Translating exhibitions

17th of December 2020
Chair Dr. Nicola Foster with Sylvia Schlegel and Deborah Goatly-Birch


10:00 – 10:15 and 5min Q and A

On Translations – a Curatorial Project on confusion and hesitation
Carolina Rito

This paper presents the principles and outcomes of the On Translations curatorial project at Nottingham Contemporary between 2017-2019, which addressed poetic translations across disciplines in the context of cultural translations. On Translations explored relationships between the politics of translation and contemporary visual cultures, by addressing the relationships between the politics of translation, unrepresented histories, and contemporary visual cultures via visual arts, performance, film and discursive platforms. The project investigated translation beyond an equivalent between languages to focus on the legacies of cultural translation ranging from the erasure of languages and epistemologies by colonialism, to contemporary transnational and globalised connections (Nowotny, 2017; Vazquez, 2010). The research was developed via an artistic and curatorial enquiry where aesthetic forms and discursive events come together to activate the research question. The project asked: How may critical translation and curatorial practices help to investigate counter-histories and networks of cultural and knowledge production beyond the Western paradigm?

The project curated a series of six public events including film screenings, talks, conferences, performances and reading groups at Nottingham Contemporary; and an edited volume on The Contemporary Journal titled On Translations. It included works by Maryam Monalisa Gharavi, Urok Shirhan, Slavs and Tatars, Dima Hamadeh, Quinsy Gario, among others. The series of public events and the edited volume are part of the curatorial methods through which the research questions are articulated via visual, textual and sonic materials.

Carolina Rito is Professor of Creative Practice Research, at the Research Centre for Arts, Memory and Communities (CAMC), at Coventry University; and leads on the centre’s Critical Practices research strand. She is a researcher and curator whose work explores ‘the curatorial’ as an investigative practice, expanding practice-based research in the fields of curating, visual arts, visual cultures and cultural studies. Rito is Executive Board Member of the Midlands Higher Education & Culture Forum; Research Fellow at the Institute of Contemporary History (IHC), Universidade NOVA de Lisboa; Founding Editor of The Contemporary Journal; and Chair for the Collaborative Research Working Group for the MHECF. Rito is the co-editor of Institution as Praxis – New Curatorial Directions for Collaborative Research (Sternberg, 2020), Architectures of Education (e-flux Architecture, 2020), and FABRICATING PUBLICS: the dissemination of culture in the post-truth era (Open Humanities Press, forthcoming). Rito is editor of “On Translations” (2018) and “Critical Pedagogies” (2019) issues (The Contemporary Journal). She has published in international journals such as King’s Review, Mousse Magazine, and Wrong Wrong. From 2017 to 2019, she was Head of Public Programmes and Research at Nottingham Contemporary, leading the institution’s research strategy with Nottingham Trent University and University of Nottingham.

10:20 – 10:35 and 5min Q and A

Museum and Novel in dialogue: Orhan Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence
Maja Hill

This paper examines the way contemporary debates are addressed within Orhan Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence. The Museum of Innocence is conceived as a dialogue and translation between two forms: a novel and a permanent exhibition – museum. When observed through the prism of cultural biography of things for museum objects and the epic-novel distinction argued by Bakhtin, it can be suggested that The Museum of Innocence raises a challenge to established master narratives.  This challenge is contained in the process of reversing – translating between a form used to establish values – museum/exhibition and a novel – form that engages with personal stories and often marginalized points of view, thus challenging established values. The novel according to Bakhtin is associated with unofficial language and unofficial thought.

Pamuk constructed a physical museum and a novel as two complementary parts of one work. The fictional story is told through objects curated in a house museum imbedded in the appropriate neighbourhood.  In The Museum of Innocence – the museum, Pamuk displays a Modest Manifesto For Museums. In this manifesto he opposes the splendour of large state museums who present the story of the nation as being far more important than the stories of individuals. He is making a claim supporting a museum that functions like a novel, a small museum that captures individual stories. It is a drive from epic to novel, from national scale to an individual story. This museum/novel take a point of view of a wealthy non-western man.

The novel reflects on the role of the first European collectors and encyclopaedists that stand at the beginning of a museum as we know it today, examining their methods – collecting, exhibiting, categorizing, and cataloguing. Those methods are used in the museum, objects with diverse past are taken out of circulation in the ordinary life, stripped of their practical use. They are overlayed with a new – fictional narrative. Artefacts in a museum command a particular status, superiority, reverence, they are separated from the immediate and distanced. A museum functions as an epic. Each collector and each study, the object is part of, adds another layer of meaning. Pamuk is playing with this process. The association of facts/science with a museum and stories/fiction with novels is challenged. The facts and fiction are mixed, blurred. The audio guide in the museum is voiced as if the fiction is fact. In the novel the architect commissioned to redevelop the building – Íhsan Bilgin, is the actual architect of the museum. This project shows how even a fictional narrative can be established by applying exhibition/museum methods, thus challenging the dominant master narratives.

