts and in that sense you know with

this first sentence you might decide to

translate it is a thing is something

that blocks the view or a thing is that

thing which blocks the view

um so I think there are ways that

understanding uh the particulars of art

writing and being willing to lean into

the particulars of art writing uh can

lead to more sensitive uh translations

um for those of you who are not familiar

with the artist's work here is uh one of

the pieces that weiner has installed in

public in Amsterdam a translation from

one language to another so wiener is

working with language to make uh

language sculptural in a way that Yoko

Ono was working with language to to to


imaginary paintings for example and


refers to the to the um

to his art as language plus the

materials referred to so he's

using language in a sculptural way


this is an installation view of of uh

the work that is associated with the

statement by Suga kissio that I read

just now

and uh

you know what initially looks like

um sort of a complex uh

spatial installation

also kind of has a structural element to

it where he's playing

uh off relationships between one object

and another he's using

um these wires to

show relationships that extend across

space between one item and another and

show how

items or or the objects are

interdependent on each other


and you know Suga is is considered one

of the central artists of monoha which

is commonly translated as school of

things but I think you know the

interesting juxtaposition with Weiner is

that we know works with language in a

sculptural way whereas uh Suga works

with objects in a linguistic way


I'd so so you know we see how maybe uh

artists writing about are not

necessarily writing about art in an

explanatory way uh

but the ideas do feed into the actual

Works uh and it's important to to bear

that in mind I think another thing uh

that I just like to stress about

art writing is the incredible

multiplicity of its references so a lot

of art writing will of course start with

the work or or

describe a work or an exhibition

but here we're looking at the the first

spread from an article by the artist

takamatsujiro sekai kakudai

uh which I'm currently working on as an

editor with Ray kotomi who's a

pioneering uh translator and Scholar of

post-war avant-garde art

um but in this article or in this essay

takamatsu is

essentially proposing the idea of


fusai as a kind of engine for art and

Imagination but he does so

by drawing upon examples such as


he talks about

uh an office worker or a salaryman going

out on a date uh

and he talks about uh he he quotes from

sart he quotes from Einstein and so he's

drawing from a lot of different

registers of uh of reference and and


and uh and address



you know that multiplicity is important

but also I think again keeping in line

with with sort of the the through line

of of conceptual art


his notion of absence actually is really

at the at the core of both uh art

writing and in a sense translation too


um you know we can never quite uh reach

uh the object of our intent uh takamatsu

you know raises the example of a painter

who or of a young woman who who wants to

obtain the perfect Rose and is unable to

obtain it so she she takes up a

paintbrush and and paints a rose which

is an ideal Rose

simultaneously an ideal Rose but also an

Untouchable Rose


you know similarly Yoko Ono has a work

called uh painting to exist only when

it's copied or photographed in which the

instruction reads let people copy or

photograph your paintings destroy the

originals that's from Spring of 1964. uh


you know I think

conceptual art

recognizes how absence

is an important fulcrum of art and

translation and and and

that's echoed in

um a text by the French artist Daniel

Byrne who essentially

made works with uh Stripes colored

Stripes uh for most of his career

um but also wrote a lot about his art

and he talks about some of the uh

factors that drove him to Road such as

uh ranging from necessity to

um to to commission so sometimes he felt

it was necessary to correct uh or or

sort of take back the stage from the

critic and other times he would have

been commissioned to to write about his


but in an essay called why write which

he which Byron submitted to the same

words and word Works a special issue of

of art Journal

um and which he in fact uh composed in

Kyoto in 1981 uh

Buren gets to I think uh you know

re-articulates uh What uh I was what

takamatsu was also raising so uh

quoting from Buren nothing seems more

natural than to speak or write about a

plastic work it's through writing that

we find what we might call the visual

Works baptism of fire an essential

baptism baptism for silent works insofar

as only those which can emerge intact or

reinforced managed to prove they have

something to say beyond the written word

what a visual work has to say if

anything cannot be reduced to any other


that's why all the talk in the world all

the possible texts will end up saying

very little about what is essential to

the visual domain

and it's around that very problem posed

by the uncrossable and impossible

distance between two ways of saying that

the best the most comprehensible

writings about the visual arts

constitute themselves

um so

you know I think

obviously one of the key concerns in

Contemporary Art writing is how an

artist makes a work the process by which

an artist makes work but I think uh

you know

that process itself is

driven by uh silence or absence or

something that is unsayable and that

that you know as Buren uh notes that

that is that unsayability is is part of

the the drivers of the work of the

writing and that's what makes it nuanced

as well uh so I think when we're looking

at Art writing as as an object of

translation we we have to be attuned to

