Search archive


Mirrors for Princes

Anthony Downey and Beatrix Ruf in conversation with Slavs and Tatars

008 / 11 March 2015


Download a PDF of A Conversation with Slavs and Tatars by Anthony Downey and Beatrix Ruf, from the book Mirrors for Princes: Both Sides of the Tongue (2015, ed. Anthony Downey), by following this link.


Anthony Downey: If I understand correctly, the genre of 'Mirrors for Princes' involves a form of political writing or advisory literature for future rulers on matters both secular and spiritual. The genre was shared by Christian and Muslim lands, in particular during the Middle Ages, with Machiavelli's The Prince (1532) and Speculum Regnum (ca 1183) or fürstenspiegel being two of the more well-known examples. Could you talk about this as an idea and how it manifests itself in the context of current work being produced by Slavs and Tatars?


Slavs and Tatars: We were first (as often is the case) seduced by the name of 'Mirrors for Princes' itself – I first heard it in the context of a conference at the Freie Universität in Berlin in 2012.[1] We thought, literally, what would a mirror for a prince be? Little did we know that it was actually a genre of advice literature. That kind of first-degree interest, coupled with a very layered, complex one is something we try to maintain in the work.



Over the span of the conference we learned that 'Mirrors for Princes' was among the first forms of secular scholarship, an attempt to put it on the level of religious scholarship in the Middle Ages. What immediately struck us was how the pendulum has swung to the other extreme in today's political discourse. We find that there's airport bookshops full of books and CNN reporters and Twitter columnists – meaning everybody who has a political view, in sum – but there's an unspoken moratorium on intellectual or erudite scholarship on the role of faith in public life in the twenty-first or even the late-twentieth century. The more we dug into the material, the more it became clear that these books are amalgams; they're mash-ups of all different kinds of genres in one volume. So you have astrology, etiquette, military strategy, literary tropes, folklore, and ethics all under this one rubric of a mirror for a prince. That spoke to us because our books also attempt to straddle those disciplines: they're not really journalism but they have journalistic elements, they're not academic scholarship but they're critical and analytical, they're not memoirs but they're intimate – it's this flattening of genres that we're interested in.

AD: And there are further specific examples because, again if I understand correctly, a book like Kutadgu Bilig, which roughly means "The Wisdom which brings Happiness", has the same kind of resonance that Beowulf or The Iliad has for western readers; it's a critically important volume with a good deal of moral instruction contained within its pages. You have chosen to look at Kutadgu Bilig specifically in relation to this idea of 'wisdom', a form of wisdom that comes in a combination of secular and faith-based statecraft. Can you talk a little more about how you came across Kutadgu Bilig and the importance of it, because although it is an historical text, first published in the 11th century, it appears to have a direct resonance in the present.

S&T: Even the notion of the word 'wisdom' is problematic today. In the deconstructed world we live in there is no such thing as an authoritative or univocal notion of what wisdom means; there are so many traditions and discourses. When traditions have existed for thousands of years, whether it's a Confucian, Muslim, or Jewish tradition, then to imagine that since the advent of sociolinguistics we have suddenly become a new species on this planet, with contrapostal thumbs for our iPhones, strikes us as almost comical. In respect of this, we're quite interested in exploring why there's a consensus that you can't use the word 'faith' or, indeed, 'wisdom'.

AD: Because both have become too politicized and yet too generalized at one and the same time?

S&T: Is it perhaps that faith is an experiential term so it's hard for us to use it in a kind of rational, Cartesian sense? To some extent, we founded Slavs and Tatars to complement the great traditions of western educational pedagogy, which we have benefited from, but lack certain forms of inquiry. We were just at NYU Abu Dhabi and found it refreshing that there were a range of scholars there, a self-selecting faculty that thinks rather differently from similar schools in the west. There are great things about having hundreds of years of tradition at Oxford and Cambridge and Heidelberg and Yale and Harvard to draw from, but there's also different ways of thinking. If you're a transversal thinker working in the History department, you're going to have a hard time selling research that entails work in other departments, say Theology, or Music, to the entrenched interests there. So this is our task – to think differently and to ask those questions that are not asked, including those around wisdom and faith.


