Kenyon College

Sympathy for the translator

January 24, 2023–April 2, 2023  [+]

Sympathy for the translator investigates the politics of translation and how languages (spoken, embodied, and lost) can introduce replenished spaces for new meanings.¹ The exhibition brings together an array of practices that touch upon identity, cultural memory, and notions of intimacy, as well as issues of visibility. Through works on paper, video, sculpture, print, and installations, Sympathy for the translator further prompts us to look at the role of translation as a productive site of explorations, and disruptions where new forms can appear.²

The works selected for this exhibition call into question the limitations of languages as well as the inherent singularities embedded in tongues – spoken, forgotten, erased, material, or performed. Navigating different postures in relationship to language construction (or de-construction), Sympathy for the translator purposefully plays on the idea of translation as a misleading yet porous and capacious practice that is reclaimed, and expanded upon by artists.  

“Sympathy is here used by ways of caring: caring for the things we don’t know and seemingly can’t touch, but that still exist,” says Desrosiers. “I ask the viewers to care for others; the languages, histories, and oral traditions shared with them in this context. Sympathy for the translator calls into action how we carry knowledge and complicity with the languages we build between us, the ones that remain unknown or opaque, but inevitably that we carry throughout the objects we cherish, the visuals we return to and the need to assert what remains lingering and untranslatable. Sympathy requires radical care, discomfort, perspective, and humanity – just like translation it is one amongst many relations to Others.”

Artists include: Yuji Agematsu, Jesse Chun, Sonya Clark, Marie-Michelle Deschamps, Renée Green, Bouchra Khalili, Christine Sun Kim, Tony Lewis, Kathleen Ritter, Caroline Monnet, Cherrie Yu, and Carrie Mae Weems.

¹This curatorial project emerged from Desrosiers’ participation as a guest editor of the Brooklyn Rail (May 2020). This special folio titled, Made of linguistic forms and failures: inquiry in times of isolation, captured the reflections of 10 creative collaborators (artists, curators, writers) invested in the conceptual approaches inherent to the process of translation as a form and a motif that is consistently explored by artists.

²The title of the exhibition takes its empathy from Mark Polizotti’s Sympathy for the traitor published in 2019 by MIT Press and looks at translation as a practice that should solely be measured in relation to authenticity to its original but as a creative outlet, a celebration and a necessity.

Feature Image: Renée Green, Space Poem #7 (Color Without Objects: Intra-Active May-Words), 2020. Poly Duck, 28 banners, each: 42 x 32 in. Edition of 1/3 + 1 AP. Image courtesy of the artist and Bortolami Gallery, New York.

The Gund Gallery exhibitions and programs are made possible, in part, by the Gund Gallery Board of Directors and the Ohio Arts Council.


Zoe Moffitt

This sounds so beautiful and needed for all of us to expand our understanding and empathy for seeing the depth of people’s exprience and culture and the process of translation beyond the words. I wish I could come to Kenyon to see it, but cannot. If there is a video to see more of the work and/or the artists, I would love to konw how to see it and of there is or will be a printed catalog? I googled and found the exhibition at a few othger galleries, but no video of it unless I missed it. I love the interview video with Carrie Mae Weems, and have known and admirred her work and viewpoints for many years, but would be curious what she has to say about this translation project. Appreciate any other info or leads to see more about the exhibtion/project. Thank you for bringing this show to The Gund. [I am an alum from class of ’73].

3 months ago