those nuances


that was an artist's perspective

on the other side we have uh one of the

leading critics of recent years who in

1994 was writing about his critical

practice for art form

uh Peter shadow

in critical reflections


brings up a text that he wrote as a

young critic which I think

is still quite meaningful uh certainly

for myself and apparently for him as

well uh throughout throughout his career


what do I do as a Critic in a gallery I

learn I walk up to around touch if I

dare the objects meanwhile asking

questions in my mind and casting a bot

for answers all until mind and senses

are in some rough agreement or until

fatigue sets in

I try not to think about what I will

write try to keep myself Pride open I

try to chase in my intellect with the

effort of attention which in

intellectual terms is doubt doubt being

the certainty that you're always missing


to stay as close as possible to

confusion anxiety and despair and still

be able to function as the best method I


so he's talking about his experience

as a Critic in a gallery engaging with

an artwork

and this

sort of

resistance you know to to or this this

need to keep himself Pride open and to

be open to doubt is I think an important

element of art writing

as much as absence uh and and so

uh you know it's something that again we

have to be sensitive to When We're

translating our writing that you know

we might not always get


everything in the order we expected we

might not always get everything uh

written as clearly as we expected but if

we follow through that process we can

arrive at some kind of recognition or

new perception of both the work and also

how we ourselves engage with works or

how we process the world even so so this

is a a very uh epistemological exercise

as well and and I think that's one

reason why art writing and criticism

share a lot of overlaps with

uh with philosophical writing for

example and obviously artists like

Weiner and and Suga even if they're not


specifically citing anybody are

influenced by their readings of

philosophy and and

critical theory


as a final rejoinder to the

international art English essay before I

move on to the second half of of the

presentation where I'll be talking about


sort of specific approaches to Art

writing I'd just like to


the first Japanese translation

of the futurist Manifesto which you have

in your Sanko Studio

and and are welcome to uh


you know read

on your own a lot of times when I do

workshops I I will have everyone uh

read the text out loud

um it's not possible this time but I

think if you do start to to kind of

cast your eyes over the text and

try articulating it you'll find that

there is a lot of resistance there are

uh obsolete kanji that are being used

they are obsolete

turns a phrase

and idioms

which uh you know even

contemporary Japanese readers would

struggle with so when I when I do the

readings of this text a lot of times

people have to stop and start over they

have to ask someone next to them for

help with the character


and I think this text which is sort of

you know a flawed translation of a

flawed document


nevertheless you know is is valuable as

a record

of an exchange that happened in time

um in a specific time under specific


and so

you know I think

of course as as you read the text you

encounter the frustration of dealing

with obsolete text which is ironic in in

that this is the futurist Manifesto and

so there's a bit of a kind of

uh contradiction uh in in time taking


uh you will also come across quite uh

incendiary comments such as war is the

only hygiene of the world or uh you know

misogynistic comments uh which are in a

sense neutralized by the obsolete

language but also become more surprising

or more shocking and

precisely because we have to make the

effort of of decoding that language


you know but

so you could say that you know

this this translation needs to be

replaced it needs to be updated

and I think that

is really one of the keys

of of translation

uh and that is what excites me about

translation is that it is constantly

updating itself

um but another thing that I want to uh

share about this text is that of course

it was

uh it is also an artifact of of how uh

Contemporary Art writing was

multilingual from from you know the

start of the 20th century so it was

written by a an Italian man who had been

raised in Egypt and various drafts of

the futurist Manifesto were in fact

circulated in Italian uh literary

journals prior to the definitive version

being published in the French newspaper

Le Figaro in in February 1909 and this

Japanese translation

by Maury ogai in fact appeared in in May

1909 in the inaugural issue of a Subaru

the literary journal Subaru so


you know I think it's it's a it's a

really fascinating

document of how uh

uh you know whether it's English or or

French or other languages that happen to

be dominant at that time art writing is

nevertheless uh in you know

occurring at the intersections of

multiple languages



you know another

important document in that regard is the


datis constructivist uh

uh art group Marvel's Journal which they

published from 1923 to 1925


you can see

on the front cover of their first issue

they they have uh a translation of poems

by Kandinsky

next to an illustration of a kind of

constructivist object created by one of

their members

and the magazine was uh

a repository for different translations

of Vanguard thought coming from Europe

and and the USSR

he was also a place where Japanese

artists and creators published you know

data their own dadist poetry their own




plays uh but if you turn over the


and look at the back side of it they

also have a list chimok sabeki sekai




includes avant-garde magazines from

around the world this style for example

