I spoke to poet, performer and sound artist, Antosh Wojcik, about what forms a successful translation and what the constraints needed to stay in the realm of translation might be. We discussed the boundaries between artforms, 80’s mythic anime and plays performed in The Sims among other topics. Here are a couple of snippets from that discussion.
Translation as collaboration, the agency of the translator, and who owns it all
Antosh: I think if you’re taking work – particularly if it’s contemporary work – if you’re taking work where the creative is living, breathing, is active, part of that work is establishing the connection with that maker, I think, and then being like, Okay do you want to collaborate? It’s got to be reciprocal.
Nick: Does that put contemporary translation in the place of a potentially radical act?
Antosh: Well, it depends. It depends who’s doing it. It’s only really radical, if the gains are even. As in, for example, right now I would only translate Polish work, right? And that might be me going too far, but that’s my sort of underlying thought, what’s the other language that I’m connected to? Before I translate anything else I’m going to at least be where I’m most connected?
Nick: And this is in terms of specifically linguistic translation?
Antosh: Yeah. But also cultural. If I’m, say, making some sound work, can I bring like Polish techno avant garde noisemaking into English listenership? And if I do that where’s the basis for it? Because otherwise, what I’m doing is removing the context of the sound. How do you set the context for the work moving into the other sphere that it’s going to exist in? And then how do you hold up the originator of that work? Do you need to? Is that important to you? I’m not saying there has to be a solid answer, but I really do think they have to be involved.
Jumping slightly, how many translations of The Odyssey are there? How many translations deep are we of that one story?
Nick: That’s a complicated thing as well. I think The Odyssey being something that is so based in antiquity, that also gives people or allows people to feel like they have a certain measure of creative license to retell it just straight off the bat. I’m thinking of things like Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou? Or Ulysses 31, the French-Japanese anime series from the 80s. How much is that retelling a translation? And how much is it finding a new platform for the same tale?
Antosh: And despite moving so far, it is so rooted in the initial idea. The Odyssey, instead of a story to translate, becomes a mode of telling ‘story’. The precedent that you could tell a story in ‘Odyssey format’, knowing it will come out like a certain kind of thing. Jumping back to us, it’s like, if I were to take something from 50 years ago, or even 30, there’s loads of underground Polish, avant garde soundmaking that happened during, Soviet occupation. That’s really helpful for me to put the source material into perspective, in terms of the heritage I have, and how I can rework that root through some kind of movement electronically. I would aim to tap into that. I think it’s important that I do the work to connect to that. And to bring the ideas of that root forward. It’s not necessarily time sensitive. If you’re working with contemporary makers or not, when doing translation, hard or soft translation, moving it into other platforms, it’s really important to contact and credit the originator if that idea is still very much a living breathing part of their cannon, you know?
Erasure as a method of translation
Antosh: I was going ask you, do you consider erasure as a form of translation?
Nick: Oh, that’s a great question. Erasure as in like selective erasure?
Antosh: I’m thinking Schlock. Could you view Schlock as a translation? Because it’s erasing and reworking, but all of the content already exists in another form.
Nick: Schlock is a great example. Is Schlock translation? Is reworking translation?
Antosh: That’s it. Have you evolved the idea too much?
Nick: I think that’s it. I don’t think it’s strictly translation because it’s not the same work anymore. There has to be a point. On one hand, how much can you work into a thing? How much can you work on something that looks like another thing? before it becomes that thing? And on the other hand, how much can you change a thing, using those same composite parts, before it’s no longer that thing? Like you can’t watch Schlock and now say that you’ve read Kathy Acker’s In Memoriam. That is a fundamentally different work. Though, contradicting myself immediately, it’s not that cut and dry. Like, I still don’t think I’ve seen Chekhov’s The Seagull even though I’ve watched the version of it performed in The Sims because that itself was so far removed. That was like an academic exercise in the agency of autonomous characters. Like, I definitely think it is a translation. Yeah. But the boundary between the two translations is so wide. It’s virtually indecipherable to me.
Antosh: Moving back to erasure, there’s, there’s a section in Kei Miller’s latest book, where he’s taken newsclippings. So like, news stories.
Nick: Contemporary stories?
Antosh: Yeah, from I think the last decade. The collection is all about the phrase ‘in nearby bushes’. He basically spends the book refining the idea. It starts with a broad point and moves towards the nugget of the phrase. He has the news clipping grayed out, and then the words and phrases that he wants to use as the poem are still in black. The context is there as a layer behind so you can see where the erasure is coming from, but in effect, I would call that he’s translation. He’s translated each news story into a poem, because he’s presented the context alongside the truth of the piece.
The poem itself might be a line long. So without the context there, it would have been nowhere near as interesting or making the point it was making.
Nick: And it also is quite a complex version of erasure. Where what is being erased is still very much there. You have access to it. You’re given the negative space. Yeah, that’s definitely a translation of an original text. And perhaps that’s a really selective translation, which I guess any translation is. It has to be done by a person, who has their own agenda.
Remakes vs translations, what makes either successful?
Antosh: I was thinking about another question for you, that refers back to that first one. Does remaking use the same methods as translation? Lars Von Trier has a sort of documentary in which he makes new work. It’s him and the filmmaker that taught him. They tasked each other and gave each other constraints to make the same film five times. It’s called The Five Obstructions, and each remake is really painful. Like, how you can imagine with Lars Von Trier. They are some really tough constraints. They’re refining an idea, and it does take a new form, but it has to maintain the principle of the original.
Nick: I wonder about that space between a remake and a translation. Yeah, that does feel like translation if you’re remaking the same film, like the constraint is a new language or it’s the reduction of the language that you had. So maybe you’re even translating the language that you are using, and that’s where the translation sits. While we’re on film. [Gus Van Sant] remade Psycho shot for shot in 1998, but I didn’t do anything new. Or it didn’t do anything particularly interesting in my mind. That was not a translation, because it didn’t feel like there were any artistic choices being made, because it was to do it shot for shot. There’s a place where staying too close to the original doesn’t result in a translation either.
So in that essence I think a remake and a translation are different and Five Obstructions sounds like translation. Like self-translation. And Psycho feels like a remake. But perhaps that categorisation comes from how successful the piece was. ‘Translation’ feels more elevated than ‘remake’.