Seeing studies at Casco

Issue no1
Feb - March 2020

The institute for incongruous translation presents its project seeing studies at Casco in Utrecht, taking shape in three chapters: as a spatial arrangement, a publication and a series of workshop sessions. The publication departs from the translation of a schoolbook published by the Iranian Ministry of Education to teach art at middle school. The institute for incongruous translation has involved numerous contributors in a long-term investigation of the ways we learn to see.

—Jolien VerlaekWhy did you choose this particular schoolbook to translate?

—Natascha Sadr Haghighian‘We found it in a bookstore in Tehran and we were surprised. I grew up in Germany and I had never come across a book for teaching art in our school and Ashkan, who grew up in the United States, had never seen such a thing either. It was not part of the curriculum we knew to have such books, at least not for middle school. We thought this was interesting, because how do you actually teach art. How do you teach children how to look at things and to depict things? These are very difficult questions.’

—Jolien VerlaekWhat is the original schoolbook like?

—Natascha Sadr Haghighian‘Well, the book is not specifically good, but it offers a lot of opportunities for questioning precisely many things that we’re interested in. It presents a lot of different matters and it has a certain – maybe unintended – openness towards various traditions of seeing and depiction, placing them side-by-side, not judging whether one is better or worse. My art education is based on a European understanding of seeing, rooted in a Renaissance way of depiction. It should not be underestimated what this does to your whole perceptive apparatus, how you see the world. We felt it was necessary, in terms of a lot of questions that are raised in our contemporary world, to question the foundations of what we see. We take for it for granted, thinking that everything is rooted in the Renaissance. Maybe it’s not; maybe it is just a tiny part.’

—Ashkan Sepahvand‘When I reflect on my art historical education, entering art history is always geared towards that point of climax represented by the Renaissance. What happens afterwards always refers back to the Renaissance, either as a continuation or as a rupture. An exciting element for me in the schoolbook is that it touches upon things that only much later on, towards the end of my formal education, I began to encounter. For instance reading John Berger’s Ways of Seeing or George Kubler’s The Shape of Time. The approaches embodied by these books are more an undercurrent in art history, outside of the orthodoxy or mainstream academia, and have surely shaped fields like visual and cultural studies. I thought to myself, wow, I had to go through all these works to get to this point, but this schoolbook raises these issues from early on for a totally different age category and educational system.’

—Jolien VerlaekWhat is the institute for incongruous translation? Why was it founded?

'If you say “painting” in English, you invoke an entire history of what painting means within the context of how it has been practiced in English or European languages in general.'

—Ashkan Sepahvand‘The institute was created as a way of working through this research project. When we started translating the original schoolbook, we realised that the activity of translation is a very important thing that affects the entire scope of the project. We saw that within the text of the schoolbook – which is very simple and contains basic reflections on and instructions about drawing and painting - there are specific words that one may be able to find an appropriate equivalent for in English, but by providing direct translation you actually remove an entire history that a word brings with itself. If you say “painting” in English, you invoke an entire history of what painting means within the context of how it has been practiced in English or European languages in general. That same subtlety, that is, the relationship between words, their use, and the history which words carry with them, is also present in the Farsi word for “painting”, which conveys an entirely different tradition of seeing and image-making. This is a challenge, to translate words that, on the one hand, may have an equivalent but, on the other hand, may have a certain ambiguity of what they are referring to. The notion that we began to embrace was the “incongruent translation”. Imagine two different shapes: a square and a triangle. If you place them on top of each other and they overlap, their edges do not align. It is not this perfect carry-over one assumes is the task of translation. There are many differences, similarities and intersections. Two shapes or two words have relations that are not necessarily articulated, but when they are placed in tension with one another or when they overlap, they reveal things about each other.’

—Natascha Sadr Haghighian‘The translation process applies not only to spoken or written language, but also to images and the means of communication we have and which we sometimes take for granted. Translation is always a process of negotiating what is actually being communicated. This negotiation can never be seen as a fluent or congruous process. There is always something added or missing in the translation process. It will never be the same. Every translation is a negotiation of meaning that enters the sphere of the political. There is discussion, there is dispute, there is discord. This is part of communication and not opposed to communication. We see this as the agenda of the institute for incongruous translation.’

—Jolien VerlaekWhat do you want to communicate with seeing studies?

—Natascha Sadr Haghighian'We wish for the publication to be material that serves discussion, more than just being an object that you read for yourselves. We don’t want it to be a schoolbook, but a book where we can enter a learning process.'

—Jolien VerlaekHow does this project relate to your previous work Natascha, for instance the bioswop project where you reject the totalizing idea of CV’s?

—Natascha Sadr Haghighian'The project is a continuation of a lot of questions that I have been having for a long time. They intersect in the schoolbook. One of the big questions that bioswop is part of is that in this image-based culture that we live in so much is founded on representations. You constantly make an image of yourself. And your CV is one of them. I have a big doubt about these images. I feel the necessity to constantly ask: why is this ‘the’ image? It could be something else. The CV raises such problems. What does the place of birth or the list of exhibitions that one has accomplished tell you about a person or their work? This is a representational format that is a convention and everybody sticks to it, but what does it actually produce? One way to approach these questions is to have fun with them, to play with them.’

—Jolien VerlaekHow can we see this playfulness in seeing studies?

—Natascha Sadr Haghighian'In the spatial arrangement at Casco, you can definitely see humour in how we approach the use of an overhead projector. The overhead projector is very much a teaching tool that ideally should help to make things more apparent. If you apply things vertically on the projector like we did, you misuse it. These are just little reminders that that there are so many different ways of seeing and approaching things. It is not just about making it visible. Sometimes, invisibility shows something, and we are playing with the tool to create this relationship between what is seen and shown and what is not.'

Seeing Studies is on view at Casco in Utrecht untill February 13th 2011,
and takes shape in three overlapping chapters:
4 December 2010 - 13 February 2011
Opening: 3 December 2010, 17.00-19.00
Book release: 19-22 January 2011
The publication of the book will be bilingual: in Farsi and in English.
Workshop sessions: 19-22 January 2011

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Metropolis M Magazine for contemporary art No 1 — 2020