Maja is undertaking a practice- based PhD in visual arts and she is a lecturer in Media at the Solent University, Southampton. Her research interest focuses on current debates in identity and approaches to history. She is looking at personal and collective traces of the break-up of Yugoslavia and the consequent reconfiguring of personal identities. This is leading to constructing a series of artworks that trace the residue of the past transformative events on identities; searching for the traces that reveal the breaking and consequent reconfiguring of these identities.

10:40 – 10:55 and 5min Q and A

Layers of translation and transaction between book and exhibition: W. G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn and ‘Lines of Sight: Sebald’s East Anglia’ at Norwich Castle Museum
Pat Hurrell

The exhibition Lines of Sight: Sebald’s East Anglia at Norwich Castle Museum ran from May 2019 to January 2020. It was part of a cluster of events celebrating the German writer W. G. Sebald (1944-2001), who gained international recognition for his haunting prose works while living near Norwich and teaching at the University of East Anglia. Probably the best-known of these works is The Rings of Saturn (1995), an account of a walking tour through East Anglia intermingled with stories that blend history, geography, fiction and memory into a circuitous, meditative narrative. Distributed through the book are unprepossessing, uncaptioned black-and-white photographic reproductions.

Lines of Sight was based on themes that permeate The Rings of Saturn, reflecting Sebald’s deep interest in East Anglia’s social, commercial, cultural and environmental history including the region’s silk-weaving industry, local writers and artists, coastal resorts, herring fisheries and naval history. The exhibition referred specifically to locations that echoed the narrator’s progress through East Anglia in the book. The gallery walls delineated each location by displaying a short quotation from the book including a place name, beneath which visitors encountered a variety of objects such as paintings, prints, maps, old books and press cuttings – all of which had been illustrated or commented upon in the book and could now be viewed ‘for real’. Sebald’s recorded voice could be heard throughout the gallery as an interview with him played on a continuous loop. His original 35mm colour photographs, on which many of the book’s illustrations were based, were displayed as prints and as a slide show. Spectators could trace some of the changes that Sebald instructed his collaborator, the photographer Michael Brandon-Jones, to make to these prints by studying the working notes between them that were also on display.

Dr Hurrell gained her PhD in Modern Art History and Theory at the University of Essex in 2004 and has since contributed to the development and teaching of a number of programmes at the University of Suffolk including Fine Art, Graphic Design and Photography.  

5 min break

11:05 – 11:20 and 5min Q and A

Mindful Circulations: Rethinking Curatorial Practice with Benjamin, LeGuin and Césaire
Kerstin Winking

In 2019, the ‘Mindful Circulations’ exhibition of contemporary art took place at the former Victoria and Albert Museum Bombay. Established in the 1850s by wealthy Indian businessmen, the museum’s mission was to present and promote Bombay as an enlightened centre of trade within the British Empire. At that time, the museum’s task was to translate its mission into a spatio-temporal narrative that people experienced by walking along and looking at the displays. In 1975, the museum was renamed after Dr. Bhau Daji Lad, an Indian physician and polymath with an English education. Following a long period of neglect, closure and painstaking renovation, the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum re-opened to the public in 2008.

Since its re-opening, the BDL Museum’s Victorian-style building houses a historical narrative. Today, the carefully restored narrative about trade in Mumbai is staged by means of objects from the past which once represented the (embellished) present. The museum narrates a story of Mumbai in a 19th century encyclopaedic manner through dioramas, statures, showcases with tools, weapons, maps and local design objects. As of old, trade is the central theme around which sub-narratives about the elite people of Bombay, their culture, religion, economy, geography and lives unfold. ‘Mindful Circulations’ placed the work of 12 contemporary artists from India, Indonesia and the Netherlands among the permanent displays. The exhibition’s intervention was to thematically integrate the museum displays and contemporary art objects through their shared involvement with trade and colonial pasts.

This short presentation will reflect upon the ways in which theories about history, narrative, and knowledge by Walter Benjamin, Ursula LeGuin and Aimé Césaire were crucial to developing the exhibition concept and approach to the poetic translation of knowledge into art objects.

Kerstin Winking
is a curator and writer. As a PhD candidate at the Institute of History at Leiden University, the Netherlands, her research explores modern and contemporary art’s relationships with geopolitics and emancipatory movements. Her PhD research project on modern art explores Indonesian artists’ transnational practices, their historical connections with modernisms in India and the Netherlands, and the geopolitical framework in which ideas about modern art were exchanged. Her curatorial practice favours collaboration with artists and co-curators, who share an interest in exploring the relationships between art, trade, the circulations of ideas and objects, labour and craft, historiography, feminism, and display strategies in museums.

