August 27, 2013 · Print This Article
Guest Post by James Pepper Kelly
Imagine that a writer named Judith H. Dobrzynski boards a plane. Sheâ€™s ambivalent about her recent op-ed for the New York Times, â€œHigh Culture Goes Hands-On,â€ in which she mourned the loss of a classic, passive museum experience. The response was decent (63 comments and a spot on the “most-emailed” list), and the negative response didnâ€™t go much beyond baseless ad hominems (â€œcrank,” â€œelitist”). But real-world impact? Judy sighs. She tries not to think about institutions these days, their obsequious rush to digitize, crowdsource, and create a â€œfun experienceâ€ for all. Instead, she thinks about real change: about her upcoming fellowship at the Salzburg Global Seminar in Austria, and how sheÂ helped influence the country’s new Holocaust restitution laws. Judy sinks back into her business class seat (being a Fellow has perks!), orders a tomato juice and relaxes, thinking of all the reading sheâ€™ll be able to catch up on in the air.
Imagine that a writer named James Durston is excited. Heâ€™s boarding the brand new Boeing 797 Dreamliner and is going to be live tweeting the experience from business class (dimming windows PLUS free booze!). Heâ€™s got way too much editing to do, but right now heâ€™s feeling good about his latest op-ed for CNN Travel, â€œWhy I hate museums.â€ Sure, only 400 comments (something like 10 times that many for the â€œfat taxâ€ piece) but he did score official responses from theÂ Art Institute of Chicago and the American Alliance of Museums. He makes a mental note to re-stir the pot with a follow-up in early December. James tosses his bag in the overhead and sits down, mentally composing a tweet about the woman beside him and WHY anyone drinks tomato juice on planes?? Still, he did use SeatID–they must have something in common. Heâ€™ll save the introduction for later when he runs out of content for his posts.
Imagine thatÂ now, today,Â both look back and still wonder what happened. They remember the startâ€”the EyjafjallajokullÂ volcano waking up, their flight being grounded in Greenland, the nervous stewardesses plying them with drinks, and more, and more. The introductions, the argument, and then the gradual, dizzy belief that their two opinions needed to be reconciled. Had to be, in fact. What if this was the end of world? Reconciliation–for humanity, for the future. So they set about writing the op-ed of op-eds, tapping out the characters on Jamesâ€™s phone. Finally an op-ed truly for everyone. The Dobrzynski/Durston piece appeared on a brand new WordPress site, shocking the likes of Robert Connolly, Dana Allen-Griel, Dennis Kois, Ed Rodley, and all the other voices of studied moderation stuck further back in economy, sipping orange juice, thoughtfully biding their time. As Judith and James know, sometimes the world needs action. We should thank them for reminding us of that. Below is the full transcript of the Dobrzynski-Durston article.
The Greatest Proposal for hi-fiving high culture
The current institutional climate is unsustainable. And no fun. Most museums are in grave financial straits, mostly because there are better things to spend money on. Itâ€™s time for institutions to become the friendly, self-supporting, no-gift-shop entities they always should have been. The following is a list of proposals we urgently urge to be effected.
1. Weâ€™ve heard about museums, especially smaller, local ones, creating wonderful exhibitions on tight budgets. Maybe so. Those people sitting back in economy can really chew your ear off with examples. We both enjoy periodic visits to the provinces, and writing about them too, Â but letâ€™s be honestâ€”it needs to start in New York or Hong Kong. Trickle-down culture is real.
2. Institutions claim to generate 7 public dollars for every $1 invested. (Right. Whereâ€™d they get those numbers?) The people of Detroit did vote to raise their own taxes to support the DIAâ€”itâ€™s called millage, Jamesâ€”but thatâ€™s an exceptional case. Ann Arbor residents were forward-thinking enough to reject a new art tax. Bleeding heart art lovers need to be realistic: public funding = not the answer. Private funding = yes.
3. Museums do need to sell off workâ€”thatâ€™s called deaccessioning (thanks, Judy). Some call up the auction houses and rush the work out the door on a stretcher. Others are models of ethical responsibility–the Indianapolis Museum of Art, for example, lists all the work being sold on its site along with reasons for each sale. Thatâ€™s good, but not good enough. They should show their reasons, not just tell us about them. Imagine if the DIA did something like: [pic of Diego Rivera mural] = [pic of 25 million open lunchboxes with PB&J, apple, milk]. #Prioritize.
