Molly Springfield’s 28 graphite reproductions of the first chapter of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time open the fall season at Thomas Robertello gallery.
To achieve her “translation,” Springfield photocopied pages from every English translation available of Proust’s epic novel and meticulously reproduced the copied images with pencil
and paper. It’s interesting to think about Springfield’s classification of the drawings as translations (or really, translations of translations, being two times removed from the French source text). One might think of translating a text as trying to strike a bulls eye but inevitably ending up somewhere in its surrounding rings. In the movement of text from one language to another, double meanings and linguistic idioms begin to slip through the cracks – much like the sentences lost between each of Springfield’s drawings, as she switches between different editions, each constrained to their own translation and composition. It’s easy to think of translation as a simple one-to-one process of encoding and decoding between two languages, but to successfully translate involves understanding the aggregate meaning behind an author’s words.
Springfield’s translation maintains fidelity in its exact rendering of every penciled-in notation left by previous readers, every imperfection on the page or folded corner. It’s reminiscent of Medieval monks’ slavish devotion to reproducing massive manuscripts by hand. Springfield unfailingly remains faithful to each source text, but what appears from a distance like a perfectly idiomatic translation begins to unravel on closer inspection, and is all the more beautiful for it. She takes these mass-produced books and transforms them into something singular and precious. What would it be like to read Proust’s entire work from Springfield’s drawings? Each page the result of hours of hard work and devoted adherence to the original, the ripple of graphite over paper creating a tactile and delicate reading experience not unlike reading a five-hundred year old, one-of-a-kind manuscript.
That Springfield chose to use Proust’s In Search of Lost Time adds another layer to this theme of translation. Proust himself spent time translating the writings of John Ruskin from English into French, despite his limited grasp of the language. He was a great admirer of Ruskin and the act of translating was a way for him to meditate on his words and ideas in a labor of love – Proust famously said, “I don’t claim to know English. I claim to know Ruskin.” This idea of knowing someone by meditating on their writing in the intimate way that translation calls for is amplified in Springfield’s work. Proust described his own process of translating Ruskin as “scrupulous” and “pious.” Springfield takes that same reverence to the extreme in her translation of the text, not from one language into another, but from copy to copy, resulting in a series of beautiful objects. The 28 drawings will be accompanied at Thomas Robertello by the multi-media installation piece A Brief Note on the Translation, giving the viewer a somewhat tongue-in-cheek insight into the two-year process of creating the work
Molly Springfield, “Translation,” is at Thomas Robertello Gallery, Sept 11th – Oct 17th