Jane Rendell

Coming to Welsh (forthcoming)

In writing The Welsh Dresser, I am a ‘scene-maker’, marking the past through my responses to this piece of furniture owned by my great aunt and some of the objects contained with it. These scenes of childhood memory are accompanied by a set of dictionary definitions, which attempt to define the objects housed by the dresser with reference to the words that represent them. These apparently precise definitions also contain elements, which have been suppressed, meanings seldom used, related to forgotten linguistic origins. Such lost etymological traces allow new scenes to surface and unexpected connections to be made. While intimate memories might be understood as scenes from a psychoanalytic and literary perspective, from a historiographical perspective they can be construed as events. A set of academic notes positions these events in the gallery as a set of books.

One definition of a keeper is a person who manages or looks after something or someone; another is an object that keeps another in place, often protecting something more fragile or valuable. In keeping the gallery, I will be accompanied by keepers – books and objects which hold the place of the Welsh Dresser.

As Hélène Cixous writes in Coming to Writing, ‘the mother tongue resonates’. In keeping, I am Coming to Welsh, an adult woman coming back to the language of her childhood and her mother. Yet my mother’s tongue is one I know best by sound, not by sight; by ear, not by mouth, and not by eye. I will also be coming back to writing, translating The Welsh Dresser into Welsh is a to and fro movement – of ‘afterwardsness’ – moving back to the past and forwards to the future: ‘translation – detranslation – retranslation’.

‘The Task of the Translator’ is one I will carry out ‘lovingly and in detail’. To guide me, I have invited three other writers whose work engages with relation between Welsh and English, language, memory, place and translation. On the opening day, accompanied by writer and artist, Mike Pearson, I will read the English version of The Welsh Dresser, and by the closing day, accompanied by poets Sharon Morris and Damian Walford Davies, I will present my translation of The Welsh Dresser.

Jane Rendell, Coming to Welsh, for The-Keeper, curated by Bella Kerr, The Mission Gallery, Swansea, 7–12 May 2013.