from the Netherlands disturb from


there's also block from Poland and at

the very bottom you see Marvel included

in that list

and what this says to me is that you

know I think uh being International is


is not necessarily something that you

would actualize specifically by by going

around to different parts of the world

but it's also a mentality it's a

projection of yourself into the world

and it almost doesn't matter whether

that projection is is reciprocated but

uh you know I think in that sense Marvel

which was

written entirely in Japanese projected

itself into the world

as an international entity

by translating texts from English and

other languages German and other

languages into Japanese

and so that's a powerful statement uh

for maybe sort of an ethical position on

what translation can achieve and what

translation means

when you know we're faced with with a

situation where you know you might say

well we don't have enough money to

commission a translation or we're under

uh you know a time crunch so let's just

put something out there of course having

some English is better than no English

in you know in the case of reaching an

international audience but


uh I think

there is

something you know

worthwhile it is worthwhile to pursue a

better translation whatever the


uh by keeping these other things in mind

um so I'll very quickly run through some

fundamentals of uh translation which

I found a crop up as issues in art



you know I mentioned uh the absence of

takamatsujiro and of course Japanese is

famous as a language where uh it's

common not to have subjects as well as

direct objects uh in sentences

um and this is something that I find uh

trips up a lot of of translators

when they're going through the


and it doesn't matter whether you're a

native English speaker or native

Japanese speaker it doesn't matter

whether you're a new translator or an

experienced translator

you know somewhere along the way there's

going to be a really gnarly sentence uh

that has an unstated subject potentially

unstated direct objects potentially

unstated subject changes so I just like

very quickly to to review these

fundamentals uh through some very simple

examples uh

to show how

in turn these these quite simple and

seemingly self-evident translations can

become very difficult when they get

expanded into more complex scenarios so

the first thing we're looking at is a a

complete sentence sentence in Japanese

gen diabetes again diabetes and the

copula da is what tells us that it's a

complete sentence


and so if you wanted to reflect uh the

fact that the Japanese is a complete

sentence when he translated into English

you would need to supplement a subject

uh in this case it or this is

Contemporary Art


there are also uh

you know issues around active verbs

where in Japanese writing you don't

necessarily have to have the subject of

the active verb and you don't

necessarily have to have the direct

object of the active verb so a sentence

like successda

uh would you know if you wanted to

reflect the fact that there was an agent

performing an action on something you

would translate as I you we they made it

not it was made and this is something

that I see a lot in in art translations

where an artist is talking about

um their creative process

and they use an active verb like

successda and then the translator puts

it in a passive voice and it changes the

agency of of


of the text and we also have to keep in

mind that with art writing there are

multiple agents floating around or

multiple subjects floating around

there's there's usually an artist and a

viewer as well as sometimes the artwork

itself or art itself and so

um you know sometimes if an artist wants

to give agency to an object it's

important to you know be attuned to that

through the use of verb inflections

obviously the direct object marker o

will also alert you uh to the presence

of a subject

when even when it's not made explicit

uh example three successita a made or

let B make it so you have uh a subject

uh and an indirect subject uh in tandem

with a direct object uh four success

I you we they found the files that IU we

they made

were made to do it and here we also see

uh you know

how singular and plural uh

are encoded into a

you know grammar differently between

Japanese and English

um you can also rephrase this as they

made me do it uh potentially when you're


a lot of times you might say it was

thrown out but you can also put this in

an active construction with a subject it

got thrown out


and then uh

you know when you're translating really

complex art writing it's important to be

mindful of the distinctions between wa

and GA and how those inform uh subject

Hood uh so ABC

versus ABC


would be ABC is

whereas ABC got t equal to that would be

it this means that a b c d you know so a

lot of times uh I think when people are

translating they immediately assume that

both wa and GA identified the subject of

the sentence

uh but that's not always the case a lot

of times God will identify uh the

subject of a relative Clause within the

sentence or a noun clause within within

the broader sentence

and this is something that can really

trip you up uh when you're working on a

complex uh sentence


I just mentioned relative clauses this

is an example from Kishi osuga's writing

that uh you know I think

has really stayed with me uh as an

example of how tricky these unstated

subjects can be uh

this is a fragment from a sentence and

if you're just looking at it as a

fragment uh you might be inclined to

think that is the 10 the point that is

not moving so the distance from one

unmoving point to another unmoving point

but in fact this is part of a broader

section in which Suga is writing about

buddhao dance and jazz dance

and and so

understanding that context if you reread

