INTERLOCUTION/S: JACQUIE PHIPPS

Translation is neither an image nor a copy... Translation has no obligation to transport contents, yet must evidence the affinity between languages, must exhibit its potential (Derrida in Graham, 1985, p. 395).

The works in Interlocution/s are beautiful.They offer a visually exciting and challenging experience. Simply they are bright, luscious and rich - exotic jewels of works - desirable, approachable and available. I can slide from verdant green to bold red, from a plain absorbing block of colour to a deep cushion of pattern (Fig. 1). They are decorative, alluring and uplifting like a flash of bright feathers through the trees or a brilliant cactus blossom amongst the rocks and more enduring. Even the less colourful pieces are, upon examination, rich in texture, layered or mysteriously veiled. They speak of textiles and pigments, tradition and new technology. On a deeper or less immediate level they are abstracted translations; alluding to contemporary eclecticism, diasporas and hybridity. These works expand the language of paint.

‘Interlocution’ more than dialogue or conversation points to the spaces in between discourse within which, posits Henry Symonds, a complex process of translation occurs and new language is created.The title word interlocution and its process translation provoke an immediate shift for me into the metaphor of verbal language. The works can be read as visual poems or conversations to be had. I acknowledge here some of the established ideas about interlocution, translation and the act of criticism. It is also pleasurable, rewarding and valuable to do what I believe Symonds wants us as viewers to do; spend time with, closely look at and converse with the works. Here then is my translation of these interlocutions.

The works present the viewer with contemporary conundrums regarding material ambiguity, layered interpretation and understandings of originality. Materials and techniques mix, mingle and converse in translation. Is it painting that looks like fabric or fabric that looks like painting? It is collage, mixed media and digital print. These are sometimes ambiguous surfaces in a multi-layered theme - all of these things at once: together, beside, over and under all the media having conversations with one another. Everything within the works is in (a process of) translation. Within post-postmodern conditions, which have relativism and pluralism as their premise, the idea of translation is extraordinarily complicated.

The works’ placement on the walls within the gallery, the viewing process of sensual response, emotional and intellectual interpretation are all shifting something from any number of spaces, perspectives, contexts, approaches or languages to any other. Authenticity and originality lose their power when it is impossible to identify the source, first surface or generation. This uncertainty is dislocating and creates a ‘perceptual sublime’ (Iles, Momin & Singer, 2004, p.16) similar to the technological sublime that pits the virtual against the real. The viewer is invited to hover over an interpretative abyss.
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´┐╝Figure 1 Henry Symonds Big Red 2004 Mixed media 100cm x 125cm
Are these originals? Is a translation the same as a reproduction? Both imply that there is an original somewhere. My search for the original here may lead me around in circles. Do I want to recognise a reference in one language and follow its trail back to an authentic star ting place of “just painting” or “pure drawing”? Will I find the digital print or the overlaid epoxy resin an interruption, interference, a disturbing distraction and to what? Others may recognise different lines and trails.

The lines of comprehension thread their way through, over and under the incomprehensible. I linger on that which I know - rush to the familiar (a pattern or still life fruit) to be surprised by the unexpected and foreign or the unknown (a blurred interpretation, an uncertain scale or a blue void) (Fig. 2). It is always a surprise to hear someone familiar speaking a language I do not (at first) understand. It confronts me with parts of that person I do not know and I see depths of mystery and sense the appeal of the exotic. Interlocution is an ongoing interest of Symonds. Past works have been conversations between times in his life, cultures and continents. The marginalised have spoken to the mainstream, Africa and the Pacific have spoken to Europe and America - increasingly and certainly in these works - the interchange is extended into the media and techniques, the process of the works. Translation is part of the interlocutory exchange.
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Figure 2 Henry Symonds Untitled 2004 Mixed media on marine ply 25cm x 75cm
Translation is art not science - it is not the exact shifting of an entity from one space to another, it is the creation of a new thing; purists would argue a lesser thing. Arts scholar and writer Octavio Paz speaks, for example, of the impossibility of translating poetry from one language to another. Critics he says, argue that,“the relation between sound and meaning is precisely what constitutes poetry, and this relation is untranslatable” (1987, p.15) the medium is part of the message. Modernist Clement Greenberg (1960) argued similarly that media must be true to themselves and speak only in their native tongues about themselves. To make something viable in another language or medium is to interpret it to the point that it becomes something else. This is what Symonds is doing.