Christoph Keller, Interpreters, 2008
HD video 8 min, sound
Installation about simultaneous interpretation and the locus of language itself. The situation is inversed: The viewer sits inside of the cabin and looks and listens via headphones at the simultaneous interpreters who translate their own speech.
A rectangular booth with windows on three sides at hip height stands in a darkened room. From within, it is a standardized space – with a table, two chairs, soundproofing material on the walls and two headphone sets. It is a translator's booth, and as soon as one is inside, one can no longer hear anything from the outside world.
A projector is installed on the roof of the translator's booth projecting a video onto the opposite wall. The best view of this projection is to be had from the interior of the booth. If one puts on the headphones available there, one can also hear the soundtrack of the film.
Five persons appear in the film that is shown: three women and two men of middle age. They talk about their profession, the work of a simultaneous interpreter. In their work the words of a speaker are at once translated and "interpreted". An integral part of this activity is the participation in the speaker's flow of thought, which can be seen in the gesticular convergence between the translator and the translated. An uttered word or contextual interpretation can not be retracted in this type of translation; rather it can only be added by means of subsequent formulations to the seemingly linearly progressing train of thought.
For the video, Christoph Keller first questioned interpreters about their work and the special situation of simultaneous interpretation. The resultant interviews were compiled by the artist and then played back usually to the same person, who now had the task of providing a simultaneous translation of the recorded interview. The viewer in the video/translator's booth can see and hear the act of a simultaneous self-translation, the immediate transfer of a person's own words into another language.
Is a translator, for example, allowed to filter out the linguistic filler "uhh" in translating, and if he does, what change does that make in the original utterance of the speaker? How much meaning can an "uhh" contain?
This allows an examination of the notion of authenticity, of truthfulness as it is transferred and transmitted by other persons. The translator is expected to switch off his own personhood, his subjectivity and to find an immediate, objective and appropriate oral equivalent for what he hears. This poses the question of the functionality of the person as a purely technical transmitter, who nonetheless should also ensure the transfer of "meaning". And, too, there is the question of objectivity in the function of a simultaneous interpreter, which can be a very sensitive matter in political contexts.
Keller's installation takes us to the work place of a simultaneous interpreter. In this position, the viewer follows the explanations of the interpreters and at the same time becomes a medium of the translation process as soon as he or she finds himself in communication with others about this work.
Gila Kolb for Monotiring, Kassel, 2008
engl. Translation by Garth Pritchard