4. Old vases are boring (especially ones from Iran, imo). They should be sold to established patrons of the arts and other old rich people. Who else cares about/truly appreciates them anyway? Same goes for anything Â more than 30 years old or that doesnâ€™t inspire transcendence. If in doubt, just tweet us a pic.
5.Â In the spirit of compromise, museums should divide their days between different audiences. On Wednesdays through Saturdays they should distribute free popcorn and edamame, fill the gallery with animals from a local petting zoo, and encourage full interactionâ€”touching, smelling, lickingâ€”with the entire collection. On Sundays through Tuesdays, the cicerones will make sure that no more than four people are in any one room at the same time, monitor how fast individuals walk, andÂ confiscate any and all electronic devices. Individuals will be required to spend set minimum amounts of time contemplating each piece. If any individual fails to adhere to these measures, they will be required to write an essay explaining why.
6. Eliminate gift shops and cafes. They’re so bourgeois.
7.Â To generate revenue, offer paid chances to feed the animals and the option to limit the gallery to even less than the standard four people (on respective days, of course). Employ local actors who will alternate between impersonating art world authorities, historical figures, and general celebrities.
8. Reenact the creation and history of items throughout the week. It will be a little like Danteâ€™s Inferno, each actor trapped in a different area, telling his story over and over again (Judy’s description, my idea). For example, one of the actors can be Leonardo da Vinci: put the Mona Lisa on an easel in front of him and have him paint and tell the sad story of Lisa over and over to the general audience. Add drama when appropriate, regardless of accuracy. Reach out to Hollywood and book publishers, offering to add their narratives to the â€œofficialâ€ institutional version in exchange for sponsorship.
Â 9.Â Fully integrate work on display with life by created rentable, themed rooms, e.g. The Birth Room, The Death Room, etc. True art lovers will be able to pass with their eyes locked on an original Georgia Oâ€™Keeffe, or to bring a new being into the world under Van Goghâ€™s sunflowers, or to make love under the Venus de Milo. Anyone attending that day will be able to watch. Both sides will payâ€”
Phoneâ€™s about to die, got to post now. Whatever happens, this is the truth. Follow me online!
Imagine that that this is how the op-ed ends. The volcano went back to sleep and the sky over the Atlantic cleared. Fifteen hours later the Boeing landed at Heathrow, the passengers half drunk and half hung-over, but otherwise unscathed.Â There, Judith H. Dobrzynski and James DurstonÂ seem to have parted ways, never to collaborate again. Judy went back to lucid commentary on the art world, James to commissioning and writing popular travel articles.
If the phone had been fully charged, how would the Dobrzynski-Durston op-ed have proceeded? Â What unfortunate circumstance mightÂ the expert commentatorsÂ have leant themselves to next?Â Â Whether “real people” canÂ or can’t actually afford to collect art? Would we be more prepared to addressÂ how an elderly Romanian woman destroyed several masterpieces in an effort to protect her son?Â How much change to give beggars outside famous institutions? The alleged difficulty Chicago’s south siders have hadÂ in visiting Theaster Gates’s Dorchester Projects, even as the art star is lauded for the project’s success at Art Basel?
What further op-ed wisdom could we have learned from? We can only imagine.
James Pepper Kelly likes words, images, and the plants in his apartment. He writes for ArtSlant and Bad at Sports, and he serves as Managing Director of Filter Photo. He is currently studying to be a pataphysicist. For a little while, back in the early â€˜00s, he was really good at Ms. Pac-man.
August 26, 2013 · Print This Article
Guest Post by Paul King
The sole page of Proteusâ€™ help screen begins â€œMove with WASD. Look around with the mouse.â€
No other controls exist, besides the space bar. Instead of offering a traditional jump, it commands the playerâ€™s avatar to sit, peacefully, for as long as they might. The help screenâ€™s final instructions begin with what seems like half of a warning: â€œEach island is unique, but familiar.â€
To move past the title screen and into the game, you begin by clicking the silhouette of a distant island. After fading, the screen opens from a murky black into a gently disappearing elliptical shape, as though you were slowly opening your eyelids. You’ve awoken in what appears to be an endless ocean, a muted sea-green punctuated by the gentle lapping of white reflections. In the distance, you begin to make out the outline of a shrouded landmass. As you trudge towards it, the only anchor in the gameâ€™s ceaseless sea, you can practically feel the sunlight of the raincoat-yellow orb shining in the sky.