From the book Mirrors for Princes, 2015, ed. Anthony Downey.
From the book Mirrors for Princes: Both Sides of the Tongue, 2015, ed. Anthony Downey.

AD: Thinking differently obviously has a visual manifestation because this way of thinking remains relatively literary until you put on a show like Mirrors for Princes at the Kunsthalle in Zurich – perhaps Beatrix wants to comment on that – and now at the NYU Art Gallery in Abu Dhabi ? A lot of this seems to have translation at its core, and the realm of transliteration, or something copied from one medium to another.


Beatrix Ruf: Yes, I am particularly interested in the way a lot of your work deals with or is primarily about translation; its failure, how tradition translates and gets misguided, or in the process of many interpretations turns into something different. where it translates into objects. For me there's an interesting, almost literal tautology in this translation process. Things are being translated as if they would function as language. When you think, objects come from the information of language and not, strictly speaking of aesthetics. Your objects do not come from the translation process of thought into art as we know it, so to speak, and I would like to hear from you more about this because I think that your objects actually produce language, and don't just show how language is failing.


S&T: It's funny you should mention that: just recently we were thinking about the fact that we produce most of our work in Poland and these are the stronger works because, as we work with craftsmen not art technicians, they are a form of translation in themselves. There's a wilful loss of control or an abstraction of some sort that happens when you're working with someone who's not in any way versed in the language of art. Because of course in places like London, Berlin and elsewhere there's whole industries that produce artwork for artists.


That translation also happens first and foremost through the actual conception of the works as a discussion between ourselves, because it's two very different minds that are thinking about the same concept, and that happens through language. But we never thought about the works themselves as enabling – sorry, let me just understand it again: the works talk about the failures of language, but as objects you said that they were –


BR: Let's say that the translation process of thought into art is the common expectation of art as we know it, even to show the artist using language, especially when we're starting that relationship in a very constructive way. [German, 13:48] is helpful here, which is actually theBut this seems to be about the failure of language; the space between or the non-verbal, the pre-verbal, so to speak. Your pieces have the structure of language, are directly produced out of language and this produces the logic of language. for example, language is enabled intentionally, or as part of the translation . In your objects language seems to be the natural partner or the logic or structure – or even the grammar of it.


S&T: When we come across ideas we really do reify them as words, we try to create three-dimensional words out of the things that we're thinking about. It's like the literal version of concrete poetry, trying to make something that is completely abstract and esoteric, primarily visible.


AD: Like the work Tongue Twist Her (2013), perhaps, where the object is tongue-twisted around a dance pole.


S&T: But really even just the idea – when thinking about the name 'Mirrors for Princes' – we chant, like the process of dhikr in Sufism where you ecstatically chant, repeating words so many times that at some point princes starts to sound like princesses. We often think of this practice as going behind the word. The idea of going behind something is very threatening, not only in terms posing a threat to the normativity of heterosexuality like 'from behind', but it also has this  connotation of 'through the back door' – what does it mean to go behind the concept and sneak up on it? Perhaps this returns us to one of the functions of translation.


Slavs & Tatars, Friendship of Nations: Polish Shi'ite Showbiz, installation view, 2011. Sharjah Biennale 10.
Slavs & Tatars, Friendship of Nations: Polish Shi'ite Showbiz, installation view, 2011. Sharjah Biennale 10.


AD: The physical materialization of the word itself, you appear to be suggesting, seems to be a process of looking through the word, through language – does that make sense?


S&T: Perhaps, because the editing process is a 'ping-pong' of sending words back and forth, back and forth, and eventually, like a process of transmogrification, that word becomes an object. There's a kind of wilful letting go, of not controlling what that after effect looks like.


