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Translator as viewer as performer: re-translating conceptual art with Yan Wu

Time |
3pm-6pm
Location |
Room 03-206, Barrack Block
Price |
Free of charge

Conceptual Art was from the outset deeply engaged with language. This language took many forms: some poetic, some philosophical, some technical, some which attempted to push the boundaries of language, some which attempted to understand the basic structures of both art and language and art as a form of language. How to read this language of conceptual art? Or even to translate this language?

In 1969, Dan Graham self-published an artist’s book End Moments, a compilation of his writings on pop culture, contemporary art and information. In a way, the book can be considered as an artwork itself, a piece of conceptual art. In one “essay”, Graham writes, “My writing does not have a single point of view; instead its point of view is continually shifting, feedback contingent on its place (time and context) and its relationship to the readership who individually compose or in-form its meaning.” In other words, his language is to induce a viewer’s awareness of indeterminacy—slippage of meaning.

First published in 1973, Lucy Lippard’s Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972 documents the chaotic network of ideas that has been labelled “conceptual art” at the time. For many of the artists included in the text, the deployment of language in ideas transcends a mere means of communication. The manipulation of the phonetic features and syntax of words is as important as their semantic phenomena. Therefore, translating “conceptual art” is no longer limited to a cerebral exercise; it is also sensual.

Based on her experience of translating Lucy Lippard’s Six Years and Dan Graham’s Rock My Religion from English into Chinese, the curator and translator Yan Wu invites the participants of this workshop to explore the improbability of translation in the context of conceptual art. Starting with a short presentation, the workshop will conduct translingual readings and (re)translations—from English to Chinese, Chinese to English, Putonghua to Cantonese, and so forth—of selected conceptual art works from the two books and related materials found locally in Tai Kwun Contemporary’s Artists’ Book Library.

This workshop will be conducted in English.


Born in Shanghai, Yan Wu is a curator, translator, and writer, living and working in Toronto. As a translator, she collaborated with the artist James Carl in completing the Chinese translation of Rosalind Krauss’s Passages in Modern Sculpture, published in 2016, and Lucy Lippard’s Six Years (co-translated with Miao Zijin, Song Furi and Zhu Yingying) and Dan Graham’s Rock My Religion, published in 2018. At present, she is working on the Chinese translation of Formless by Yves-Alain Bois and Rosalind Krauss, to be published in autumn 2019. As a curator, Wu’s work specialises in the intersection of visual art, architecture, and public space. Currently she is working on a five-year Public Art Master Plan for the City of Markham and preparing a sole exhibition of works by Chinese artist Miao Ying to open at the Art Museum at the University of Toronto in April 2020. Prior to that, she co-curated the Canada Pavilion with Janine Marchessault at the 5th Bi-city Urbanism\Architecture Biennale in Shenzhen China in 2013. As a writer, Wu has contributed to Canadian and Chinese art and architecture publications including artforum.cn, ArtReview Asia, Canadian Art, PUBLIC, and more. She is also the English editor of journal Time+Architecture at Tongji University in Shanghai and the International Contributing Editor of the World Art Magazine at the Central Academy of Fine Arts.