• Don Landes

Engrenage or the Art of Translation

“Our analyses of thought give us the impression that … thought is already a sort of ideal text that our sentences attempt to translate. But the author himself has no text to which he can compare his writing, and no language prior to language.”

– Maurice Merleau-Ponty


For Merleau-Ponty, expression is not simply the making-public of some pre-existing idea that already exists in the artist’s mind. And yet, neither is expression simply a pure and unmotivated creation out of some unarticulated nothing. But what, then, is this not nothing, and how do we have access to it?


Expression does not begin on the inside—it is felt looming up everywhere and nowhere on the edges of our experience. We are drawn out to expression. We furiously write and paint and speak to catch it before it slips away again, forever lost back into the folds of the virtual.





This not nothing is the imminent communication between innumerable trajectories (material, physiological, psychical, historical, economic, etc.) that will only communicate if they are given the negative space they require. The expression carves out that negative space, and the vestige of the expressive act invites an “engrenage” or “gearing into,” a reperformance—that is, a translation.


In this series of watercolors, I explore engrenage. The material vestige of the expression (the book, the painting) is represented by the first graphite line, but the fluidity of the metastable virtual transgresses, effaces, or multiplies these edges.


Each new reading or translation, expressed materially by the second line, attempts to s’engrener with the original, but not in the sense of material gears. Never fitting perfectly, leaving gaps, activating different parts of the virtual beyond the original boundaries, and reshaping the work in each of its iterations.


Engrenage, then, is the art of translation—the art of communicating across difference in the face of the ever-evolving nature of the trajectories of sense we live.

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