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Brigit Connolly

PhD Work

Translating Practice

Translatability and translation, the possibility and act of conveying some thing between people, objects, languages, cultures, times, spaces and media, have become increasingly important elements of creative practice and works of art. My research explores this proposition. To contextualise this concept of translation as an artistic and critical method mediating the relationship of the seeable to the sayable I retrace an under-mined vein of translation that grew from the Enlightenment, the Early (Jena) Romantic response to it and its subsequent development through Walter Benjamin to other modern theorists. I suggest that this tradition of translation has developed into a creative method that assumes a pre-existent given from which it evolves in order to destabilise, re-appropriate and make-new.  

The thesis argues that art has come to occupy the space of translation and proposes that an interpretative mode is ultimately antithetical to a form of thought engaged with in the creative process. This relies on the understanding of a qualitative distinction between acts of translation as presentational and of interpretation as representational. The distinction is not clear-cut since these two forms of mediation operate on a continuum.  The probable root of “interpret” in English is “between prices” and derives from trade.This etymology stresses the transactional, hermeneutic role of the interpreter as a responsive agent that negotiates between distinct value systems to ensure equivalence during the process of exchange. While Interpretation operates primarily within the symbolic aspect of language translation retains a relationship to metaphor, which acknowledges that during transfer something becomes something that it literally is not. It must therefore also account for Aporia, or what fails to cross over and for a-signifying, singular aspects that affect or alter the symbolic during this process.In contrast to interpretation, translation’s relation to subjectivity, its resistance to schematisation and reduction to the accurate, objective and rational transfer of information provides a prophylaxis of doubt and generates heterogeneity.

The thesis triangulates my practices as artist, translator and critic using translation to destabilise and re-calibrate the relationship of theory to practice. In relation to theory, rather than use this to explain, interpret, or categorize art, it advocates the translational practice of placing in parallel so that lines of thought may be drawn from one to the other, responding to and setting up points of intersection, divergence and congruence to encourage a non-hierarchical associative-dissociative dismantling. Translation informs the research method, structure and content of the thesis, which occupies an inter-theoretical, inter-disciplinary or matrixial space. As such, it is edified through a process that derives from and displays the translational method and diverse sources that constitute it. Four case studies bring together practices employing a translational method from different periods, cultures, creative practices and theoretical sources: Bernard Leach and Ezra Pound’s modernist projects; Jorge Luis Borges’ theory of translation and Briony Fer’s re-presentation of Eva Hesse’s studio work; the Brazilian poets Haroldo and Agosto De Campos’ theory of Cannibalistic translation and painter Adriana Varejao’s work with tiles; and ceramicist Alison Britton in light of Donald Winnicott’s concept of transitional spaces. 

MA work

My practice is research based. It draws on and develops my background in literature, linguistics and translation. At present I am exploring sociological, political and biological issues contained within the dynamics of the meal: the need to eat and be eaten, liminality and community, and what is implicit in having a ‘place at the table’.


  • PhD


    School of Humanities


    Critical & Historical Studies, 2009–2017

  • MA Degree


    School of Humanities


    MA Ceramics & Glass, 2009

  • My first training was as a linguist. I lived in Spain and Latin America and studied Spanish and Portuguese language, literature and linguistics. After graduating I worked in the translation/publications department of Amnesty International and as a language tutor in Brixton Prison. I trained as a translator and worked as a lecturer in translation and freelance translator for a period of ten years. After my fourth daughter was born in 2000, I retrained as a ceramicist. My research drew on my art practice and experience in translation. 

  • Degrees

  • BA (Hons) Spanish and Portuguese, UCL, 1989; MA Translation and Linguistics, University of Westminster,1999; BA (Hons) Ceramics, University of Westminster, 2006; MA Ceramics and Glass, Royal College of Art, 2009; PhD Translating Practice, Royal College of Art, 2018
  • Experience

  • English Tutor, Brixton Prison, London, 1994–2007; Lecturer in Translation, City Lit, London, 1995–2004; Ceramics/Craft Activities Coordinator, Holloway Prison, London, 2014–2016; Ceramics Tutor (ACL) Hackney Community College, London 2016–present
  • Exhibitions

  • New Designers Selection, The Old Truman Brewery, London, 2006; Dispense, Kingsgate Gallery, London, 2007; Reflection, Sir John Soane's Museum, London, 2008; Diverse Practices, Barratt Marsden Gallery, London, 2009; A Place at the Table, Wallspace, London, 2009; Tradition and Innovation, Contemporary Applied Arts, London, 2012
  • Awards

  • First prize (joint), Ceramics & Glass, Charlotte Fraser Prize, 2008