In the space that is to become its public library, Kunsthalle Zurich
is presenting a new version of the artist group Slavs and Tatars two-channel audio work Lektor, together with the launch of a new series of programmes and theory. Where in a near future the written word will make itself available to the visitors of exhibitions, this exhibition actualises the written word by way of the voice: an Uighur voice reading excerpts from Kutadgu Bilig (Wisdom of Royal Glory), and a voiceover of an updated German translation. Words from a seemingly distant place and past are channelled to our here and now, exploring the promise of language(s). Slavs and Tatars, who devote their work to "the area east of the former Berlin Wall and west of the Great Wall of China", write:
"The importance of Kutadgu Bilig is difficult to overstate: it is to Turkic languages what Ferdowsis Shahnameh is to Persian, Beowulf to English, or Nibelungen to German. By placing Turkic literature and ideas of statecraft on an equal footing with their counter-parts in the Arabic and Persian traditions, Kutadgu Bilig looked to the east with as much vigor and conviction as Atatürk looked to the west some eight hundred years later with his secularizing language reforms, among them Romanization of the Turkish alphabet."
Language is fundamentally dependent upon translation, from the written word to its sounding in space and vice versa, or in the transfer from one geographical space to another. These facts bridge the centuries as well as latitudes engaged by the piece; Lektor outlines the mechanisms of power at work in the translation inherent to language. At the same time this cycle of investigation by Slavs and Tatars into the different practices and techniques of translation looks for the cracks that moments of imagination may cause. The Gavrilov technique for example, that is often used in Eastern Europe for live single-voice-over-translations in cinematic screenings while elsewhere for news reports mainly, leaves a gap between the original and local language, so that the actors audible performance is to be merged with ones apprehension of the spoken content in a trans-cultural process of perception and interpretation. A US-American, a Polish, and a former-Soviet screwball comedy movie, screened and live interpreted in German at Kunsthalle Zurich displaces and demonstrate this experience of the real "lector".
The power at stake in language and listening, translation and transformation, recitation and reconciliation is particularly striking in Wisdom of Royal Glory, an 11th century example of a genre of political commentary called "mirrors for princes". A dialogue of a Sufi dervish and a vizier to the king, the epic poem contemplates the role of the spiritual life in relation to the state. Or in the words of Slavs and Tatars:
"Also known as advice literature, mirrors for princes were guides for future rulers, a genre shared by Christian and Muslim lands, during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (Machiavellis The Prince is the most widely known example). At a time when the overwhelming majority of scholarship was devoted to religious affairs (jurisprudence, theology, etc.), these texts carved out a space for statecraft. Today, we suffer from the very opposite: a secular rage to know it all. Theres no shortage of political commentators around but a notable lack of intelligent, eloquent discourse on the role of faith, the immaterial, or what Rudolf Otto would call the holy other, in public life."
The Kunsthalle Zurichs programme Reality Check, a series of encounters between non-art experts within the specific space and subject of an exhibition, will give insight into historical research on medieval political literature and discuss it in relation with contemporary challenges of faith, etiquette, and ethics in public policy from the perspective of political commentary and journalism.
The presence of Slavs and Tatars will particularly shape our listening and understanding here: "Guests are invited to sit on Mother Tongues & Father Throats, a carpet which pictures a diagram of letters of the Arabic alphabet and the corresponding parts of the mouth used to pronounce them. A nod to the Uighur languages guttural gravitas, Mother Tongues & Father Throats turns to the throat as a source of mystical languageoften eclipsed by the tongues profane, everyday speech."
The final word will be given to Slavs and Tatars for a lecture-performance titled The Transliterative Tease, further exploring cinematographic language practices, namely transliterature (the conversion of scripts) as "a strategy equally of resistance and research in notions of identity politics, colonialism, and liturgical reform". The artist will be joined by Stefan Nowotny, a theorist of translation and translator of theory, for a round of Questions & Answers a dialogic format that stands as a title for this new series of conversations with artists and producers.
In its quest for overarching and understanding, this exhibition and programme invites a constant shift of speakers and listeners. It cordially invites you.
Slavs and Tatars is a faction of polemics and intimacies devoted to an area east of the former Berlin Wall and west of the Great Wall of China known as Eurasia. The collectives work spans several media, disciplines, and a broad spectrum of cultural registers (high and low) focusing on an oftforgotten sphere of influence between Slavs, Caucasians and Central Asians. Their solo engagements include GfZK, Leipzig (2014), Dallas Museum of Art (2014), Künstlerhaus Stuttgart (2013), Secession, Vienna (2012), and MoMA, NY (2012). Their work has been exhibited in group shows at the 9th Gwangju, 3rd Thessaloniki, 8th Mercosul, the 10th Sharjah Biennials, Centre Pompidou, and Tate Modern. Slavs and Tatars has published Friendship of Nations: Polish Shiite Showbiz (Book Works, 2013), Khhhhhhh (Mousse/Moravia Gallery, 2012), Not Moscow Not Mecca (Revolver/ Secession, 2012), Love Me, Love Me Not: Changed Names (onestar press, 2010), a translation of the legendary Azeri satire Molla Nasreddin: the magazine that wouldve, couldve, shouldve (JRPRingier, 2011), and Kidnapping Mountains (Book Works, 2009).