The Choice of a Translator


What: A transcription of a talk on censorship and steganography given in Beijing wherein a suspected government spy was part of the audience. 
Where: I:projectspace, Beijing, China 
When: 22nd May 2017

On the 22nd May 2017, at the end of my artist-in-residency at I: project space in Beijing, I presented my work in the form of an artist talk. During the residency I developed the projects ‘The New Nushu’ and ‘Thunderclap’ as an investigation into Chinese feminism, language politics, steganography (secret writing), censorship, and publishing in the context of China. Just as the event was about to start, a suspected government spy entered the premise and sat amongst the audience. Tensions began to grow.

The artist talk was in both English and Mandarin. For every passage of English I spoke, my assistant Zhuxin Wang accordingly translates my words into Mandarin. The audience was made up of those who predominantly understand English or Mandarin, but also some who were fluent in both languages. In an attempt to disarm the suspected government spy whom we believed couldn’t understand English, Zhuxin Wang modifies, simplifies and omits some of the content through the process of translating. Simultaneously, she skilfully translates enough information making sure not to alienate the rest of the Mandarin speaking audience. This transcript reveals how the translator reshapes and depoliticises content, positioning the act of translation as a tool for censorship and steganography. The work is a documentation of a live case of evasion tactics enacted on a talk about evasion tactics.

View the full transcript here.
This work was part of the exhibition Hutong Whispers