This is what the Mirrors for Princes show is – when you work on something for two or three years and you don't understand it, that's the ideal situation. If you don't know where you stand on such polemical issues, whether it's questions of seclusion versus the state, faith versus secularism, occupation versus withdrawal, then the object can add a talismanic quality, that's the hope. You can't plan how that will work, you just have to go with it.


AD: In the genre 'Mirrors for Princes', which do have a didactic context, and accepting that the process of production creates different ends to what are expected, do your objects retain a didactic context, or do you think it's more about opening up a permissive context, a kind of engagement that is more about a tolerance of words, or with the experience of words?


S&T: The question of didactics in pedagogy is a difficult one for us because there has been a pedagogical turn, and often we're wrapped up into this. We always come back to the origin of Slavs and Tatars: that book club, where we began, was very important because pedagogy assumes that one person knows and another doesn't, and that's never the case. Similarly, we devoted ourselves to discovering what Mirrors for Princes are, in terms of genre, but in no way are we experts or didacts on the subject in hand. Permissiveness, however, is something that's very important for us: to transmit that permissiveness to the participant or the viewer is a key ambition.


I'm very keen on the idea of the layman: how does the layman engage with the work in contrast to the art professional? There's a great quote by Calvin Tomkins in a profile of Siah Armajani that accompanied a great show at the Parasol Unit last year.[2] The original profile was published in 1990 and argued that it's important to distinguish between accessibility and availability, and that we have to redeem this idea of populism. Populism doesn't mean lowest common denominator, it actually means making the highest achievements available for the greatest number of people. So things are available, but only accessible according to how much effort you put into something. It doesn't just mean you make everything clear. Permissiveness here is important because it engages with notions of generosity, a gift or an exchange. The idea of a book club is that you're discovering with somebody; there's no leader of a book club.


AD: What you've just described there is the genre of 'Mirrors for Princes'. Kutadgu Bilig is one example of that genre that uses the Socratic method; it is about learning with rather than against, it's about a dialogic learning process.


Mirrors for Princes, 2015, ed. Anthony Downey.
Mirrors for Princes: Both Sides of the Tongue, 2015, ed. Anthony Downey.

S&T: Another reason why we were interested in the genre is that it's not a frontal critique but a form of reciprocation. These are books – codices, texts – which were usually written as a gift to somebody. So while they're explicitly saying 'this is how your son or daughter should rule', implicitly what they're saying is 'this is how you're not ruling.'  it's our form of Enlightenment thinking that means we presume that a + b = c, and if there's a problem I need to tell b what the problem is, and it's a straight line formula. What we are interested in is how critique is delivered most effectively through circuity – through the gift, through generosity. We often use the analogy of commemorating something while stabbing it in the back. Actually that's what a lot of these texts do; the first ten pages are praises, whether it's to God or the setting. Most people fall asleep before they get through the introduction because it's so contrary to our 'let's get to the point', 'what is the Amazon summary?' mentality.


BR: You said that you were interested in how the Kutadgu Bilig softens the lines between different disciplines: politics, religion and even science. These terms also play an important role in your work. But this is not scientific or political writing, it is literature. That is an important distinction to make in relation to the question of how to make books that are pragmatic.


AD: And what it does to the narrative form in the process?


BR: Exactly, and this approach is also an ethic. I'd be interested to hear from you on whether you place an importance on the differentiation between morality versus ethics, or image and literality versus metaphor, as an element that also defines the work.


S&T: We both go back and forth between whether the work wilfully or accidentally employs literality, as opposed to metaphor. When there's a strength to literality, its in the sense that it's also a smokescreen, like a Hollywood set or a Potemkin village – but hopefully there's different layers behind that village. Whereas with metaphor it's immediately apparent that there's a transmission or translation through something.


We pride ourselves on the fact that we do research in four languages, and this was the most significant work we've done in languages that we don't speak – this is part of our process of willful abstraction. We didn't, and still don't, have access to what that work meant. It's a completely new way for us to approach the text.


