Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Lost in translation

Visiting an old building recently, I saw that one room was occupied by an exhibition of works by a local artist.

These free exhibitions of art are, in my opinion at least, much more commonplace in continental Europe. It's a big subject for discussion and not everyone agrees, but many would argue that there is a greater appreciation of such things in the continental as opposed to English-speaking worlds.

Here art is not usually considered the domain of the intellectual or the pretentious and outside of popular culture as it often is in, say, the UK. In Europe it is far more appreciated by a wider range of people who will go to see such exhibitions enthusiastically and enjoy themselves while at the same time admitting to knowing little of art itself in the formal sense.

It's not unusual to see these exhibitions well attended by younger children and teenagers - a rare sight in many Anglophone countries!

Popping in, I was very impressed by the works that consisted of painted sculptures in various materials. All were explained in detail via text on information panels alongside made of heavy duty plastic that must have been created at some expense. As per the norm overseas, the explanations were multi-lingual and in this case comprised four languages including, of course, English.

I happened to start with the largest, most prestigious piece in the very centre of the large room. Admiring it for a few seconds, I glanced at the explanatory panel alongside, the opening sentence of which read;

"I created this work to capture the scum of this room"

I stepped hastily back looking for trapdoors and springs. To my relief I saw nothing and I read the sentence again. No, I was not dreaming. Did this mean my long-held views about continental artists and their relationships with the public were all wrong?

Looking at the other languages on the board, I saw that they in the same place had the word "sounds" not "scum".

I decided to point this out to one of the staff. His first reaction was essentially that I must be mistaken and although he spoke English, he did not know the meaning of the word "scum". Once he grasped the issue, he also realised that these boards could not now be changed as the cost would be too high and it couldn't be done before the exhibition was due to shut down anyway.

As we left I said goodbye and joked that "the scum are now leaving". Sadly he didn't contradict me.

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