Everything in Proteus is rendered in a blocky, colorful style that should be familiar to everyone whoâ€™s ever seen an early pixelated video game. (Think the â€œballâ€ of pong, or the sharp edges of Mario.) But the style isn’t due to a lack of processing power or graphical method; instead, the worldâ€™s lack of texture translates into a picturesque canvas of flat colors, almost as though you were gazing directly into a visual interpretation of one of Brian Enoâ€™s ambient tracks.
As you climb onto the shores of your island and walk past the flat browns of tree trunks and across the rolling green hills dotted with single-color flowers and blocks representing dandelions, an ambient soundtrack erupts. These are the changing environs and characters, and your interactions with them feel as though they were entirely up to you.
When somebody completes any video game, they tend to have finished a universal experience. Though the person playing it might have preferred a different gun, or tactic, or motorcycle, their journey is usually one shared by all other players. Certain blockbuster titles, usually role-playing games, offer choice and varied game paths as a selling point. There, you might choose to be a thieving elf that sneaks through danger, or a devil-may-care warrior slaying all in your path. Ultimately, however, the same challenges are present.
Proteus doesn’t exactly offer a challenge. There are no tests of dexterity or hand-eye coordination; there is only your movement through and consideration of the world, your journey. Pass by a stone obelisk and hear a great deep bass noise burst and fade slowly into a background of crickets. Chase a frog and hear its hops become the staccato twang of a distant guitar, or reach a mountainous peak above a plateau of raining clouds and listen to an uplifting crescendo.
Some sound origins are obvious. The crickets cricket, and leaves fall like soft glass. Still, there are other tones Iâ€™m uncertain about. Perhaps it was my position on a specific hill, or maybe it was the shadow of a pink-tufted tree.Â Proteusâ€™ soundtrackâ€”a constant soothing orchestration of hidden instrumentsâ€”is only one of the complex machinations behind deceitfully simple visuals.
Each island in Proteus is procedurally generated. Algorithmically, one comes together in a way that is unique, but familiar, placed together by a machine, or equation.
At a certain point, the boxy sun sets and is replaced by the moon. Night arrives, marked by a deep blue and a subdued soundtrack. Slowly, the bright dots of the islandâ€™s airspaceâ€”be they fireflies, wisps, spots of cottonâ€”swirl and gather, until finally, they culminate in a furious whirlwind at the center of a circle of stones. As you approach it, time speeds up. Clouds and stars race above you, the trees around you begin to shudder and dance. The music, now faster, eggs them on. Enter the circle and soon, the screen fades to white, almost as if signaling an end to your time on the island, a quiet release from the frenzied energy. But then island returns, rewarding a patient moment of darkness in the same way a morning welcomes those just stirring from sleep.
The colors have changed slightly, and the music with it. In the air before you dances a swarm of bees. Above you the calm sphere of the sun now has flaring tendrils, shining down harder than before. Vibrant collections of flowers have sprouted up since you walked into the mystical circle of stones and its swirling puffs.
Usually when a game environment transforms, dangers arrive. Night might reveal prowling tigers, shambling zombies, or some spooky other. Proteus remains peaceful, instead signaling the end of its day and condensed season with frenetic motion. Though you act as a catalyst in the seasonal change by entering that swirling circle, you canâ€™t help but feel a small component of a greater cycle;Â a piece in an action that comes from a living, breathing land mass. The whole island, player included, enters a chrysalis and emerges anew.
Often, a gameâ€™s digital world exists solely as a static landscape with one-sided interaction. Usually, it is up to us as individual players to act as the experimental component or the dynamic instrument. But though we, as individuals in a programmed world, might be dynamic, we all fulfill the same role. We are the same cog that fits into a developerâ€™s machine, makes it turn linearly through its universal paces. This tends to result in an identical experience for all who play the same game.