What's interesting in terms of morality and ethics in Islamic and Muslim medieval literature is that the term adab,which means morality, behaviour and virtue, is the same word as that used for literature; adabiyaat and ādāb have the same root. The Persians had another term, akhlāq or virtue, so they see these two concepts as different. In Muslim lands a lot of Mirrors for Princes were incorporating a previous body (or the mistranslation of this process) of Zoroastrian knowledge. So they were adapting the Zoroastrian idea of kinship and religion into a completely different, Islamic context.


We would probably come down on the side of literality more than metaphor but literality coupled with a kind of misfiring. Our past two or three years of work comes under the umbrella of what we call the faculty of substitution, an idea whereby if you want to tell the story of A you have to use the process of circuity, you can't go straight. So we would argue that Mirrors for Princes doesn't have anything to do with politics, as we understand it in the literal sense, it has more to do with inner politics, or pragmatic questions of self-governance as opposed to questions of self-help, let's say.


AD: It seems to me that the performativity of language itself is key to understanding what I would describe as the works dialogic context. The expectation on the audience to engage is not one of an engagement towards a common end, but instead a very physical and material, agonistic thing in and of itself. You have to twist yourself around these works, sometimes literally, but always conceptually. Could you talk about this element of performativity in the work, that sense that something is unfolding?


S&T: The question of performativity could be answered through the metaphor of taking the term and flaying it like a piece of meat – breaking it, reifying it, decomposing it, and putting it back together. This word is used in our practice often, for example in our lectures, but we still haven't understood what about our work is performative other than the way we treat the research.


AD: A sort of conceptual gymnastics – does that work better?


S&T: Perhaps, but again there is a missing element. In our discourse performativity has a very corporal kind of vision, and we can't pretend to understand what that corporal, phenomenological understanding is because in the lectures we don't see it; perhaps in the work it's there, but not in the lectures.


From the book Mirrors for Princes, 2015, ed. Anthony Downey.
From the book Mirrors for Princes: Both Sides of the Tongue, 2015, ed. Anthony Downey.

BR: Another interesting aspect I think we should talk about is the tradition of research-based art – you intentionally position your work in the art world. You could say we're going to go through the university or the academy, but you place it in the art world. Often research-based art is only a success when it translates the document into a different form – when it translates into the context of art as a document where if it's good it's not document – it's something else. You choose to produce objects, all kinds of objects that perform – if you want to use that term.


S&T: To answer the first question of why research in art, when we started out we had no intention of being artists; what we thought we were going to do was publish one or two books per year and continue our previous careers. The kind of research we were doing wouldn't have sat well, or have been accepted, or supported by any other medium. It is a testament to the elasticity of art as the only medium or discipline – at least to our knowledge – that is constantly questioning its own definition, so that what was outside of art became invited within.


The stories of Molla Nasreddin (2011) are the best example, this is the kind of historical document that universities and policymakers should have published – it could have fitted into a whole array of different milieus and yet only the art publishers accepted it. That is the reason for our research. From the beginning we were very keen never to show the research as such. In this sense, there is a kind of literality that we abhor. There should be a cardinal rule to prevent showing documents – because you don't want to read things on a wall. You want to read things in your bedroom, in your bathtub.


People tend to hide behind the document; it becomes a buttress. It's very important never to allow anything to become an end point, so the document must be revisited as an incitement to do something. After the research we constantly ask ourselves what are we bringing to the table as artists that historians, linguists, novelists and activists are not? What the hell do we have to say about language politics, about 'Mirrors for Princes'? Otherwise yes, you should just read the scholarship.


