One Year of City in Translation

Copenhagen, where all explorations started, April 2015. Photo by Canan Marasligil. 

It has been a year now that I have started exploring what City in Translation could be. Of course this process of looking at the world from a translation lens has been in me for as long as I can remember. As I keep repeating whenever I get the opportunity,
translation is at the centre of everything I do, including how I approach cities. I take languages and the city’s public space as a starting point to explore how the process of translation takes place and how people interact with the languages in their city. And from that way of approaching the many worlds I inhabit or pass by, I come to the conclusion that the vibrant and interactive multilingualism throughout urban landscapes is a central feature to how we imagine the future of our cities and part of how we want to build communities.

My arrival to Copenhagen Airport, 17 April 2015. Photo by Canan Marasligil

City in Translation became concrete thanks to a writer's residency offered by the University of Copenhagen as part of their participation in the pan-European consortium Culture@Work. It was the first time I could take the time - one full month - to explore one city in translation. Copenhagen was my laboratory, and oh, how much I enjoyed wandering around the city, using a methodology I had developed to guide me.

It is a year later now and I would like to look back at what City in Translation brought me so far and try to wonder where I could go from here. But this is not a complete evaluation, because I am not interested in numbers (at least not at this stage of the process) - how many people did I reach online or face to face? How many pictures I took and how many posts I've written...? These could be valuable data, but it isn't the purpose of this post nor my goal at the moment. I want to look back at what City in Translation brought in terms of process of thinking, how it changed or didn't change, the way I am looking at multilingualism in urban spaces, and which roads can I take to navigate further and push myself into places I do not know... 

Berlin, January 2016. Photo by Canan Marasligil

After my one-month residency in Copenhagen, I came back with a lot of material and way too much to grasp. Before I started working on this website, I tried to keep a more or less regular account of the journey on my personal website. I even explained how I drowned under the experience, and I also described what kind of gear one needed to explore a city in translation. Then in the summer, I have started working on this website and have finalised it in August, because I felt the need for City in Translation to have its own space and also its own social media channels.

Through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, I can continue gathering and sharing interesting material - written and visual, on the many cities I visit. But the website allows me to focus more: The site is organised around Fictions and Resources, providing complimentary perspectives. In Fictions, I feature my own creative writing and other expressions, while in Resources I provide a collection of material from within and outside academia aiming to contextualise the work of this project and aid in future research.

The explorations also continue at home in Amsterdam, December 2015. Photo by Canan Marasligil.

Now I have all the tools I need to continue my explorations and I want to continue developing these further so everyone can participate and make use of the resources I make available through this site (and I will explain in more details in a next post how people can concretely make use of the project).

City in Translation also went "live" joining various events. First at the Circulating Critical Practices workshop in Barcelona last year, also part of the Culture@Work programme. It was the very first time I talked about this approach in public.

Then months later, in November 2015, I was invited to participate to the Multilingual Creativity Lab in London - organised at the Free Word Centre, where I ran a very short City in Translation workshop for a small group of people. The purpose was to explore and see what possibilities such a project could offer organisations (museums, libraries...), schools or any institution interested in multilingual creativity. I wrote a short report in Resources. This experience showed me there's some potential to develop City in Translation workshops but also creative city tours for different age groups and in a variety of areas. That is one thing I am currently working on because, even if the idea can remain flexible, such an activity necessitates a clearer methodology people can base themselves on and adapt to their own needs..  

Amsterdam, March 2016. Photo by Canan Marasligil

And the most recent experience I had was presenting City in Translation at the International Literature Forum organised by Literature Across Frontiers, on 15 and 16 April in Aberystwyth. I had the opportunity to present City in Translation to professionals working in literature and translation - publishers, festival programmers, translators, writers, free speech and literary organisations, academics... The enthusiastic response I received was truly motivating and it is with immense joy now that, one year after I started these explorations, I can confirm that I have only started playing with languages in urban spaces, and I am looking forward to seeing more people join. 

In my next posts, I want to focus on the following:

  • Preparing a toolkit for people who would like to work with City in Translation within their own project and activities. 
  • Rethinking the methodology - or creating different ones depending on cities and regions where I work (in Copenhagen, I was focusing on all languages other than Danish, but in bilingual cities, the approach can be different). 
  • In Fictions, I'd like to continue playing with the images and the translation process happening in my own imagination and continue sharing this open creative laboratory of writing.    

So stay tuned for more content, and remember, you can also participate through social media by simply tagging your own explorations #CityinTranslation. 

A special thank you to the University of Copenhagen, the Culture@Work Consortium, the Free Word Centre and Literature Across Frontiers to have offered me a space to express City in Translation so far. It's been a fantastic year!