Translations for contemporary art

I may have mentioned elsewhere that one of the things I do in life is translate press releases and catalogues for galleries, artists and curators of contemporary art. There is no question of doubt that the work is fascinating, but for those of you who have not had much to do with contemporary art (or any art for that matter), you might not be aware that the field has a language all of its own. I like to call it ‘curator speak’.

So how does ‘curator speak’ differ from the language used by us lesser mortals? Well you don’t have to go far to find examples since many magazines and newspapers run a series of articles describing the latest trends in contemporary art. You will know you have landed in the right place when you find yourself in front of a piece of writing which reads like gobbledygook! Curators and ‘art-speak’ people live in another world — they see things through eyes that somehow manage to transform the sight of a heap of scrap metal into a vision of ethereal beauty. A pile of bricks becomes a monument to the Gods of Olympus — I won’t even begin to tell you what they managed to see in a heap of elephant dung at a recent Venice Biennale.

Now this is all very well, and under normal circumstances it wouldn’t affect my daily life in the least — if it weren’t for the fact that I am the one who has to translate their highfalutin Italian ramblings into English. Now wait for it because you have to laugh at this bit — that’s without ever getting to see the work of art they are spouting about!!! I’m sure you can imagine that it takes a superhuman effort to achieve something even vaguely convincing.

In spite of this rather unusual drawback to the normal execution of my work, I have to concede that many of the artists have done an incredible amount of research before producing their works of art. A case in hand is the work I am doing right now where the works of the artist represent strife and struggles in the Middle East. I have been forced to follow a learning curve of my own to be able to accurately translate much of the terminology used, and to understand where the artist is coming from with his interpretation of the difficult situations described.

So yet again, I must thank the protagonists of a contemporary art exhibition for allowing me to delve more deeply into their ‘art-speak’ and to gain new knowledge thanks to their artistic diversity.