There are pieces of Proteus that hint at an identical experience. You awake in an ocean; you climb ashore a distant island; you swirl through the seasons. But since each island is procedurally generated, no two islands or games will ever truly be the same.
At a certain point during my night in Proteus, a white owl appeared in a tree, staring at me before taking off and flying to the next tree; later, I walked towards the crude ruins of a tower to find myself teleported to another crumbling monument.
I learned later that others retelling their experiences on the gameâ€™s forums had not encountered the owl. Instead, one account was dominated by a dark figure that appeared after the night sky had turned red, only to run off, while making sure the player was following. Some played with constellations; some sat in solemn graveyards. While we had all played Proteus, it became clear that we did not share the same experiences; we all wandered through different worlds, encountering familiar aspects in a unique way.
The main difference between unique play in Proteus and role-playing games is agency. In a massive fantasy or space world, the player is given what appears to be wide path to play how they wish. They move through a static world and sculpt it in a pre-designed fashion. Ultimately, the developers of these games give players the gift of agency, the ability to move through that world and shape it.
This also forces the game to be reliant upon the player. Even if a gameâ€™s narrative is linear, it depends on the player to advance it. For example, a programmed character within a game may walk a programmed path, forever, until a player enters and engages its route. By interacting with that non-player character (NPC), the player has helped it fulfill its destiny, and furthered the action of the world. The expectation is that the world exists at the behest of the player, and the player is often imbued with the power of a god who may alter the world.
While Proteus as a gameâ€”and productâ€” exists for the player, its world isnâ€™t reliant upon a specific player experience. Because it isn’t static, differences occur, many and obviously, around the player. Because the world is produced dynamically, the player must act as a static element with practically no control. And though each player may in turn approach the game in an identical capacity, once the island is generated, it is a fresh, dynamic world each time, reducing the potential for a homogenized experience.
The largest contributor to this success is the way in which Proteus plays with music. The endless cacophony (both aural and visual) that permeates the atmosphere is so incredibly active. As a player explores, animals or flowers donâ€™t change course like an NPC. Instead, they react naturally, not as though they were born for your experience, but almost as if the opposite were true. When you approach an area that produces a sine waveâ€”be it a tree, a slope, or some other mysteryâ€”the feeling isn’t that Proteus or the object in Proteus has begun to play for you, but that the sound, or owl, or structure was always there, and you just happened, through a chance generation, to wander into it. Starting a game of Proteus is not like listening to a pre-recorded album, but like listening to the chaotic throng of generative music. And though you might begin and stop Proteus at will, thereâ€™s no guarantee that the islandâ€™s music will follow.
Paul King is a poet, writer, and video game enthusiast currently living in Chicago, IL. He grew up in Austin, TX and graduated from Bard College with a BA in Liberal and Written Arts.
Guest post by Mark Sheerin
It is more than 1,000 miles from Luton, England, to Reykjavik, Iceland. But Dominic from the UK town appears to love a good caper. Why else would he put together a group show on very little money in one of the most far flung and expensive cities in Europe?
â€œIt was done on a wing and a prayer,â€ he tells me on the phone from his Luton studio. â€œThe art was just really, really ambitious considering we didnâ€™t have much money to play with. Itâ€™s amazing what you can do with a cardboard tube and a delivery van.â€
Five artists took part. And the show has just run for a month at gallery Kling & Bang. Along with Dominic, the full bill included Gavin Turk, Mark Titchner, Laura White and Peter Lamb. The show went by the name London Utd. â€œIt’s kind of doing what it says on the tin,â€ says Dominic, whose eponymous town is just a twenty minute train ride from the UK capital.
Not that he is the first to cross the Atlantic to the artist led space. He tells me that Paul McCarthy and Jason Rhoades have also shown at the dynamic and co-operative venue. And Dominic takes the opportunity to recount the tale of Kling & Bangâ€™s legendary appearance at Frieze Art Fair.
â€œThey did a Frieze Project in London in 2008 called Sirkus. Itâ€™s an incredible story,â€ says the artist, telling me that Sirkus was the name of a Reykyavik bar: â€œThis place was the hub, the heartbeat of the arts communityâ€. But after nine years of business, Sirkus closed down, leaving Kling & Bang free to turn the faÃ§ade and fixtures into a temporary installation for the art fair.
