What we talk about when we talk about translation

Welcome to issue 6 of New Adventures in Performance. For this issue I want to sidestep the literal ideas of translation that we’re used to. For example translating a novel from one language to another, or adapting a play into a film. These are both important, but are a bit too broad for what I want to explore. They are umbrellas under which a lot of smaller translations take place, and without zooming in, it’s hard to see these processes in action. So, beyond providing a platform for a new audience through language or medium, what does translation allow?

The main, and perhaps most interesting thing, that translation performs is a reframing of the composite parts of any piece of work. By telling a story in a new language, whether that language is dance or film or roleplay, the key points of the story have to be hung on entirely new hooks. How do you preserve the emotional beats of a play if it’s now a tabletop RPG? How does the tension of a musical composition come across in a silent text-based work? It is these ‘soft’ translations – the translation of emotion or atmosphere or liveness – as opposed to literal translation that I want to tease out. 

I have a theory that I’m toying with, that it’s the width or depth of the boundary between the original and the new work that defines the nature of the translation that took place. The amount of steps that have to take place or the distance travelled. To explore this idea, I held the theory up against some pieces of work that I think are successful translations. These are dotted through the zine and also listed in the Further Reading section. I chatted to acclaimed poet, performer and musician Antosh Wojcik about the access and erasure in translation. And I spoke with Pete Brooks and Simon Wainwright, Co-Artistic Directors of Imitating the Dog, about the idea of translation in their work, particularly looking at Night of the Living Dead Redux.

About Me

I’m Nick and I am an artist and producer. My work is generally concerned with how we communicate particular emotions in a time of so much digital mediation. More often than not, that means I’m interested in exploring loss and grief and how we deal with that in the age of the internet. This takes the form of performance, writing and digital work (videogames). My work typically takes place in digital spaces, but this year it swung hard into that. Anything that may have been IRL became URL. In fact, most of my work for 2020 was helping theatre companies and artists translate their live and in-person work from physical spaces to digital ones. This has meant that a lot of my year has been asking the question of what that translation is and what it has to achieve to be successful. A musician by training, the idea of communication of any sort being an embodied (however far removed) and emotive action is at the heart of this question for me. 

So, for this issue of New Adventures in Performance, I would like to pick up the baton from Melanie Frances and run with it. Her wonderful issue on work that exists at the digital/physical boundary explored the different practices and methods of making work for concurrent digital/physical spaces. I would like to pull that apart and explore some questions about traversing that boundary and what it means to migrate across it. My exploration will take the form of conversations and questions. Neither will be fully concluded or wrapped up with succinct answers as we are all still navigating this space and different answers suit different practices. However I hope you find the following snippets insightful.

If you want to know more about my work you can find it here. Please feel free to follow up any questions. I’m always happy to chat either through the contact form on my website or on twitter.