the the the fragment you would

understand that there is a subject uh

that is moving and

um you know the better reading of this

sentence would be something like the

distance from one point where the dancer

does not move to another point where the

dancer does not move


so you know after you identify that

you could always go back and rephrase

the sentence in a way you know you could

say the distance from one point of not

moving to another point of not moving

there are certainly other ways to

translate it but it helps uh to clarify

what's going on in the sentence if you

can pinpoint whether there's a subject

there or not we also see in noun Clauses

something like uh uh Anatole against

you must not forget about being an

artist versus you must not forget that

you are an artist uh you know it's

necessarily whenever you see a complete

sentence or or you know a complete

Clause within a sentence It's always

important to check whether there's a

missing subject or not


and again you know this is where you can

get uh tripped up when when there might

be multiple subjects in a sentence that

are unstated

um you know I think

the classic example of an unstated

subject is is where you have a a subject

that is introduced in one sentence and

then it carries over into the next

sentence so uh this example I have here


is so

we have the subject

any individual thing or individual

things introduced in in one sentence and

although there is no uh

subjects stated explicitly in in the

next sentence

is referring to coconomono from the

previous sentence and so we need to

carry that over into the next sentence


in order to have it make sense

uh in order to also complete the

artist's thought we also have cases of

of subject misdirection

uh again centering around the use of

onega this is uh a sentence that I took

from a children's book called

karasinopanyasan but I you know I I

really like it uh

so if you're reading it as especially an

English native reader and you see you

see okay

your first inclination is to carry that

subject over uh to the to the end of the

sentence and you would come up with

something like reading a customers

gradually stopped coming to buy bread

and they got poorer and poorer but I



I would hope that it's it's already

relatively evident that it is not the

customers who are getting poorer and

poorer uh but the Bakers who are getting

poorer and poorer so customers gradually

stop coming to buy bread and the Bakers

got poorer and poorer uh or if you

wanted to reflect the Bakers as as the

subject of the entire sentence uh

specifically bimbo ni not techimasta you

might in fact uh

put them at the front of the sentence as

an example see the Bakers got poor and

poorer as customers gradually stopped

coming to buy bread

um you know I think both B and C are are

on some level or fundamentally

acceptable translations uh of this

sentence but you know again


you you have to uh just be on the

lookout for these sort of subject

unstated subject shifts

uh one of the most important

things in in translating art writing is

the issue of singular and plural


a lot of times you know if you if you

make reference to a work or a component

of a work in Japanese it's not

necessarily the state specifically uh

whether it's one component or multiple

components in this example uh

the writer is talking about a work by

sugakishio Mado Society

so if you just read it as a fragment you

might say the important early work

infinite situation made just by propping

open a window with a piece of Timber

but if you look at the actual work which

you can see at the bottom of the screen

it's not just one window and one piece

of of Timber it's two windows and two

pieces of Timber

and so

that would in fact you know if you

wanted to be uh

accurate about the nature of the work uh

that would prompt a revision to

something like an important early work

infinite situation made by just made

just by propping open windows with

pieces of Timber and then the question

as a translator is you know how how

specific do you get do you say do you

leave it at windows and pieces of Timber

do you say some windows and some pieces

of of Timber do you specify two windows

and two pieces of Timber


and and and uh and I think in in

rereading this you can also see how

maybe the writer is is shortchanging the

nature of the work by trying to focus on

its Simplicity when in fact Suga has

deftly created

a quite complex work that challenges

Notions of of of

Singularity or originality uh in



in that sense there's a there's an

article by Suga uh from from a busy

statue of talks you a special issue on

constant in raccoons brancusi which is

is a significant too


Suga starts off his essay talking about

the translation of uh bronchusi's

the title of brancusi's infinite column

into Japanese and he mentions

specifically the infinite column that is

installed in Targa Jew in Romania in


um but by the end of the essay he talks

about his experience uh

in Paris when he was there for the the

Paris biennale

uh looking at


a room full of infinite columns in uh

the Museum of Modern Art

and so you know I think

once you get to the end of the of the

essay and you realize that he's talking


a work that is not just one singular

piece but multiple has multiple uh

editions it sort of changes how you

approach the translation and you have to

go back and think through revisit the

translation and see whether you know you

you have to distinguish whether he's

talking about the target juice piece

specifically or whether he's talking

about the body of work uh infinite


and so there are all these things akin

to the to the the hidden subject or the

missing subject where



where uh

sorry um

where where

references multiply


I also just mentioned quickly issues of

