My translation of essays from Lee Ufan’s Yohaku no Geijutsu
October 20, 2018
Rogers Park Public Library
This is my first attempt at translating an art text written in Japanese. I first read through the original text penned by Lee Ufan and had the help of a French translation by Isabelle Charrier to help guide me through the big structural changes that language undergoes when it travels from Japanese to English. As Lee himself states in his writings, these structures profoundly shape the way in which its practitioners view and navigate the world.
Lee Ufan is often in-between. His writings are in Korean and Japanese, and he seems to cultivate a set of identities that shift and become differently emphasized based on a context that encompasses time and space––he seems to stretch out amply along both. In Japan, he first became known as an art writer and critic, and his wider recognition as an artist in the West then helped to cement his reputation at home. I wanted to follow the zigzag movement of his life through his writing, and through the transformation of his voice into another language to see how he would emerge.
The deep level of engagement that goes into translating a text like this creates an odd intimacy. His self-reflections prompted my own, both by way of content––breakdowns of experiences that echoed eerily with mine––and wishing the deliberate decisions I had to make about what I imagined was his expression when translating. I recognized just how much self-projection can occur within the space of the encounter, and the project had to become somewhat personal for me to publish it. At the same time, there was the constant reckoning––a long and measured consideration of this person and his writing. This is a performative dance of variable identities.
What follows are translations of three short essays. The project is ongoing, and I will look for other opportunities to show future translations, whether in other books or other venues.