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Issue 4

Translation I

In this series, frieze d/e asks artists, curators or writers to reflect upon one word and its impact

BY Jay Chung & Q Takeki Maeda in Influences | 24 FEB 12

Jay Chung & Q Takeki Maeda, Hans Ulrich Obrist Interviews Vol. I, 2010

We don’t think of our translation of Hans Ulrich Obrist’s Interviews Vol. 1 (2003) as a translation into Japanese but rather as a translation out of English. Our book can’t be read by most of the people likely to see it since it’s distributed primarily in Europe. The book’s graphic quality is a nod towards illegibility, and the work of translating the original remains opaque. Yet the translation – when read as an object, gesture and art work – is still very much legible.

In a sense, our translation-as-art work is ‘a deconstruction of the mechanisms that establish and maintain “the artistic” as different from other social practices’, as the late art historian and critic Stefan Germer wrote in ‘Haacke, Broodthaers, Beuys’ (October, 1988). The project began when we were asked to do a catalogue for the Kunstzeitraum stipend in Munich. Instead of making a retrospective summary typical for a catalogue, we decided it would be more interesting to dramatize both the studio time we had been granted as part of the stipend and the idea of work in general.  

Q began the task. Originally, he had been asked to help translate some of Interviews for a Japanese Internet publication, but we found the book as a whole more compelling. We had been thinking about Gustave Flaubert’s posthumously published Bouvard et Pécuchet (1881), which catalogues the misadventures of two retired copyists. The idea of our translation as an isolated, dilettante yet monumental project seemed comparable. Flaubert spoke about another part of this uncompleted work – Le Dictionnaire des idées reçues (1913; The Dictionary of Accepted Ideas, 1954) – in terms of its girth, as if its planned size were an expression of his bile.  

The thickness of Obrist’s Interviews Vol. 1 is equally significant: it is the result of his process and intensity, his extensive travels and the acceleration of global exchange and circulation. By contrast, Q’s translation was slow, lonely and done word for word­ – a literal translation. The translation was also literal in the sense that the work and the time spent were made tangible. The literalness of text has been a reference for our work – as it is in some Conceptual artists’ works or Marcel Broodthaers’s book of poems Pense-Bête (Reminder, 1963–64).

A Japanese translation of the book was inevitable. Concepts must circulate. Rather than treating artistic output as independent from economic and institutional mechanisms, our translation-as-art work fulfills an already existing demand created by the global character of contemporary art. As we enact this process, we obediently reflect these mechanisms in our own slightly eccentric lens.

Ironically, the question of autonomy looms large in Interviews, especially in Obrist’s exchanges with artists. Those artists whose practices engage commercial or social structures outside of the art world – such as filmmaking, fashion, architecture or design – do so in an attempt to re-establish their independence from the mechanisms of contemporary art, to reassert the privilege of the artist for the present time. Whether or not these attempts are successful is open to debate.

Jay Chung and Q Takeki Maeda have collaborated for ten years. They have exhibited and performed at many venues including Künstlerhaus Stuttgart, castillo/corrales, Paris, and Cabinet, London.