Here are a few works that I think deal with the nature of translation in interesting and novel ways. I have included primarily digital works so that you can experience as many of them as possible in the state that they were intended. Below that is a list of the artists mentioned in my discussion with Antosh Wojcik, plus a few additional translations for further reading.
Hard Lads – Robert Yang
Robert Yang is a game developer and professor at NYU Game Center. He makes games that explore gay culture and intimacy. In 2015, the video British lads hit each other with a chair went viral on the internet. Yang’s translation from candid video documentary performance to surreal durational digital performance highlights the minute communications taking place throughout this scene and investigates straight MLM and masculinity.
In the original video, you are presented with a series of actions, chained together, that you just have to witness. They aren’t presented with any kind of introduction or explanation. It is pure and emotive in its energy, and unapologetic in the events that unravel. Yang’s Hard Lads takes this same scene and recreates it so faithfully as to lend a level of almost uncanny fidelity to the setting. It’s too close. Too real. It doesn’t have the blur of compression artifacts or the poor sound quality of a mobile phone microphone in the wind.
This trade-off, however, allows for the introduction of space to the proceedings. You as the viewer and operator of this scene can now slow each action down to its minute gestures and play them out in absurd repetition. This trade, and translation is nothing if not a trade or exchange, provides the scope for questions. At no point does Yang stoop to mocking these characters or the original video. In allowing us to play and replay the scenario he gives us the scope to question it. Through the subtle interjection of surreal moments, Yang adds a conclusion that the original doesn’t have, but otherwise the translation remains lovingly close to the original.
The Accident Did Not Take Place – YESYESNONO
In the mass of live productions cut down before their time due to *waves outside generally*, The Accident Did Not Take Place stands out for its thoughtful transition from stage to page. After the show was shuttered, Rhian Davies and Sam Ward set about translating the work into a format that could reach people in their homes. The original was a chaotic exploration of consumption and the speed of media during traumatic events. Some of this was illustrated by forcing/coaxing a volunteer (audience participation alarm) through a series of storytelling and retelling exercises.
For the translation to the page, Davies and Ward state “you may have realised by now that, for the most part, this book is not an attempt to accurately portray the show that we originally performed… What we set out to do instead is communicate the ideas, mood and atmosphere of the thing…” I think this is a perfect account of what the book succeeds in doing, and also a wonderful encapsulation of what successful translation does. Instead of a line by line script of the show, the book takes the form of photocollages, exercises presented on phone screens, essay fragments on the nature of the image, and snippets of diary entries or letters. It captures the nature of the piece far better than a Zoom restaging ever could.
The Seagull on The Sims 4 – Celine Song
There are distinct gaps in my performance knowledge, and one of those is the works of Anton Chekhov. This meant that the first time I saw a staging of his classic text The Seagull was this year, in the domestic simulator game The Sims 4. I can’t and shouldn’t speak to the faithfulness of this restaging (though I’m pretty sure no characters wander off during the play-within-a-play to use the bathroom), but as a piece of translation I think it is hugely successful. I mention in my talk with Antosh Wojcik how part of this work is about the sudden hurdle of characters/performers having baked in autonomy that cannot be overridden, but beyond that I think this is a wonderful exercise in highlighting the original through the absurdity of the rework.
There is a long tradition, particularly in literary translation of presenting the original and the translation side by side in publication. Song’s version of The Seagull does this expertly throughout. The original text and directions set alongside the digital set and the language of videogames. Moments like when Song is trying to orchestrate a precise melodramtic moment and a comment on the tension comes through the chat from an audience member called octopusboi7rocket7 are beautiful illustrations of this. Or the chaotic instances when the play falls apart due to the characters moving off on their own to which the audience erupts with ‘F’ in the chat is a perfect crystalisation of these two modes of understanding coming together to experience something genuinely new and for the moment unique.
The Entertainment (Kentucky Route Zero) – Cardboard Computer
Kentucky Route Zero is a wide sweeping epic following a delivery man on a magical realist journey. The whole thing deserves your attention and I urge you to play it. But I want to talk specifically about a chapter called The Entertainment. Cardboard Computer use the game to constantly rework the act of storytelling, and in The Entertainment they take this to a particularly interesting place. The Entertainment is a free interlude that takes the form of a play. The play deals with motifs and characters from the game proper, but at no point does it stray from the conceit that it is a play. The translation here is in the verity of the reconstruction. You are free to look around you as the play unfolds. You see the characters on stage interacting, to one side you see the sound desk and behind you is the raked seating shrouded in darkness. If you look down you realise you are a character in the play, however you cannot do anything but observe as that is all the direction you are given. This transition from freely moving through a digitally rendered world to the limitations of tradition theatre (exacerbated by not being an audience member, though you might not have gotten up and left anyway). The designers go to the extent of capturing this community theatre in such minute detail that it seems absurd. As the play ticks on you can draw your attention to humming lights, or focus in on the expressions of characters offstage. None of this needed to happen. To some extent it feels extraneous to the rest on the story, but in that the strength of the translation comes into its own. It is translation for the sake of making the most comprehensive translation possible.
Mentioned in my talk with Antosh Wojcik:
In Nearby Bushes is the poetry collection by Kei Millar in which he takes new clippings and reduces the text through erasure until the remaining text underlying it is revealed.
Schlock is the critically acclaimed performance by poet, composer and performer Hannah Silva. Schlock reworks texts from Kathy Acker’s In Memoriam in true slash-and-steal style to explore a merging of body and text, intimacy and anger.
In The Five Obstructions Lars Von Trier tasks his friend and mentor with recreating his film The Perfect Human five times under certain conditions.
A few more translations to try:
Waiting for Godot: A Simulator – Nick Murray
I made this while stuck inside during lockdown, thinking about the nature of waiting and boredom. I think of it as a lighthearted way to look at the current year, and visibility during crisis.
Dear Elizabeth – Will C
One of the winners of the 2018 200 Word RPG Challenge, Dear Elizabeth is not as strict a translation as the others on this list as it doesn’t take a single discrete source. It reworks the writing of Jane Austen or the Bronte Sisters, and really hones in on the atmosphere of the setting. I think it fits as a good example of the soft translation that I started this issue off with.
Ophelia: A Role Playing Game – Jared Sinclair
This game pulls out the specific motif of grief from Hamlet and uses it to tell the story from the perspective of a single character.