Audiences, Participation & Engagement, Digital Culture, Representation, Uncategorized

An Invitation to Translate

Dr Ricarda Vidal

How do you translate a poem into a film, how do you render a soundscape in words, what will this look like when it is turned back into a poem? How could it be performed? 

I’d like to invite you to listen, watch and read the example below – and as you read, perhaps think about the final question and perform. If you have time, maybe take a few notes after taking in each version of the poem. Maybe even make your own translation(s).

Recording of Deryn’s poem “Home”
Kate McMillan’s film The Lost Places (2018)
My German and English Translations

As part of my project Talking Transformations: Home on the Move, Deryn Rees Jones wrote a poem about home, which was consecutively translated into several languages and artist films, including Kate McMillan’s film “The Lost Places” (2018). Over the duration of the project, I kept a translation diary which documented how my original translation into German of Deryn’s poem changed with every new version. The image shows my translation of the poem based on the original, its French version and Kate’s film. For convenience I have also included an English translation. You can experience the whole project here

For the last few years, I have been exploring questions like the above in my projects Translation Games and Talking Transformations: Home on the Move. Together with fellow academics, professional and amateur translators, artists and people who came to community workshops and public events, we have translated between languages (interlingual) and media (intersemiotic), often creating multiple versions of a single source text or artefact. This has involved deep listening, close looking, experimenting with sounds, gestures and movements, and a willingness to share personal interpretations. 

In our co-edited book Translating across Sensory and Linguistic Borders (Palgrave 2019, xxvi), Madeleine Campbell and I described and analysed intersemiotic translation as a transactional process where the translator takes on the role of mediator between the source text or artefact and the recipient: 

While in literary translation the onus tends to lie principally on the translator to convey the sense of the source artefact, intersemiotic translation involves a creative step in which the translator (artist or performer) offers its embodiment in a different medium. […] Instead of focusing on the translation of sense or meaning, the translator effectively plays the role of mediator in an experiential process that allows the recipients (viewer, listener, reader or participant) to re-create the sense (or “semios”) of thesource artefact for themselves. 

Intersemiotic translation exposes the multiple layers of communication and the work that is inherent in meaning-making. It also highlights the fact that one’s own translation (interpretation!) is only one of many. It is neither the first, nor the only one nor the last one. Perhaps here, you might think about your own interpretation of Deryn Rees Jones’ poem and how this compared to Kate McMillan’s film and my retranslations into poetry.

In the translation workshops and events that were part of Translation Games and Talking Transformations, intersemiotic translation was used as a method of enquiry, as a way of mediating personal experiences and as a facilitator for conversations across languages, cultures, ages, or class. We not only created artistic translations, but we also had deeply engaging conversations about interpretation, understanding and cross-cultural communication. As such, the research and practice of intersemiotic translation has an important role to play in the digitised globalised contemporary world.

The conjuncture of globalisation, increased migration and digitisation has created new spaces for communication, social and cultural exchanges and encounters. Both in online and offline environments across the globe, we experience an increase in plurilingualism and multiculturalism. Further, digital technologies have made communication increasingly multimodal as we switch or swipe between images, text, memes, emoticons, sound clips, etc. Over the past year, local and national lock-downs and social distancing measures in response to Covid-19, have meant that online platforms have become the primary site of exchange for many of us across the globe. However, while there is exponential growth in the possibilities available for cross-cultural communication, divisions between social, ethnic or national groups are growing as intolerance and inequality, xenophobia and extremism are on the rise. There is hence an urgent need to foster cross-cultural literacy and to create spaces for translation and exchange. 

The conversations described above and their significance for cultural and educational initiatives and policies, are at the heart of my new project: the AHRC-funded international network Experiential Translation: meaning-making in a multimodal world

ETN Website

The network brings together scholars and artists from the UK, Portugal, Poland, Spain, Hungary, Italy and Hong Kong with diverse areas of expertise including translation studies, theatre & performance studies, cultural & literary studies, curatorial studies, education, modern languages, teacher & translator training, music and the fine arts. We aim to achieve a better understanding of how intersemiotic practice can contribute to society and counteract essentialisms, binary oppositions and othering discourse.  

We are researching intersemiotic translation as a method of creation and communication, as a method for learning and teaching, collaboration and participation within multilingual, multicultural and multimodal settings. This includes understanding the many modes and modalities that contribute to meaning-making in cross-cultural communication (online & offline), language learning and translation, and embracing the role of individual imagination and artistic creation in education and arts institutions (e.g. libraries, galleries, museums). 

Through a vibrant programme of public workshops and events in network countries and the co-creation and commissioning of a series of artworks (to be exhibited in summer 2022), we set out to stimulate wider public debate not only about multimodal practice as a twenty-first century modus operandi, but also about the role of intersemiotic translation in fostering cross-cultural communication. Ultimately, we aim to influence arts and education policy with regards to translation, intercultural and multimodal literacies.

Visit our website to find out more about our research and public programme: