This week, a previous colleague posted an article on my Facebook page (which in itself has become this strange realm of personal and professional presentation of practice. I think this needs to change and fast so it’s really just for professional use but it’s hard sometimes!). The article, called ‘A user’s guide to art-speak’ from the art and design section of The Guardian, started a discussion between friends and old colleagues who all used to work at Wolverhampton Art Gallery…we’ve all moved on now to bigger and better things across the UK, no doubt a powerhouse of creativity if bought back together! This is a subject that we all grapple with on a daily basis, and I do virtually every minute when writing in my current of academia versus curatorial gallery practice…and I’m sure a lot of you, the readers, do too.
International Art English, or IAE, is usually seen as the ‘pompous, overblown prose used to describe exhibits’. This ‘world of waffle’ apparently provokes ‘feelings of bafflement, exhaustion or irritation’ causing much frustration to visitors during their visits to museums and galleries. David Levine, a 42-year-old American artist based in New York and Berlin, and Alix Rule, a 29-year-old critic and sociology PhD student at Columbia university in New York, coined the phrase International Art English, or IAE to try and encompass this realm, often of misunderstanding, undertaking a world of research culminating in this essay, which has apparently become one of the most widely and excitedly circulated pieces of online cultural criticism. This I find interesting…how on earth do you gauge how something has become the most circulated piece of criticism??? Anyway, the lengthy essay, which I’ll let you delve into, is comprehensive in its methodology, using many processes including the programme ‘Sketch Engine’ as an analysis tool (it helps to show “how words behave”) focusing on hypothesis, vocabulary, syntax, genealogy, authority and implosion. It debates the problematics of how language is used as a translational tool, and the issue of it becoming neutralising to interpretation…amongst many other things. I’d love to spend hours critiquing this but I have other things to write about, well a PhD! (This will be noted in there.)
My comment during the to-ing and fro-ing on Facebook was that IAE is to blame for so much international mistranslation, Chinglish constructions and bad interpretation (when specifically looking at Chinese visual culture)…looking back on it with nostalgia, as it says in The Guardian article, is a little hopeful in my eyes, though we have to remember, this perspective is coming from the girl who is knee-deep, well nearly buried in a battle with academia…so who wins? Is it the writer? The past? The definers like e-flux? Who actually has the power? The power is in the print, then it becomes permanent.