In the art and exhibition system we encounter hegemonic structures and patterns of action that can be consciously or unconsciously reproduced, but also effectively deconstructed through and by a curatorial practice.
Two practices that have the potential to do so are translation and repetition of a given content, languages, narratives and patterns of action.
Translation and repetition are mutually dependent: a translation is not translated freely from and outside of prevailing discourses. Thus there is the possibility that hegemonic structures inscribe themselves into it and are thus repeated. A repetition, in turn, often implies translation: a work is repeated in another context, shown in front of a different audience or under a different motto and thus translated.
From the different perspectives of the respective practice, the following complementary texts collect notions on how to critically reflect on hegemonic structures in a curatorial practice and ultimately attempt to deconstruct them.
Translation as a curatorial practice: Becoming aware of oneself
Reflecting on translation as part of a critical curatorial practice sheds light on many different aspects: the meanings of objects can be translated and explained; attitudes and positions can be translated into different contexts and environments; a motto can be translated into works of art, into spatial designs, or into a whole programme; one language can be translated into another – and here we are not only thinking of languages in the narrow sense of the word but also of languages and codes specific groups and communities use. Narratives can be translated as well, but pieces of information can also be translated into in this case mostly hegemonial narratives to form a coherent and accessible storyline.
Translation also helps those working within the curatorial field to “dimensionize” themselves and their work: It helps to become aware of the relational character of one’s own work, of one’s own positionality. It also reminds us that despite being part of a globalised network, our practices can also be deeply rooted in local traditions. It helps us to think about the other and their perspectives, and by thinking of them also making them visible in the first place. With this in mind, translation might have the potential to contribute to a decolonization of the fields we are working in.
The following texts reflect the specific questions (missing) acts of translation within the curatorial field might raise: “The missing link” explores the question of what might happen if translation is omitted. “Translating methodologies, adopting attitudes” sheds light on the potential of the curatorial as a critical and decolonizing practice whereas “Translating into dominant structures” points to the dilemma that showing the unseen does not always deconstruct hegemonial structures but can also (unwillingly) strengthen them. “Limits of translation” highlights the fact that attempts of translation are not always successful, but maybe they don’t even need to since what might be perceived as a failure can offer a lot for us to learn about our own work.
The missing link
Ethical dimensions of translating
Translation as a curatorial practice helps to make things visible, it helps to understand, and it helps to include audiences that would otherwise be mere onlookers. It also helps to clarify what has been aware of, what has been acknowledged, thought through, and nevertheless abandoned. It enables the curator/the curating artist to add a letter to his/her sent-off that opens up at least one of the many possible perspectives of contextualizing a curatorial project – and in its reflective character is able to give justice to those that are directly or indirectly affected by the curatorial work . It is thus an inherent aspect of a curatorial approach that takes the ethical dimension seriously and as such a useful if not necessary tool to reflect on / the process of / showing.
So what happens if the curatorial fails to translate / the process of / showing? Translation being understood as both translating from one language to the other as well as translating expertise and knowledge, words, phrases and expressions for those that are not part of the inaugurated circle (yet).
Once it forgets, or even worse, refuses to translate, the curatorial and thereby the art and culture it is showing either redevelops into or continues to be an exclusive space. It thus cements the hegemonic and dominant structures it itself – as a critical practice – heavily questions. In the very moment of omitting translation, the curatorial perpetuates them.
But translation as a curatorial practice does not only mean to translate the sent-off as it is seen from a curatorial perspective, it also implies translating it in as many different perspectives that can be possibly thought of – in order to detect ethical pitfalls and to develop a position on it. Here, translating would enable the curatorial to become aware of its own privileges, its subjective perspectives, and enable it to deal with them in a politically conscious way.
Translation offers the potential for a curatorial practice to become accessible for and respectful to different audiences, thus making the meaning produced relevant in many more ways while at the same time escaping the danger of self-referentiality and self-centrism. But is there an ethical duty to translate? Out of respect for different audiences and the awareness of their diverse perspectives, there is. With regard to artistic freedom and freedom of expression, there isn't. It is this dilemma between curatorial freedom and social and political responsibility which the curatorial needs to address every time anew, taking a conscious ethical decision every single time.