The Interpreters, a study (2017)

At the beginning of his presentation, a speaker made a joke through an interpreter and after a few seconds the whole room burst into laughter. He was pleased that finally an audience had appreciated his joke. At the end of the meeting he said to the interpreter, “You know, I’ve made this joke several times in lots of different countries, but usually no one laughs. You must be a very good interpreter. I wonder how you managed to translate it?” The interpreter replied, “I simply said: he has made a joke, please laugh.”

The confrontation of language underlies so many of the problems we can pose concerning human beings. The Interpreters, a study was a facilitated conversation on the traditional land of the Boonwurrung people in a building that is now home to Alliance Francaise in a suburb called St Kilda in the city called Melbourne in the state called Victoria in the country called Australia. The discussion concerned the predominance of orality and literacy over other forms of communication with invited guests whose languages included French, English, Boonwurrung (an Indigenous language), and Auslan (Australian sign language). It pitted French and English – both competing to be international language of business and diplomacy – against Boonwurrung and Auslan, both considered “community” (unofficial) languages, both silent for different reasons, both struggling for recognition. 

The conversation tackled issues of colonialism and the subsequent erasure of language, as well as questions over uniqueness: what is it to have someone designated to be your voice? What does a translation do to the uniqueness of the original? Can you translate uniqueness? Is originality under threat? The Interpreters, a study attempted to untangle and retangle language to understand the central role it plays in culture and within the education system.

Concept & Facilitation NICOLA GUNN
Conversation Collaborators MEDHI KHALLOUK, LUKE KING and FAY MUIR

The Interpreters, a study was produced by Field Theory as part of Site is Set in 2016 and supported by Alliance Française Melbourne. Photography by Bryony Jackson.