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 22 May 2017, at the end of my artist-in- residency in Beijing, I presented my work in an artist talk. During the residency, I developed the projects The New Nüshu and Thunderclap to investigate feminism, language politics, steganography, censorship and publishing in the context of China. Just as the event was about to start, a suspected government spy entered the premises and sat down among 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 translated my words into Mandarin. The audience was made up of those who predominantly understood English or Mandarin, but also some who were fluent in both languages. In an attempt to disarm the suspected government spy who we believed didn’t understand English, Zhuxin Wang modified, simplified and omitted some of the content of the talk through the process of translating. Simultaneously, she skillfully translated enough information into Mandarin so as not to alienate the rest of the Chinese-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 documentation of a live case of evasion tactics enacted during a talk about evasion tactics. 

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