As an assistant and project curator for the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam (2008-2015), Kerstin worked in its project space, the SMBA, on many contemporary art exhibitions. For the Stedelijk Museum she curated exhibitions with the artist collective Tromarama (2015) and of the work of the Djaya Brothers (2018) from the museum’s collection of modern art. In 2019, she was the curator of ‘Mindful Circulations’ (2019) at the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum and the Mondriaan Fellow at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College in New York. At present she is working on a monograph with and about the artist Sawangwongse Yawnghwe and collaborating with art historian Anissa Rahadiningtyas on an exhibition project about modern art in Indonesia.

11:25 – 11:40 and 5min Q and A

Restaging as Translation: Reconstructing Palle Nielsen’s ‘The Model- A Model for Qualitative Society’ (1968)
Dudley, Laura E.

In response to the conference theme of ‘translations’ I plan to examine how restaged exhibitions play a role within this debate. I believe these can operate in a slightly different way than formal translations, for example, it is not as simple as translating a painting into a piece of performance. Exhibitions bring together a multitude of different elements, and the process of remembering these ephemeral moments translates them from what was experienced originally to allow for them to be ‘collected’. We are in fact, more often than not, translating the preserved experience often understood through archival materials, than, for example, a painting or sculpture, and with this experience it becomes the curatorial, decision-making and the aims and objectives of the original which capture our attention. I believe that this provides opportunities for restaging these moments within a non-hierarchical structure of exchange where a singular exhibition can transcend disciplinary and historical constraints, and not be painstakingly indebted to one authentic, historical moment forever but translate the process of exhibition-making, whilst allowing for the moment to grow, and expand through the process of restaging.

With this in mind l have chosen to focus on Palle Nielsen’s ‘The Model- A Model for Qualitative Society’. Originally exhibited at the Moderna Museet, Stockholm in 1968 the exhibition saw Nielsen create an ‘adventure playground’ inside the museum where children were free to experiment with an array of materials with no given boundaries or outcomes. Nielsen was driven by this notion of freedom, breaking down the boundaries that were in society at this time and showing parents the importance of play and exploration. The exhibition, although innovative and fresh at the time, fell out of public memory until more recently. ‘The Model’ has been re-interpreted several times since it was gifted to MACBA in 2009, all of these represent different ways of translating the exhibition from its original discipline, whether this be through translating the exhibition into a new time and place, allowing a new audience to participate or new curatorial teams translating the exhibition to fit contemporary health and safety requirements or the values of the host institution. In some exhibition restaging’s, for example Robert Morris’s ‘bodyspacemotionthings’, restaged at Tate Modern in 2009, the exhibition becomes a spectacle which attempts to aesthetically translate the original participation rather than allowing for new participation to occur. This is not what has occurred with Palle Nielsen’s exhibition, although participation is at its core it is Nielsen’s curatorial motivations and concepts which have been translated.

I have selected the 2014 restaging of ‘The Model’ at Arken Museum of Modern Art, Copenhagen due to their innovative approach to revitalise Nielsen’s vision and aims for the exhibition within a new context. Arken made little reference to the 1968 exhibition, but instead took this as an opportunity to play with how we can use exhibition histories to engage with our audiences. I plan to explore how ‘The Model’ in 2014 addressed contemporary debates and pushed the boundaries  of Walter Benjamin’s notions of ‘aura’ and ‘exhibitability’[1] to breath the new life into these terms and address how exhibition histories do not need to be governed by a singular context or discipline, and that the notion of translation can work more broadly. As I will discuss in my paper, Nielsen was driven by this idea of the exhibition being ‘continuous, thus he selected the title ‘The Model’, as he wanted it to grow, adapt and ultimately translate to the future. To conclude I will analyse how this example challenged the hierarchies of exhibition histories, and in turn how we might build on ‘The Model’ to be more open-minded about how we work with these moments and utilise their potential as Nielsen envisaged. This paper also aims to question why a restaged exhibition, or the translation of an exhibition, is almost always perceived as secondary in relation to the original exhibition materials. I plan to interrogate the notion of why the ‘translator’ and ‘translation’, as referenced in the conference call, is always indebted to the historical memory of the exhibition even when they are translating this for a different context.

Benjamin, W (1934) The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. London: Penguin Books.

Laura Dudley
is a Postgraduate Researcher at the School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester who is currently researching restaged and co-produced participatory art exhibitions, and how these might contribute to future models and methods of display. Her research interests also include archives, artist’s studios, and community engagement. Laura is also Editor-in-Chief for the Museological Review, Museum Studies Journal and works as a Project Co-ordinator at Derby Museums.  

11:45 – 12:15
This section will conclude with a discussion on the topic

back to the programme

Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search