referentiality It's always important to


try and look at images of works if

possible when you're translating

um there's a a text on Noble secondary's

seminal piece of

of monoha art phase mother earth

in which the writer refers to that

installation or that work as all

thoughts are happening and if you just

take the text at face value you might

say uneven happening or bumpy happening

as possible translations

but when you look at the

actual work and you see that uh the

artist dug out a hollow sphere in the in

the earth and then presented uh

has sort of uh a sculptural

representation of that Hollow uh

next to to the whole uh you you and if

you go back and look at the characters

then you would realize that the the

authors may be using those characters

almost pictographically

and so you might come up with a reading

of concave convex happening or in out

happening neither of which are

necessarily perfect uh renderings but

they get closer to maybe the effect of

the Japanese


you know so so

uh when you're doing translations it's

important to to kind of fact check and

um look at

The Works cross-reference the works

against descriptions here's a a

description of a work from


an essay in 1964 that mentions a piece

by hiroka hiroko which had a tape

recorder that released concrete sounds

when the viewer comes close to it

uh and so in doing research uh when I

worked on this translation I was able to


you know I I went through different

reviews of of the piece and was able to


how the work was put together and that

then informs the translation and and and

so you can be more precise with the


um it also makes a difference because

sometimes uh you know this is

um an article reviewing the yomi Yuri

independent exhibition which was a

really important exhibition for anti-art

practices at the end of the 50s and in

the 1960s it was an open exhibition and

you have many artists

um exhibiting together in a Summit

chaotic environment and so I think

during the editing process one of the

editors raised the question whether you


whether hiroka's work was the actual

work emitting the sound or whether the

sound wasn't coming from a work nearby

and so that was something

in going through a

sort of archives uh you know of of art

writing we were able to confirm that uh

hiroka's work was the one that that was

indeed uh emitting the sound and that

made a big difference on how we are you

know finalizing the translation even if

the initial translation uh the initial

reading of the text was not so far off

um finally I'll just introduce a

an approach to dialogic translation you

know I think with missing subjects and

objects and with references it's very

difficult for any single translator to

stay on top of everything and so uh I

really encourage people to to use a

dialogic approach uh if you're you know

a lot of times you will be working on on

your own but uh you know even if if your

commissioned to translate uh an essay a

curator's essay for a catalog you still

have the curator

as as someone to bounce ideas off of and

and so


I always like to use the comments

section uh of Microsoft Word or whatever

uh program you're working with to just

identify points

that I'm a little unsure about which

could be fact-checking details for


uh in this deck copy there's a reference

to the yomir independent uh creating

excitement since it's an Inception in


and and the actual exhibition started in

1949 so you know there was a back and

forth to determine what that meant

exactly was this a factual error on the

part of the original writer or or was it

a reference to something else


you know they're also

context-specific wordings so

uh you know the Japanese makes reference

to uh

which you could interpret as the new


but in fact the yomiri under Panda was

held every year in February and March

and uh you know so in confirming that

detail we change the translation to the

spring rather than the new year which we

sort of was a localization for uh

international Readers even even though

the Japanese is is sort of

um you know

evident to Japanese readers


so I've gone a bit over time


um you know I think

a and and because of the the the volume

of of people joining us today we weren't

able to do any interactive uh

exercises but I've shared this

proletariability document with you uh

because it might be interesting for you

to try on your own


I think it's a fascinating document

which touches on some of the issues

about sort of the internationalism of

art language

uh or art writing as well as uh some of

the details that that sort of crop up

when we're dealing with historic texts

some of the opacities that crop up when

we're dealing with historic attacks

um just to go over some of the features

quickly you know uh this is a an

envelope that contained


uh full color reproduction postcards of

selected works from the proletarian art

exhibition of 1930

and so it's it's an object for one thing

uh where you know this is the front this

is the back and on the back covered text

we have slogans from the proletarian art

movement which uh you know are in

Japanese but they're certainly in

dialogue with with uh slogans from uh

socialist movements elsewhere in the

world and so when you're translating

those you might want to refer to uh you


translations of of Russian uh socialist

thought or you might want to refer to

translations of Chinese socialist

thought you can draw from

a pool that uh

of a lexicon that goes beyond just mere

Japanese to English translation uh

there's also a quote from uh Lenin here

which is interesting you know I think if

you were to translate it you would maybe

come up with a rough translation and

then Google to see whether this quote

has been translated into English

um there's text

stating the objectives of the