Dominic warms to his tale: â€œThey arrived at Heathrow in October 2008 and basically all their credit cards had been stopped because the [Icelandic] crash had suddenly happened overnight and so this bar, which was a mirror of good times and place to meet, became that again in London.â€ Word soon went round about the penniless Icelanders with the reconstructed bar.
Things are a bit better in Reykjavik now and in its way London Utd has become another bridge between the art scenes in both cities. Mark Titchnerâ€™s piece was a piece of text in Icelandic, which read The World Isnâ€™t Working. (Perhaps the UK crash is yet to come.)
Gavin Turk meanwhile offered a twelve and a half metre diptych inspired by Andy Warholâ€™s Death and Disaster series and featuring the four wheeled emblem of working class Britain the Ford Transit. Laura White produced no less than 54 drawings of photos of sculptures which she herself had made. And Peter Lamb translated the shifting detritus on his studio floor into two large abstract canvases.
Asked about one of his own works in the show, Dominic is ready with another yarn. â€œThat photo was done as a tribute to Paul Young,â€ he tells me. Like the artist, the singer came from Luton. â€œHe used to work at Vauxhall [car plant] in the early 80s and he told someone I know in the canteen once that he was going to be a global pop star and then literally 18 months later he was, with Everytime You Go Away.â€
The track resonates with many a Lutonian and inspired a Dominic from Luton performance at an event called CafÃ© Almanac organised by Bedford Creative Arts. This involved sourcing an 80s wig from Luton Indoor Market, posing for a portrait artist in the shopping centre and getting 5,000 badges made to cover a cheap suit. â€œI just stood up in front of about 50 people in this Working Menâ€™s Club on a Saturday afternoon and sung my heart out,â€ recalls the artist.
This took place under a net filled with 200 balloons in the colours of the local soccer team, intended for release in the final verse. However â€œThe net got caught in all of my badges so I had 200 balloons attached to me and I panicked and – it wasn’t scripted at all – I basically ended up having a fight with these balloons and stamping on them and stuff and it brought the house down actually.â€
But despite the hazardous stagecraft, Dominicâ€™s â€œbiggest challengeâ€ is a self-proclaimed inability to sing. So it comes as no surprise that the artist thinks most performance art is too earnest. â€œPeople would argue with this, but I think there’s a duty to entertain,â€ he says, â€œThat’s just my take on it. That’s my little mantra.â€ Even the anecdotes which relate to each of his gigs are compelling experiences.
As a final aside, itâ€™s worth pointing out that the artist formerly known as Dominic Allan comes from one of the most derided towns in the UK. His â€œfrom Lutonâ€ tag is a sticky piece of cultural baggage. Dominic tells me that the name just came about through being easy to remember when he ordered materials.
Now, he claims, â€œItâ€™s just a very glorious vehicle for the idea of the underdog and also to shove it back in peopleâ€™s faces now because Lutonâ€™s one of those towns which people laugh about . . . The more I go on, the more I realise that it is serious, and it is seriousâ€.
So thatâ€™s Dominic, from Luton, easy to laugh with, hard to laugh at. Prepare to be entertained if he ever comes to your town.
Mark Sheerin is an art writer from Brighton, UK. He can also be found on Culture24, Hyperallergic, Frame & Reference and his own blog criticismism.com
Greetings from Indianapolis, friends!
July is a lovely time here. One of my favorite things about July is the 4th. Here in Indy the thing to do is to watch the fireworks display that is set off from atop the Regions building downtown. The best place to do it is from a rooftop with a bunch of friendsphoto by Benjamin Bernthal
In the way of Art, July brought to an end a lengthy and large exhibition of work by Ai Wei Wei at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. This was an interesting exhibition to get to see. It included a series of photographs, pieces of modified ancient art (such as the image below), and a few pieces related to measuring the tragic earthquake that took place in China in 2008. This is a traveling exhibition and I highly recommend seeing it if it comes to your town. I went on the very last day that it was open, and the gallery was buzzing with conversation and lots of people moving around the space.
Ai Wei Wei exhibit at the Indianapolis Museum of Art
The 100 Acres park at the IMA (a 100 acre sculpture park that deserves its own blog entry) has a new installation called Flock of Signs by Kim Beck. Some of the signs are blank, others point to the air and state “Bug.” others list scientific names for plants. All I know is that they are beautiful.
