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Café Culture Series: Translation: Art and Word

Aru, Elise. Translation of Odeur by Frances Picabia. 2012. Photography by Maxime Cauvin
Image caption: Translation of Odeur by Frances Picabia. Aru, Elise, 2012. Photography by Maxime Cauvin.

On the evening of 5th February Café Culture convened again, this time for a lively session on translation developed by Timothy Mathews in collaboration with Café Culture. The aim of the evening was to hear about artistic work and research taking place within and beyond UCL which uses or explores translation as an agent of creativity. First up was the Slade School of Fine Art’s Sharon Morris, who read from her current poetry which combines English and Welsh, her original mother tongue, and is set in the Pembrokeshire landscape. Sharon explained how her poems often start off as drawings and we were lucky enough to see some of these, and to discover how these images become sonorous landscapes when rendered verbally. Sharon’s readings led to some interesting discussion of the way hearing poetry in an unfamiliar language foregrounds the materiality and musicality of spoken words.

Our next speaker was Timothy Mathews (UCL, French), who introduced us to one of his current projects, a translation into English of Guillaume Apollinaire’s 'La femme assise' (The Seated Woman). Again, we were privileged to hear some of this work in progress, as Tim read us an extract from his translation. Tim showed us how Apollinaire himself was always working between words and images, for example in his 1911 collaboration with artist Raoul Dufy on a bestiary called 'The Procession of Orpheus'. Tim also showed us Graham Sutherland’s 1979 work with the same title which responds to Apollinaire’s poems in the original book. Tim described how Apollinaire’s interest in translations of this kind inspired him to work on 'La femme assise' rather than writing a critical biography of Apollinaire.

Translation- Tim Mathews

After Tim’s contribution, our Chair Wendy Bracewell invited us to move around the room in order to look at and play with the art objects distributed around it. These were the poem-objects of artist Elise Aru, who translates avant-garde poetry into physical pieces (see pictures). After we had had a chance to examine these objects for ourselves, Elise told us more about her methods and ideas. She has a special interest in working in this way with avant-garde texts, because of the way they disturb the norms of seeing and reading, through, for example, the use of graphic signs. Elise discussed how she had arrived at a poem-object in which a story – the dream of surrealist André Breton – is written on a long bandage, rolled up tightly and placed in a transparent glass vase. Listen to the podcast below to find out why Elise decided to represent the dream in this way!

Last of all, Eugenia Loffredo, a co-founder of the Creative Literary Studio – a blog on translation, writing and text-making – led us in a short workshop, which allowed the audience to engage in the practice of translation as a creative undertaking, and to put into practice some of the intermedial translation ideas we had been hearing about. Eugenia gave us a short Italian poem (with glosses into English), and asked us to think about translating it in different ways – with some amusing results. Groups focused on translating the poem into formats ranging from a smart-phone short film, to drawings and even into English legalese!

Related Links:

Between the Lines - Conversations in Translation podcast series

Alberto Giacometti - The Art of Relation