S&T: When we started working together, we realized anything we tried to do on walls didn't work. Of course we don't think of our practice as an art practice but we can see that what we do works on an art platform, so it's the best platform for the ideas we're trying to deal with.We didn't do anything on a wall for six years, until this last year.We: We never thought we wanted to do sculpture but were always drawn towards the middle of the space. So it was really about the centre, becoming part of the experience, always going inwards. That's how we started doing sculpture. : We didn't start off with sculptures; we actually started off with installations.: Even in Sharjah, where everything we created was flat, simple, singular pieces that you could hang on the wall but which somehow we didn't manage to, we created a space where you can spend time.[3] Since then we've always worked like this. There is


For me there's aalso the question of craft. The idea of creating a document as an object draws us, whether it's in the context of ethnographic or folklore research – documents as dioramas, illustrating an environment around objects with painted backgrounds, people and wax, in a way that is an anathema to the contemporary context. It's a challenge, a question of recreating the estrangement that happens when you create a galactic document that wings between periods of thousands of years. Some of the grooming objects in the Zurich show, or even the turban Wheat Molla (2011), work within this kind of extended time-frame.


AD: Sometimes these objects also look quite literal; that is, they look like they have a clear linguistic function (the tongue as shape, the mouth as shape), but humour always seems to undermine any easy access to functionality. Humour, slippage and transliteration are also key to the development and not just the ideas of these objects, for example Kitab Kebab (2012–ongoing), and Qit Qat Q (2013).


S&T: Humour also brings an element of generosity, something very warm that otherwise the elaboration of the object could repel; humour attracts, or diffuses the situation. It also gives you more room to manoeuvre. You can actually be very violent if you're humorous, more aggressive without that aggression – sort of annoying somebody with humour.


AD: I want to go back and touch on a number of words that came to me as I looked over the material involved in both the book and the installation Mirrors for Princes, and see if they have any further purchase in this context. I was thinking about haunting: there's almost like a repression or an exploration of historical oppression – call it colonisation, imperialism, geopolitics, globalization, call it what you will. The work as you present it seems to be almost like a 'ghost at the banquet', in a way that is exploring what haunts present day representations of Islam, Muslims, Slavs and, indeed, Tatars. The submerged genre of 'Mirrors for Princes', in particular, seems to haunt political discourse today because that level of discourse is absent, or deferred, and it is precisely that absence that draws attention to the fact of its presence and the need for it. So I'm thinking about Mirrors for Princes as a kind of haunting of present day political discourse, if that works?


S&T: Perhaps haunting in terms of excavating the forgotten and overlooked – but not in a frightening sense. Perhaps we could also consider: haunting as a form of reoccurence – it's something that is unresolved. We deal with archives differently to other artists, rather than finding or discovering an archive we work with it as a reoccurring subject.


AD: That which refuses to go away, that refuses to die.


S&T: Exactly, it's almost like it repeats itself, it's constantly the same; it comes back under different names in different times. I would say that we would be attracted to subjects like this.


AD: Because 'Mirrors for Princes', as a genre, is now rewritten in a vulgarized form as self-help books; the genre seems to be employing different idioms now, but what you have done is excavate the shared element of developing a spiritual context within the political. Nobody talks about faith in the context of politics today. In fact, the notion of faith seems to be excised –


Slavs & Tatars, Bazm u Razm, installation view, dichronic glass (various dimensions), ash tree wood, 2014. Kunsthalle Zurich.
Slavs & Tatars, Bazm u Razm, installation view, dichronic glass (various dimensions), ash tree wood, 2014. Kunsthalle Zurich.

S&T: Or seen purely as a menace. I think within Lektor (2014) there is an element of reoccurrence, repetition and this mantra of constantly coming back. You see it in the main space of the Zurich Kunsthalle show because of the presence of four languages in four channels; by the time one sequence ends the original language has just finished when the destination language is beginning, so there's a kind of linking up to, or trying to catch up to itself.


BR: It's interesting to talk about ghosting because a ghost's form is changing; there is no given form. That is something that reoccurs in your work; looking at cultural phenomena in that more concrete, harder but changed form, which is therefore still there, haunting or reoccurring. These self-help books are probably the least appropriate or the worst ghost that could come out of Mirrors for Princes.

AD: I'm also thinking about Gavrilov's translation and technique, that mimetic quality of two languages coming together, fighting and contesting one another.[4] It seems Gavrilov's translation, as a form, is very much about how the voice is a form of contestation, working in an ephemeral, immaterial sense, to simultaneously haunt another voice.


