Skip to content

Glasgow 2010 Report

By Liz Sinclair

The 2010 ITI Dutch Network Weekend Workshop was held in Glasgow from 3 to 5 September. The venue was Strathclyde University, high on a hill overlooking the city – a hill that was to become all too familiar as we trekked up and down for our meals and other activities! The theme for the Workshop was art and architecture, the title for the whole programme being “Glasgow 2nd City of Empire – a taste of its art & architecture”.

This was a well-attended weekend with 32 Dutch network members taking part. Of these, 24 members had travelled from the Netherlands and 1 from Belgium so my 5 hour train journey from London seemed fairly trifling by comparison!

The weekend got off to a great start with drinks in one of the University bars, followed by a wonderful meal at Dakhin, a South Indian restaurant famous for its unusual bread “dosas”, which looked like giant brandy snaps, but are in fact thin and slightly crispy crepes made with rice and lentils. We had an impressive spread of starters and main dishes including fish and seafood dishes, lamb curries and vegetarian dishes.

The next morning we all met for the first talk of the workshop: “Honour thine author” given by Dr Fiona Elliott, a specialist art translator. Fiona gave a fascinating talk on the perils and pleasures of the translator’s role in balancing the concerns of artist, author, publisher and other players when translating art texts. This was illustrated by a very amusing story concerning Louise Bourgeois, the famous sculptor (1911-2010). In 2002, Fiona was contacted by the German publisher Prestel, in Munich, to translate a book about Louise Bourgeois’ works in marble. The translation was going well until Fiona realised that the book did not yet have a title. When she enquired about this, she was told not to worry as the publisher had already sorted this out: the book was to be called “Louise Bourgeois’ Marbles”! This admittedly rather wonderful title was rapidly altered to “Louise Bourgeois: Works in Marble”, demonstrating the importance of asking questions and checking details, however trivial or obvious they might seem.

Our first practical exercise was to have a go at translating gallery labels. This workshop was introduced by Peter Black, Curator of the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow, who is a firm believer in the “less is more” principle for gallery labels (showing us examples of how huge information boards could actually detract from the works of art themselves). My group spent a very long time on about 150 words – most of us felt we’d soon be bankrupt if we specialised in this type of translation.

The afternoon brought a tour of the Glasgow School of Art, designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928). Mackintosh’s masterpiece displays an eclectic style influenced by the arts and crafts movement of the late 19th century as well as Art Nouveau, Scottish Baronial and Japanese architecture and design. Our guide was one of the students at the School of Art; she gave a very polished and knowledgeable talk. This was followed by a real treat – afternoon tea in the Willow Tea Rooms, Sauchiehall Street, which was designed by Mackintosh in 1904. It was the only tea room building over which Mackintosh had complete control over every aspect of the design, modelling the exterior and interior of the building and even designing the teaspoons and the waitresses’ dresses.

Dinner that evening was at a fabulous Italian restaurant, Fratelli Sarti, with a stunning, opulent interior. The restaurant is housed in a beautiful 1890s banking hall with Murano chandeliers and original marble features. We were seated at two long tables in a separate section of the restaurant which felt self-contained but not isolated from the Saturday night bustle. The antipasti included such delights as bruschetta topped with tomato, garlic and basil, antipasto with seafood or assorted Tuscan meats and there was an impressive range of pasta dishes, from lasagne al forno and Penne alla Gorgonzola to Spaghetti aglio olio e peperoncino (extra virgin olive oil, garlic and chilli). The wine flowed and the atmosphere was very relaxed.

The next morning, Mark Baines, tutor and lecturer at the Mackintosh School of Architecture at the Glasgow School of Art and Vice-Chair of the Alexander Thomson Society, gave a talk entitled “Exploring the Wall – the architecture of Alexander Thomson”. Alexander “Greek” Thomson (1817-1875), another famous architect based in Glasgow, was not greatly appreciated outside Glasgow during his lifetime. More prolific than Mackintosh, he produced a diverse range of structures including villas, a castle, urban terraces, commercial warehouses, tenements and three magnificent churches, of which, sadly, only one still survives intact (St. Vincent Street Church). It is also argued that Thomson was a visionary who championed some of the elements of “sustainable housing”. This derives from a design produced by Thomson in 1868 for the redevelopment of a large area of slum housing in the medieval old town. Thomson suggested that closely spaced parallel tenements be built within the central courtyard, the ends of which would be open for ventilation purposes. He also proposed that alternate streets be glazed for better warmth and safety for the residents. Although his ideas were not taken up at the time, new research has shown how revolutionary were his proposals for improved workers’ housing.

The second practical translation workshop focussed on building translations and was led by Hans van Bemmelen, one of our members who specialises in this area. Many of us had encountered architectural/building/urban planning issues within our translation work and so this was a truly valuable session. My group explored various terminology problems such as the difference between a tower block (up to 30 storeys maybe?) and a “high rise” building (would this be a lower structure or is there no difference in fact?). We discussed the differences between housing estates, housing schemes (a Scottish term) social housing, affordable units and council housing (a very English term). The Dutch concept of “woonerf” was raised and the difficulties associated with translating this term, varying from residential area with traffic calming to housing cluster, home zone, living street and shared space. We also touched on the different ways that estate agents describe houses in the UK and the Netherlands – in the former, the emphasis is on bedrooms (e.g. 4-bed detached) and the latter, it is simply on rooms (e.g. 3-kamer appartement). We even examined the differences between UK toilets and Dutch toilets, but I’m not going to go into too much detail on that here!

Unfortunately, time restrictions meant that I had to leave after this practical session to catch my train. I asked another member, Jan Arriens, for a few lines to describe the activities of the last afternoon. I am grateful to him for the next two paragraphs:

Formal proceedings concluded with a talk by Fred Mostert (“A long life in languages”), who was recently made an ITI Fellow. We heard a fascinating account of how both Dutch and English had always been intertwined in his life, going back to the time when his Dutch father, at that time a fisherman, was forced to take refuge in Lowestoft in a violent storm – and (not speaking English) invited out the young woman behind the counter at the local store. Working for a Merck subsidiary in Haarlem provided an opening for Fred to work on medical translations, an interest that was to lead to his medical dictionary.

After this we went on an open-top bus tour of Glasgow, seeing some of the buildings we had heard about in the talk earlier that morning.

Pat Grocott, who organised the Workshop, is to be thanked and congratulated for putting together a truly interesting and varied selection of talks, practicals and leisure activities, all based around the themes of art and architecture. She also infected us all with her enthusiasm for her new home town of Glasgow. I don’t think it will be my last visit to this wonderful city.

[Back to Glasgow 2010 Workshop page]