A Manifesto for Interpretation as Instigation


—Mierle Laderman Ukeles

For us there are not boundaries between things in such a clear way… We wear our mistakes and missteps out in the open and our arty-ness and politics intertwine in ways that often surprise us …We are constantly pushing ourselves, and others, to go places where we haven’t before with art and creativity.
—Temporary Services

We know that the problems are too complicated, too complex, to define art from a dictionary… We say that art is defined by the people, because the people are the ones who make art.
—Emory Douglas

  • The so-called language barrier is permeable.
  • Differences in language signal larger differences in perception, culture, worldview, and mode of expression. Capital marshals difference as barrier.
  • Language can be used to divide and conquer, and yet it can also be used to unite, to resist domination, to construct more humane and delightful realities.
  • John Cage: I have nothing to say and I am saying it and that is poetry.
  • To listen closely to what someone is saying and repeat it accurately (yet always differently) in another language is a specialized form of speech.
  • We have nothing to say and we are saying what you said and it is poetry.
  • Interpreters say what is being said, what has already been said, and what has not yet been said. Listening to what is being said elsewhere, in a different context, in a different language, can open us to think what we have not yet thought.
  • Interpreters do not repeat the words of another person mindlessly, mechanically. Interpreters are not parrots. Interpreters repeat the words of another person mindfully, humanly. Compassion, humility and selflessness drive our practice. Interpreters do not mimic; we embody.
  • We believe no expression embodies “original intention.” The presence of an interpreter is too often misunderstood as signaling insufficiency and inadequacy: the interpretation is not “the real thing.” Yet language is always versions of ideas, thoughts, and perceptions. What the speaker says is no more original than what the interpreter says.
  • Interpreters are needed and need is uncomfortable and hence interpreters are made invisible, so as not to remind people of that uncomfortable need. Interpreters can find power in our invisibility. Visibility in our invisibility.
  • Ending language dominance requires resources, patience, and tremendous willingness to work together with others in ways that are not always comfortable. To construct a space where no language dominates is an almost impossible dream. And yet we work to create such spaces, to ferret out the best methods for breaking down the inherited, unquestioned dominance of certain languages. We believe beyond the tiniest sliver of a shadow of a doubt that it is worth the effort.
  • Interpreters think, speak, act. Our labor must be made visible and recognized. Our labor must remain invisible and unrecognized.

To read the rest of this piece, purchase issue 27.1 here