The Fabrics of Untranslatability – Virginie Bobin

How could a reflection on the potentials of translation help us navigate, and hopefully act upon the conflicted political situation we live in? Language, or the so-called “mother tongue”, is still largely understood as a fixed, homogeneous entity, pure from any contamination, transformation or hybridization processes. Against this monolingual comprehension, theorists Naoki Sakai, Rainier Grutman or Myriam Suchet call for heterolingual imaginaries, as a way to decolonize our relationship to language(s) and to craft tools of (mis)communication, (un)learning, radical hospitality and political action. Others, like philosopher and philologist Barbara Cassin, invite us to welcome untranslatability: to acknowledge that translation is never definitive, that it is constantly in-progress, that we never cease to translate or to be translated, thereby unsettling dominant categories and authoritarian positions.
Engaging in an active dialogue with a community of artists, thinkers and activists through a series of interviews, workshops and a publishing platform, I intend to take heterolinguality and untranslatability
as compasses to navigate issues of desire, belonging, hospitality, resistance and knowledge production beyond the accredited channels of communication and circulation; and to produce unexpected meanings, meetings and intermediary, translational spaces where to rethink our roles as artists, researchers, cultural producers and citizens.
Language and translation are a matter of bodies, a continuous fabric of being(s) (in) translation. By reinvesting the body, in its most physical as well as immaterial expressions – such as the voice – I want to exercise possible ways of acting upon institutions – such as the law. In a global context where language and translation have often become tools of control and exclusion, I wish to investigate a variety of tactics, gestures and practices to perform and invent (un)translation processes that facilitate uncharted encounters, relations and modes of knowledge production.
This research will partly develop through my personal attempt at learning Arabic — (a) language(s) that is loaded with intimate, but also political and ideological connotations, especially in post-November 2015 France — via a series of experiments and collaborations.
Between 2010 and 2018, I have worked as a curator-coordinator-producer-editor-manager-mediator-caretaker-cook-friend-etc for art institutions that support experimental forms of artistic research, engage with socio-political concerns and contexts, advocate for feminist and decolonial practices and work in transdisciplinary ways. After experiencing the limits of working institutionally, I sought for other, slower ways of developing practices and projects that embrace care, hospitality and collaboration.
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