This thought bunch was triggered by a news item: a former Guantanamo guard apologising to two former prisoners. During the interview one of the prisoners commented that translators at the prison did not always render correctly what had been said. My immediate thought was how powerful translators are, and what a great contribution to one’s own abilities knowing another language is.
I read a lot of books by foreign authors, and am conscious of what a difference a good translation makes to the enjoyment and appreciation of the author’s work. Indeed a good translator should be able to overcome some of an author’s language shortcomings – or should they?
As I mused further about being able to see both sides, and being able to take an overview, I turned to my recently broached topic of criticism – and to the power of the critic. In the art world the late Clement Greenberg leaps to mind. It was when I read the excellent Anthony Caro: Quest for the New Sculpture that I realised what a huge role Greenberg played in Caro’s development.
Shakespeare’s fools are often the eyes which can speak the politically unwise. How good it would be to be our own fools: to stand on the hill and see both sides. The difficulty arises when distance is not what is needed to develop good work. Sometimes the blinkered determination of a clear but narrow view is what produces the great breakthrough – sometimes there is no translation because there is no equivalence.
I guess that’s when the translator’s art is most needed in the widest sense of interpretation. And that is when we need their best work. Should that translator be the most efficient, effective objective conduit, or like Greenberg have a substantial subjective input? I think my own ambition in this field is to use both, to inform myself as much as possible so that I can be my own fool to look around at the whole landscape as well as my own patch of ground.
Is there however sufficient informed critique about contemporary textiles? There are many descriptive articles informing us about the artists and their work. Telos Art Publishing produce many beautiful books which inform us visually, and which have descriptive and biographical texts, but only three volumes of serious critique in their Reinventing Textiles series. I reviewed the first two volumes, and was disappointed that so much obfuscatory academic-speak was employed. I suppose that’s perhaps necessary to make sure that the text is not seen as more general articles for hobbyists.
To be fair, magazines are improving. Fiberarts, Surface Design, Embroidery are all including many more serious articles, and Craft Arts International I find excellent, although textiles is a minority subject there. I used to subscribe to Sculpture magazine until the exchange rate made the cost prohibitive – there the work of artists such as Annette Messager and others who similarly use textile materials or techniques is discussed seriously within a wider context. I miss those views, and just this minute while thinking of that loss, I have decided that instead of entering the lottery of the Quilt Visions exhibition I shall renew my subscription to Sculpture magazine. So here I sit with my foolish grin, delighted in anticipation.
I think that there is a gap, a need for a wider serious (but not a pseudo-academic-self-importance-speak) critique of textiles such as that produced from time to time by Linda Millar (see her latest touring exhibition: Cultex) so that we can learn more about the wide landscape in which we are tilling our own soil.