proletarian art movement there's also

this fascinating


section called Leo Leo ho so

instructions for use

which states how you know the the

postcards are intended to be distributed

at workplaces or in the home uh and so

there's a lot of different things you

can play with in terms of approaching

the translation uh it's difficult to see

on your screen this is also an era when

there was censorship and and and

increasing policing of thought in Japan

so you have

x a a as in uh or camp and

here at the bottom you also have extra

two nodoshi and so

this is a very uh kind of real example

of how


things that might have been relatively


in the text

at the time when it was written become

less self-evident and and

so you know you might have to approach

this as a kind of archaeological

exercise to dig into uh different

writings about uh sort of

uh socialism in Japan or social

movements in Japan as well as uh you

know thought police and things like that

in Japan in order to identify

what those missing parts are and then as

you know as a translator you would also

have to consider how much to translate

of that missing content would you uh say

x-camp uh in your translation or would

you if you were able to identify what

the reference is would you simply insert

the reference would you use a footnote

um it raises up a lot of possibilities

for all the different tools that we can

use to to

flesh out our translations

so uh thank you for your patience

uh and and for bearing with me we'll go

into questions now

and uh

the first question we have is from

Brendan C

for your subject misdirection example

can you see an argument for retaining

the unstated nature of the subject as

seen in Translation a in some ways they

which could refer to the Bakers or the

customers in common English use usage

most closely models the vagueness of the

source sentence how do you approach the

question of when to extrapolate and make

explicit elements that are given

implicitly in the Japanese yeah you know

I think


you know

you can always go back and consider

uh how much

to make explicit uh you know with with

these missing subjects and missing


um I think

for art writing it's important to

understand that

art writing is granular it's dealing

with how we engage with objects a lot of

the time

it's dealing with

um how objects you know sit on top of

other objects it's dealing with things

like body position


and and uh relations between one actor

and another or one object and another

and so

with art writing I think it helps to to

sort of lean into that granularity


because you know it's it's it's not

always obvious in the Japanese but it's

there in the Japanese and I think that's

you know ultimately what writers are

trying to get at


uh you know when they're talking about

their engagement with art or engagement

with artworks

um yeah let's see if we have uh any

other questions

um feel free to send them in


we have a question from kanamiyazawa how

do you translate historical materials

where the artists in Focus are no longer



yeah I think uh

you know you have to start with the text

uh and do a close reading of the text

and then you have to Branch out from

there and and uh and continue uh

building a structure for approaching the

text that goes beyond just what you have

in front of you and that's that's I

think one of the points that I wanted to

make with uh with the missing subject

examples is that there's a lot more

happening around the text than what we

see uh in front of us in the text

um so with with a historical

figure who is no longer alive

you might

want to read extensively in all of their

writings to get a sense for what their

concerns are what motivates them how

they use language whether they have any

recurring terminology that they rely on


and you can also read criticism of their

works you know there's a lot of uh

intertextuality that is that is

happening particularly in art writing

because it is a conversation that is

going on between different people

across texts


so looking at how other writers have

described that artist looking at for

example uh


uh what gets quoted by other writers

when they're talking about that artist

so you know I you know I I showed you

these exhibition statements from kishio

Suga and those in fact do get quoted by

people writing about uh suga's art and

that tells us something about how those

texts were presented how they were

received and their importance to the

artist's practice


I'm trying to think if there is there's

anything else also you know interviewing

people who who uh had interactions with

the artist if if those people are still


um interviewing other specialists in the

artist you know I think uh there's no

reason to limit your your yourself to to

to to to kind of your own knowledge you

can you can draw on on Knowledge from

other people

um and you can also draw on a sort of


connections uh

you know so so I I have been translating

uh suga's collected writings over the

past few years that's why I I drew upon

Him extensively for this presentation


but in in that process I happen to meet

a Korean translator who is working on

translating Liu funds texts from

Japanese into Korean and you know we

were able to have a really interesting

exchange about

um how these two peers uh who were

Central to the moonaha movement

approached language uh in different ways

and how they understood Concepts such as

mono which is suga's preferred term

versus jibutsu

which is a term that Liu fun tends to

use more often so so there are all kinds

of ways that you can kind of


Branch out from the text proper and I

think when you're doing something that

has historic value it's worth the effort


and I think that's what gives it

you know added value Beyond just the

Google translation

uh let's see we have another question