S&T: You're right, it haunts (maybe we can take the ghost metaphor further); it's a voice that overrides yet serves something, so it's this very strange thing where you're trying to explain in another language what somebody is saying but while you're doing that you're speaking over them.


AD: I can't get away from Bakhtin's notion of 'heteroglossia' here; the accumulation of many different voices together to create something that is non-singular, non-individual, non-authentic, non-originary, but also accumulative. That heteroglossic moment where meaning emerges and mutates is not only about contest, it's about agonism and antagonistics; it's about the non-resolution of a specific point or historical moment. Have you guys looked at Bakhtin before?


S&T: Of course, the dialogic is important, as is the carnival and carnivalesque. I was just reading an essay that David Joselit wrote about aggregates.[5] He mentions that the difference with aggregates is that each element retains its own autonomy as opposed to becoming a mash-up or a third thing. Aggregates rely as well on asynchrony, whether through time (in the form of an anachronism) or scale. It's kind of like magnets; when magnets repel there's a discharge.


AD: It seems to me that the genre of Mirrors for Princes hasn't just been chosen because it's a form of historical document that brings together occluded narratives that have been partly forgotten. Nor is it just the reference to political instruction. It seems the reason you've chosen it is that it speaks to the ethos of present day human behaviour, and perhaps what's missing from today's political discourse. I think this notion of political instruction in the context of the ethos of ethical and human behaviour seems to be the key debate of our time. Politics seems bereft of imagination, for want of a better term. Does that have something to do with the choice of this specific Mirror for Princes? What does it have to say to the present moment? How it offers a co-dependent, historical document or lineage for re-engaging the discussion.


S&T: We had a great idea for a proposal: if there were a government commission of a public artwork, we could have a Mirror for Princes text read to visiting dignitaries.


AD: An edited version or extract from?


S&T: It's read to you, in its entirety.


AD: So it's formal, instructional?


S&T: It's formal and you have to take time to listen, so yes. I think the focus of Lektor (2014) on language is very important here because everything starts with the enunciation. Whether it's the way heads of state allow themselves to talk about Vladmir Putin or how the language that's used to talk about immigration has evolved in the past ten years. James Scott uses the term infra-politics; the private domain of the oral, whether in speech, songs or gestures, as forms of opposition that escape even the most oppressive regimes. Scott argues that political of the political, those most often successfully suppressed, but that we don't ever look at the gestures, the private jokes – those are infra-politics. We are interested in that kind of infra-discourse, the discourse that happens, again, within your self.


AD: And it is this sense of the infra, that which lies beneath or behind, that seems to be made manifest in the objects.


From the book Mirrors for Princes, 2015, ed. Anthony Downey.
From the book Mirrors for Princes: Both Sides of the Tongue, 2015, ed. Anthony Downey.

S&T: To come back to objects, when we started we were very concerned with the spaces that we build – like PrayWay (2012), or even the installation with the carpet hovering, or the river-beds, as in Dear 1979, Meet 1989 (2013) – and we always think of a comparison between a space and a chair. The chair is what we use to hear with – you're sitting on the chair and it's you and the chair and me talking to you, and we were always trying to introduce the space formally as a place where it's not about you and the chair but where one becomes the other. It's about a group. With the carpets, it's a space where many people sit so it's not just about you – it's you in a group.


The way you're taught to behave is by sitting in a chair, so you can't reinvent this somehow: this is the morality. For us Mirrors for Princes: Both Sides of the Tongue is a way to look at so-called self-help books, so it's about you, specifically. It's back to the idea of me on my chair. But the content itself is about you and your responsibility for the other and the world around you, so it's a focus on you but through this focus you connect to the other.


AD: But not necessarily on equal terms – again, it's an antagonistic, agonistic process.


S&T: Even the idea of the oral aspect of reading is interesting. Our challenge is to understand how to reclaim the collective act, how do you reactivate – or activate, even – or redeem the collective act of reading?


