IN THE WORDS OF OTHERS-Untranslating Bodies – Virginie Bobin

Virginie BOBIN

Untranslating Bodies

In the words of others studies and performs different ways of working with, and being affected by, translation and language politics in the French context, as it is shaped by colonial and postcolonial histories and relations. That research is located in what Emily Apter calls “translation zones” — “diasporic language communities, print and media public spheres, institutions of governmentality and language policy-making, theaters of war, and literary theories” (Apter 2006). It is narrated by the translatress, a character inscribed in a feminist lineage of translators and mediators, who approach translation as a gesture of address, woven with multiple relationships and voices (Simon 1996). Although translation played a significant role in establishing nationalist, imperial and patriarchal forms of domination (Spivak 1992, Casanova 2015, Samoyault 2020), it can also be “[c]ast as an act of love, and as an act of disruption …,” thus offering itself as “ … a significant medium of subject re-formation and political change” (Apter op cit). Following Barbara Cassin’s definition of untranslability — “not that that we cannot translate, but that that we never cease to translate” (Cassin 2016) — the translatress engages with (un)translation as an ongoing labor of mutual affection, a way of “staying with the trouble” (Haraway 2016). As she ceaselessly navigates between French, English and Arabic languages, the ideological and affective contours of “la-langue” (Suchet 2014) begin to shake.

In practice, the translatress’ research concomitantly moves through three ‟translation zones:ˮ a textual and pedagogical one, whereby engaging — often collectively — with translation problems opens up different ways of ‟unlearning with othersˮ (Azoulay 2019) ; an institutional one, where interpreters discuss the political and affective role of translation within the ecosystem of asylum rights ; and an editorial one, with Qalqalah قلقلة, an editorial and curatorial platform dedicated to the production, translation and circulation of artistic, theoretical and literary research in three languages — French, Arabic and English. In these three contexts, (un)translating involves affective modes of listening (Campt 2017) and the ethical necessity of ‟performing witnessˮ (Musser 2018) in the words of others, with others and ‟at the risk of othersˮ (Stengers 2021).

Virginie Bobin, screenshot from a video self-interview produced for Slavs and Tatars’ Translate Me Over a River, 2020.

Virginie Bobin works often collectively, at the crossroads between research, curatorial and editorial practices, pedagogy and translation. In 2018, she co-founded with Victorine Grataloup the curatorial and editorial platform Qalqalah قلقلة, with whom she co-curated two exhibitions at CRAC in Sète (2020) and La Kunsthalle Mulhouse (2021); and co-organized several workshops and events. In parallel, she developed a long-term dialogue with artist Mercedes Azpilicueta, notably leading to three exhibitions at CentroCentro (Madrid), Museion (Bolsano) and CAC Brétigny between 2019 and 2021; and to a publication (forthcoming with K. Verlag, 2023).

Until 2018, she was Head of programs at Villa Vassilieff, a space for residencies and research that she co-founded in 2016 in Paris. She has worked for Bétonsalon – Center for Art and Research, Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Manifesta Journal, Les Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers and Performa, the New York performance biennial. Former editorial projects include Composing Differences (Les Presses du Réel, 2015) and Re-publications (co-edited with Mathilde Villeneuve, Archive Books, 2015).

She is currently a candidate at the PhD-in-practice in Artistic Research at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna (2018-2023), where she studies the political and affective stakes of translation in postcolonial France.

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