from sayaka Takahashi as a non-native

English speaker I would like to know any

tips for checking or copy editing of

translated texts especially the fine

nuances is very hard for us if you have

any guidebooks that would be appreciated



I guess you're talking about checking

somebody else's translation


from Japanese into English I think you

know as I mentioned the the missing

subject is is sort of one of the key

cruxes around which a lot of

misinterpretations happen also singular

plural and context-specific references

to to to works in terms of


you know guidebooks or or something you

know I think it helps to have a

technical understanding of the Japanese


and a technical understanding of the

English language that's why in the

survey I was curious to know if people

were working with something like Chicago

Manual of style


and if you can bring that technical

understanding to reading the Japanese

text and thinking about how to put it

into English or vice versa then then

that improves uh the possibilities for


how you can decode particularly complex


there are also a

you know there are really great

references for thinking about

the Japanese language and how to

translate Japanese into English Yoko


has produced a Rutledge course on

translation that you could look for

there's also

Judy wakabayashi's recent book on

translating Japanese

uh and so reading one of those books or

reading multiple of those books would

would help to you know both whether

you're a translator as a or or or a

checker would help you to get a hold on


techniques or or strategies for

translating Japanese into English and I

would also say for native English

speakers who are translating uh Japanese

into English and having Japanese native

speakers check their work you know I

think it's really important to be open

and receptive to what the checkers are

saying I think you know I've noticed

that people tend to get a little prickly

about having their translations checked

and it's easy to say well I'm the native


um you don't know what you're talking

about but I think you know a lot of

people in Japan especially in the art

scene are you know quite competent in

English they're reading text in English

uh and they're they're reading

specialist literature in English and so

you know I think it's important to be


uh to to to their uh viewpoints when

they when they raise them and also you

know think of it as a dialogue uh so you


um you know start from a question is

this the right reading and then you can

take it from there and a lot of times

those sort of fuzzy intuitions about

about whether something is is

being translated to the well or not it

can lead to interesting discoveries

um let's see

from Jennifer Pastore if you have to

choose do you prioritize the writer or

the reader of the translated text

faithfulness to original versus

readability accessibility yeah I think

this is something that you have to

approach on a case-by-case basis

with the art platform Japan translations

we wanted to

have something that would mirror quite

closely the the Japanese text so that

way bilingual researchers both Japanese

and English and other

languages uh could could read the

translations and compare them to the

Japanese and use them as an aid to their

own research but I think there are other

cases where

um you know

focusing on readability as you say uh is

more appropriate I just you know again

with the reason I brought up the

examples of wiener and Suga is that

sometimes what we think is readable is

not necessarily what the artist is going

for uh when it comes to Art writing and

art writing is not always interested in

conforming to

um you know the standard values of the

of the broader Society uh you know I

think a good term for that in Japanese

is hetauma where a lot of artists will

willfully go against the grain of what

is considered uh acceptable or or






sorry and also I have a comment from

Lynn Riggs who's

joining us uh the you know the reference

to Yoko hasagawa's book is The Rutledge

course on Japanese translation

um let's see


so uh here's a comment from

curious to hear any concrete tips

especially resources that are available

for those uh not affiliated with


I think we've covered this already but

again you know you might want to check

out some some texts on uh

Japanese translation


I recommend you know reading through the

Chicago manual style and or some other

style guide and figuring out uh you know

understanding different approaches to to

working with English I also recommend uh

reading art writing as much as possible

if you're interested in pursuing more

translation of art writing there are

online journals like art form or freeze

that are posting quite you know

I haven't you know art form would have

like 300 word reviews of exhibitions

from around the world and so you can go

online and read one of those daily and

over time build up

a pretty good understanding or build up

your understanding of of what's

happening in art discourse and and you

know what uh terms are are kind of


um in the art discourse


let's go to another question


from an anonymous question or do you

have any rules for when how to involve a

copy editor Checker in the process


you know I think ideally

all English writing would go through an

editing process and typically for for

example with English magazines or

exhibition catalogs produced by uh you

know museums in the U.S there will be a

kind of a commissioning editor

who works with the writer on uh sort of

the big picture

uh aspects of the text

there will be a copy editor who works on

the technical aspects of the of the text

and then

there would also be a proofreader

who's checking the text in layout and

and uh

able to to again recommend tweaks to to

the writing so