A few weeks later I finally made it to one of the Listen Local concerts put on by Musical Family Tree and Indy Parks. This is a “pay what you want” fundraiser for the Park consisting of live performances by local bands. This installment included Amo Joy, Vacation Club and United States Three. The Set Design was so cool! It is a cardboard and acrylic piece by BrainTwins that can be arranged in a variety of ways to create different color patterns.Â BrainTwins is an Indianapolis art duo composed of Jessica Dunn and Justin Shimp. They create a variety of 2D, 3D and 4D based works of art.
Later in the month I was lucky to be able to visit the studio of one of my favorite Indianapolis artists Kyle Herrington. Kyle has several shows coming up in September, so there was plenty of new work to see. One show is called Backyard Phenomena and chronicles Herrington’s struggle with being thrust into new found adulthood, which culminated in him turning thirty and buying a house. His anxieties about something catastrophic happening to his house has translated into sculptural pieces as well as paintings. We talked for quite a long time. I admire Kyle’s commitment to making everysingleideathathehas. I think it is what has allowed him to make such a large body of work with what I see as having very consistent and complete conceptual ideas in relatively short time frame (just one year). Kyle’s work makes reference to sci-fi logic, modern obsessions with the apocalypse and celebrity and mashes them altogether into a funny, but kind of scary reality.
For August First Friday I went to the Harrison Center for the Arts to see the Spineless book arts exhibition. This yearly exhibit features work from bookmakers in the region. The IUPUI libraries also curate a selection on display from their collection of artist’s books.
First Friday at the Harrison Center for the Arts
Cyanotype book by Indianapolis Artist Tasha Lewis
While on the subject of Cyanotype, and given the fact that I saw him shortly after taking this photo, I think I should mention another mind blowing artist here in Indy who uses it as his primary material for art making- Casey Roberts.
Until next month!
Wendy Lee Spacek is a poet who lives and works in Indianapolis, Indiana. She likes her city veryÂ much. She is a core volunteer of the Indianapolis Publishing Cooperative (Indy Pub Co-Op), publishes small editions of handmade books under the name Soft River and is an arts administrator at the Indianapolis Art Center. She will be posting monthlyÂ all summer long about her encounters with art, culture, creative experiences and resources in her city.
August 2, 2013 · Print This Article
Today Richard had the good fortune to e-mail interview friend, former colleague, mischief maker, and all around giant of consciousness Colleen Becker.
Colleen Becker is an American writer and academic living in London. Her published work spans fiction and non-fiction genres, including flash fiction, academic articles, journalism, art reviews, and essays, and she has read at numerous venues including Princeton University, the Tate Modern, and Foyles Bookshop. She holds PhD, MPhil and MA degrees from Columbia University and a MA from NYU, and she is a 2013-14 Visiting Fellow at the University of London, School of Advanced Studies, Institute of Germanic and Romance Studies. She has text based artwork included in an exhibition at the Anatomy Museum, Kingâ€™s College London. â€œTranslation Gamesâ€Curated by Ricarda Vidal (KCL) and Jenny Chamarette (QM) which runs from 31st July to 2nd August 2013
Richard Holland: Colleen Becker, welcome to Bad at Sports!
Colleen Becker: Thanks! Iâ€™m so happy to participate in this interview!
RH: You are currently, among a vast number of other titles and pursuits, a visiting fellow at the University of London, School of Advanced Studies, Institute for Germanic and Romance Studies. What are your researching?
CB: Iâ€™m doing a post-doctoral fellowship within IGRS’s Centre for Cultural Memory. Broadly speaking, my area of research is the cultural history of German nationalism. My project is titled: â€œThe Art of Becoming a Nation: Turn-of-the-Century German Visual Culture,â€ and if youâ€™re still reading, I will be examining and positioning artifacts of visual culture as manifestations of identity that memorialize understandings of the self in relation to others, from the individual act of depicting oneâ€™s own or anotherâ€™s milieu to the collective feat of representing an entire community in both political and visual terms.
RH: What are â€œTranslation Gamesâ€?