AD: Which was the idea of the book club. This is quite a strong, potent, structural element for the rest of your work.


S&T: We tend to see reading as intimate, but the way you read a book is always as though you were reading it aloud to the other person. So even if you're reading it on your own you should imagine that you're reading it to someone else.


BR: I see in all your work that you look at things in terms of how the text failed, so to speak, in a historical context and in the chronology of the text being transmitted to different channels and also conditions, in terms of politics or religion. When you think of art and its history, language is bound to fail, as many artists have actively been saying. In your work, it seems the objects take on the grammar of language, they intentionally do not make language fail, but almost visualize or materialize language into objects. So the encounter with this is actually the absolute opposite of performativity because it is reading and not speaking; it's reading and not the activity of interpretation. It excludes interpretation almost.


AD: Perhaps enunciative rather than performative might be a better term – to enunciate, the literal moment of saying as opposed to the moment of making meaning, as opposed to any narrative.


S&T: Enunciation is closer to the idea of the reification of the word. By enunciating something – the mantra, the dhikr – you are already making the word an object, and when you make a word, term or an idea an object, then you can break it, you can shatter it, you give it a materiality. How do you give a real, fleshy corporeality to a term that otherwise can slip through your fingers?


AD: There's seems also to be a moment of estrangement – the materialization or enunciation of that word can be a moment of estrangement too. You've got to work hard at this – every time I see your work I get a totally different experience, and you have to be ready to absorb and engage this difference. Maybe this goes back to your notion about accessibility and availability.


S&T: Vulgarization is also something we could talk about as a question of profanity and the sacral. We keep talking about the talisman or the totem, creating works that have or suggest a ritualistic quality, but at the same time there is a very clear process of vulgarization.


AD: It has a rich meaning, the term vulgar – it's not just a simile for scatological. You know vulgate is actually the common speech of the people, the vernacular. The vulgate Bible was prepared by St. Jerome in the 4th C. BC., and thereafter handed down to the people and accepted as the recognized version of the bible; thereafter making the word of God more widely accessible to the individual, and this is the origin of the notion vulgarization. A vulgarisation can be the secularization of the sacred.


S&T: This is a tension that we have within our own practice, and within our dynamic. It's again this idea of the repelling magnets – on one end we're so interested in the printed word, and yet the printed word profanes the sacrality of texts, the very thing that we need to preserve.





[1] New Approaches to the History of Political Thought: Mirrors for Princes Reconsidered (Interdisciplinary Conference, Freie Universität, Berlin, 2–3 November, 2012).


[2] Calvin Tomkins, 'Profiles: Open, Available, Useful', The New Yorker, 19 March, 1990: 48-72; reprinted in Siah Armajani:An Ingenious World, Parasol Unit, London, 2013.


[3] Friendship of Nations: Polish Shi'ite Showbiz, 10th Sharjah Biennial, curated bySuzanne Cotter (UAE, 2011).


[4] Editor's Note: "Gavrilov's translation" is a translation practice often used in Poland and Russia. The language of the original film or news segment is kept audible and almost equally to the destination language. The simultaneous playback of two distinct audio tracks makes for a disruptive experience, touching on issues of legibility to authenticity (the method is often used for news segments and documentaries). This method, of course, would often result in deviations from the original to the 'translated' voice. For a fuller discussion of this technique, see David Crowley's essay in this volume.


[5] David Joselit, 'On Aggregators', October, vol. 146 (fall 2013): 3-18



About the author

Anthony Downey and Beatrix Ruf

Anthony Downey is the Editor-in-Chief of Ibraaz.


Beatrix Ruf is the Director of the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. She served as Director/Curator of Kunsthalle Zürich from 2001-2014 Curator at Kunstmuseum Thurgau, Warth from 1994-1998, and was Director of Kunsthaus Glarus, Glarus from 1998-2001. In 2006 Ruf wass the Curator of the third edition of the Tate Triennial, Tate Britain, London, and in 2008 was Co-Curator of the Yokohama Triennial.