all English text in the Contemporary

area era generally goes through a quite

rigorous editing process although that

is of course changing with with the

increase of online platforms such as

blogs and news aggregators and whatnot

but um but if you're writing on for for

a a formal


occasion uh or or a formal venue then

then there would be an intensive editing


um and so you know I think fundamentally

uh translation is no different once it's

being presented as an English text uh

it's worthwhile to put it through an

editing process and that at that point

it's up to the translator to negotiate

with the editors about you know what is

an appropriate edit or not to the

translation it's important for the

translator to communicate to the editors

and what are the stylistic features of

the text that that make that text what

it is and then work around that uh but

but all translations benefit uh from

editing and you know the problem is that

in Japan of course

institutions are are sort of maxed out

in terms of budget already you know

simply in putting aside money to

commission someone to translate a

catalog essay is a big commitment uh

it's a substantial Financial commitment

it's also a time commitment

um and so you know a lot of times what

happens is is we as translators end up

you know being our own we're first of

all the translator then we we have to be

our own uh copy editor and and sometimes

we might have some interactions uh with

with the curator or whoever commissioned

the text and get a little feedback but

um it's rare to have editing beyond that


I think you know that that's just a you

know one of the tough facts of being in

Japan but that's why I I think it's

important to be fundamentally sound in

your readings of the Japanese text and

fundamentally sound

in in how you're putting out the English

um as well you know in in terms of using

English uh technically

let's see

we're down to the last five minutes or



if anyone has another question uh feel

free to submit


you know I think



Workshop is just a start and and there's

a lot of


a lot more topics that we could go into

in terms of of translating art writing

or what makes uh art writing


unique or uniquely challenging to work



you know I think having a Passion about

art is is also important uh taking art


is important you know I'm sorry I I

didn't quite uh deliver the uh reference

to International art English uh in the

way that I I would have liked to at the

beginning but


it is easy to be cynical about art

writing sometimes and there certainly is


you know there are better art writers

and and worse art writers and and it's

not always pleasant when you're the

translator who's working on a text that

is not


you know

you know does not

flow naturally from one language to the

other or does not you know seem to be


particularly strong uh in the in the

original language even but you know I

think uh if you're

if you're entering into that agreement

to to translate somebody's writing then

I think you you know you owe it to them

to to to take that writing seriously and



try and understand

uh what the writer hopes to express in

the case of of of a living writer you

know it is possible to dialogue with

them uh so and you know if you've been


commissioned to translate a catalog

essay and someone makes a reference to

you know kishu suga's infinite situation

and they say you know it's a piece that

was made by propping a piece of timber

in a window and you look at the image

and you realize hey it's not just one

window it's two windows

you could go back and say is this really

what you wanted to say or

um is it significant that they're

is more than one window

and that would create a dialogue that

could then lead to


you know the the original writer


you know their their the original text

uh not just the translation and and I

think uh you know writers are generally

appreciative of that I also have a lot

of experience


you know

having my writing translated into

Japanese in particular because I am one

of the editors of the online

art publication art it and for the past

uh you know since 2010 I've been doing

some five or six interviews with artists

every year uh that come out as you know

long form four thousand to five thousand

word interviews and I've been checking

those interviews when they're translated

from English into Japanese


every time and and and and I you know I

think uh as a writer I'm really

appreciative of being translated it you

know it

I you know I I'm happy that I'm reaching

a different audience uh than what I

would ordinarily be able to to reach and

and you know I'm always happy to work

with the translator to

um improve the translation especially if

the translator brings issues to me uh


you know I think a lot of writers are

just simply happy uh to be to be

translated uh full stop and so that's

something that you know as a translator

you can you can


give somebody uh so yeah I mean I think

the reality of translation in Japan is

that we have you know people who are

native Japanese speakers people who are

native English speakers

people who are coming from an academic

background people are coming from uh you

know a self-taught background uh people

who are art Specialists people who are

not art Specialists but I think you know

we can all work together uh to to

increase the pool of of of

Japanese art writing in Translation and

and I think that


you know

in the process as you gain experience

you will find uh a path to to a sort of

better art translation if you if you

take it seriously so we're out of time

uh I really appreciate everyone for for

joining again uh and uh I I you know I

think I I imagine that there will be

opportunities for more uh workshops like

this in the future thank you


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