CB: â€œTranslation Gamesâ€ is the brainchild of curators Ricarda Vidal (Kingâ€™s College, London) and Jenny Chamarette (Queen Mary, London), who were interested in exploring the concept of translation through various textual, auditory, and visual media. They hired me to write a flash fiction piece of 250 words, with a conventional narrative structure (beginning, middle, end). My story â€œWhat We Madeâ€ formed the basis for a game of â€œChinese Whispersâ€ (â€œTelephoneâ€ in American English), in which only a couple of the artists or foreign language translators received the original text while all of the others worked off of received â€œtranslations.â€ Interestingly, the first textile designer who read my work was dyslexic and misread the story before passing it along to the other textile artistsâ€”so, even the original version was â€œlost in translation.â€
RH: The Anatomy Museum, sounds dirty, what is the Anatomy museum and is it a contemporary art venue, or is in more like the Museum of Surgical Science in Chicago which is *not* and art venue but has the occasional show to be quirky?
CB: I have a soft spot in my heart for the Museum of Surgical Science in Chicago. During my most memorable visit, a swarm of flies hovered menacingly over the vitrine of Pompeian gynecological instruments.
The Anatomy Museum is part of King’s College, which is Ricarda’s affiliated institution. It has a creepily fascinating Victorian history as an anatomy theatre, but it’s not a contemporary art space per se.
So the project takes language, in this particular case a short story that you have written, and through the process of translation and retranslation the text evolves into a new form, is that a fair summary of the core idea? Yes.
RH: Are you familiar with Alvin Lucierâ€™s â€œI am sitting in a roomâ€? Lucier made a recording himself narrating a text, and then playing the recording back into the room, re-recorded it. The new recording is then played back and re-recorded, and this process is repeated over and over again. All volumes of space have characteristic resonant frequencies, the repeated recording and re-recording eventually acts to, in essence, filter out the language and what is left is a set of frequencies emphasized as they resonate in the room. Finally the words become unintelligible, replaced by the pure resonant harmonies and tones of the room itself like a signature. This project seems like the language version of Lucierâ€™s piece. If you were to translate and retranslate over and over, do you eventually end up with the resonant frequency of the translator or of the text itself, common tonal elements that could not be lost in translation?
CB: Thank you for the enormously flattering comparison! In addition to the physical works of art, the story and its translations also have been performed a number of times. At a workshop in early July, for example, Ricarda and Jenny grouped artists and translators together and we read the text all at once, or in orchestrated sections, and the result was a living Tower of Babel. There is a certain musical quality, and rhythm, to each group reading, which is possibly best experienced by viewing the video of the performance. â€œWhat We Madeâ€ was translated into several different languages, and then retranslated back into English, which changed the length of the text in each instance. So when the translated versions were read out loud at the same time as the original version, the distinctions between them were quite noticeable.
RH: In addition to the linguistic part of the project, the text is re (and re-re- and re-re-re- etc.) interpreted through varieties of art media as well. I wonder how the 27th re-re to the 27th iteration of the work will relate to the original text.
CB: Curiously, the common elements you described in the previous question were more obvious in the works of art. Even though artists were working from received translations, rather than the original text, we noticed that they all seemed to convey a similar mood, attitude, or tone, also found within the story.
RH: You have had an impressively diverse and fascinating career as an author, a critic and an academic. Over the course of this career have you found that, to speak in clichÃ©s, your ideas are at times lost in translation, and somehow fail to make the leap from what we assume to be a common symbolic language (text)utilized to convey ideas to each other? In the face of, for example, an English fluent reader missing the point of an English language text, when your work has been translated in to other languages it must be a source of concern that your ideas are additional steps away from the original meaning and stand a reduced risk of reaching the target audience in pure form.
CB: Itâ€™s a challenge for any writer, working in any genre or format, to precisely convey their ideas to their audience. Iâ€™ve always been fascinated by what happens at the intersection of intention and reception; thereâ€™s a bit of alchemy, in my view. Maybe Iâ€™m being pessimistic, but I doubt thereâ€™s any such thing as pure or unmediated communication. On the other hand, Iâ€™m a thorough editor and unflinching critic of my own writing.
RH: Is the answer then to sit everyone down and explain your ideas specifically? I suppose that assumes a world where the person listening is *actually* listening and not checking twitter on their phone.
