Sally Morfill: the line that (…) Q&A

In relation to your own practice, how do you define the notions of dialogue and translation?

Dialogue has provided both content and methodology in my recent practice. In thinking about this question I know that I have already replaced the word ‘dialogue’ with ‘conversation’ or ‘correspondence’ – an immediate indication of how we can habitually ‘translate’ intended meaning to fit our own understanding or suit our purpose – and this idea of conversation can definitely be applied (or defined) in a range of ways: a conversation with oneself, between two or more people, between materials, across time, with the dead etc.

In recent work I have juxtaposed transcribed conversations with drawings. Motion capture data from the speech related hand gestures made during conversation have been translated into linear vinyl drawings; dynamic trajectories that talk about movement and time as well as the space and relationship between two interlocutors. For The Naturalness of Strange Things as Ana and I have developed new bodies of work, different forms of dialogue emerge: repeated and sequential, introspective and open-ended. These are intense dialogues with specific materials – a process of sentence forming or making thought visible – that are complete in themselves. When placed together in the same space, new dialogues begin to occur between the different objects and media. We let them go and they begin to make meaning.

If we see translation as a means of making a shift from one language to another, and if we can interpret different forms of making as languages, then the method I use is often one of a physical translation or a translation from digital to material.

In The Infinite Conversation Maurice Blanchot writes:

‘The definition of conversation (that is, the most simple description of the most simple conversation) might be the following: when two people speak together, they speak not together, but each in turn: one says something, then stops, the other something else (or the same thing), then stops. The coherent discourse they carry on is composed in sequences that are interrupted when the conversation moves from partner to partner, even if adjustments are made so that they correspond to one another.’[1]

For The Naturalness of Strange Things my collaboration with Ana Čavić is one in which dialogue and translation occur simultaneously. As in Blanchot’s definition, we have taken turns at ‘speaking’, picking up our thread from a (visual) statement made by Henri Michaux (his Alphabet drawings of 1927). I translate Michaux’s lines into a new medium, understanding them through a repeated process of redrawing. His lines are digitised and separated out, then mechanically cut in vinyl. The lines are prepared to pass on to Ana by removing the ‘unwanted’ vinyl. These remnants are rolled, compressed and layered piece on piece to produce sculptural forms that are the basis for a group of carefully rendered drawings. So the process could be seen in terms of a series of translations that begin and end with drawing.

To what extent does miscommunication or mistranslation perform a role in your creative practice?

In this body of work the series of drawings of vinyl remnants are shown in the same space as the physical objects they depict; the limitations of the eye and the hand in rendering these objects through a process of drawing (mediated by photography and the digital screen) could amount to a mistranslation. The drawings show the objects larger than life size, but at the same time as ‘translating’ visual information they also assert themselves as new objects made from the particular combination of paper and graphite.

There has been an attempt to reveal something of the process through the display of a reproduction of Michaux’s Alphabet drawing. There is the possibility of making connections between the drawing on the printed page and the surrounding artworks, and equally the possibility of recognising places where ‘slippage’ occurs.

Within both dialogue and translation, does the concept of ‘loss’ have any function and meaning?

Would you argue that loss has a transformative power in dialogue and translation?

‘Loss’, in relation to dialogue and translation, opens up spaces for interpretation. The work in this show has followed a structured process within which improvisatory detours occur, and the offer to an audience is of a series of propositions that don’t rely on a singular definitive reading. In the context of both making and understanding a loss in translation can lead to productive gain.

In a pragmatic sense, during the process of translating the same information from one medium to another, (e.g. drawn marks to vinyl lines) there might be a kind of failure to accurately reproduce something. I find this particularly interesting in relation to mechanical processes like vinyl cutting that one might expect to be completely accurate. A long gestural line drawn as a vector in a digital drawing program with a thickness of 1mm, might, through the process of cutting and due to the intrinsic slippery surface quality of the vinyl, become a line with a changing stroke width and a more calligraphic quality. The material translation is inexact and impossible to reproduce the same way twice, but as the machine begins to reveal its idiosyncrasies of character we can acknowledge the gains that come through letting go of control and the gradual distancing of work from ourselves.

Vilém Flusser writes about translation in his essay ‘The Gesture of Writing’; he spoke and wrote in several languages and his comments have a relevance to me as someone whose practice shifts between materials and processes with their own (orthographical) rules:

In my memory, there are words from various languages. They don’t mean the same things. Each language possesses its own atmosphere and, as a result, is a universe in itself. It is inexact to say that I command the languages stored in my memory. Of course I can translate, and in this sense, I transcend them all. In this same sense, I can choose the language in which I would like to write. But in another sense, it is the languages that command me, program and transcend me, for each of them throws me into its own universe.[2]


[1] Blanchot, M. and Hanson, S. (1993) The Infinite Conversation. University of Minnesota Press. p.75

[2] Flusser, V. and Roth, N. A. (2014) Gestures. University of Minnesota Press. pp.22-23

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