CB: Itâ€™s the writerâ€™s responsibility to connect the dots, but also to communicate in terms that are appropriate for the intended audience. When you publish something, you donâ€™t know how itâ€™s going to be received and thereâ€™s no accounting for other peoplesâ€™ attentiveness, or lack thereof. But I think the best writers are able to hold their readersâ€™ attention for the duration of their engagement with the work.
RH: How did you become involved with this project?
CB: Ricarda remembered me from the Shortness at Tate Modern conference, which she organized along with Irini Marinaki and Konstantinos Stefanis. She approached me about writing a text for Translation Games.
RH: You were a participant in the â€œ[V]ery short conference and a very long dinnerâ€ called SHORTNESS AT TATE MODERN, along with DJ Spooky, Jonathan Allen, Matthew Steven Carlos, Steven Connor and others. You spoke under the auspices of being a â€œflash fiction writerâ€. I like the idea of short conferences and long dinners. What is flash fiction and what was the focus of the conference?
CB: Flash fiction is a story written in 1,000 words or less. The most famous example is Ernest Hemmingwayâ€™s â€œFor Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn,â€ which is the entire narrative. Iâ€™m fascinated by the way in which subtext provides as much, or even more, of the story to the reader. More so than other genres, flash fiction operates at the interface between the writer and the reader.
Shortness At Tate Modern had two components: conference papers presented in an auditorium and a long dinner in an upstairs room that was interrupted by various performances, demonstrations and interventions. Thatâ€™s where I read my short story â€œB&I,â€ which is set in Chicago. I was pretty nervous about presenting to an audience that included DJ Spooky, since Iâ€™m an admirer of his and I had taught his work to undergraduates at Barnard the previous year.
RH: You recently did a reading at Foyles Bookshopin London, the write up of which referenced you are working on your second screenplay. Arenâ€™t the 8 degrees, lovely family, multiple book projects, art projects and being a Huffington Post correspondent enough? Screenplays? I recently completed my work on Angry Birds Star Wars (admittedly playing it not developing it, but it was hard work to defeat Darth Pig). Now, c’mon, you are just embarrassing the rest of us. What is your most recent screenplay about? We have a huge Hollywood studio exec. fan base.
CB: I wrote a feature-length screenplay a couple of years ago, marketed it, and stirred up enough interest to motivate me to write another one. At the moment, Iâ€™m writing a contained location action-thriller.
Usually, I work on fiction and non-fiction projects in tandem, exploring concepts and narratives through different genres. Some things that work in fiction just donâ€™t pan out in non-fiction and vice-versa. Lots of projects remain unfinished, or are discarded along the way but that doesnâ€™t bother me since I usually manage to recycle ideas. Iâ€™m easily bored, and itâ€™s easier for me to accomplish tasks when Iâ€™m slightly distracted so I tend to toggle back and forth between projects. When I lose my focus with one thing, I go to the other, and then back again.
And, yeah, I wake up every morning and think to myself: How can I make Richard Holland feel like less of a person today?
RH: Very popular choice, there is a support group out there, I think they give out grants.
CB: Something to look forward to! Some of what youâ€™re responding to is my effort, as a former full-time mom, to find some means of engaging myself intellectually while remaining present for my children. When youâ€™re pushing a kid on a swing for forty minutes straight, itâ€™s useful to occupy your mind with thoughts of something other than pushing a swing. A story or an article thatâ€™s already been threshed out in your mind comes much quicker to the page.
RH: What are you working on currently?
CB: Iâ€™m focused on the academic work described above, speaking at the GSA conference this fall, and putting together a seminar at IGRS for next spring titled â€œEmotional Response in Historical Practice: Methodological Approaches to Representing Collective Experience.â€ Iâ€™m also publishing an article about Aby Warburg, historiography, and metaphors of German national identity in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Art Historiography. Through â€œWhat We Made,â€ an independent publisher approached me about writing long-format fiction and so in my spare time Iâ€™m also rewriting a novel I had roughed out a few years ago in addition to working on the screenplay.
RH: Thank you for joining us! We need to get together for an audio interview the next time we end up in relatively the same city. Thanks!!
CB: It was my pleasure! These were great questions!
RH: I’ll pass along the compliment to my writing staff.