Sarah Pierce (b. 1968, USA) is an artist who lives and works in Dublin.
Pierce’s The Question Would Be the Answer to the Question, Are You Happy? is a project she has restaged in different cities since 2011. For each chapter, a group of local university students gather to watch and discuss the 1961 film Chronique d’un été, by French anthropologist Jean Rouch and sociologist Edgar Morin. The filmmakers enlisted a cast of real characters to portray scenes from everyday life in Paris. The film is one of the first examples of cinema verité, a documentary style of filmmaking to convey candid realism.
Chronique d’un été is presented with rudimentary English subtitles, which leaves much of the film ‘lost in translation’ to a non-French speaking audience. This symptom of misunderstanding becomes part of the larger work. The discussion following the film always takes place in a language other than English. An interpreter translates the conversation into English as it takes place and this imposing voice dominates the soundtrack, making it impossible to hear the conversation. The role of the interpreter is at once flawed, schizophrenic, and at times obstructive, however the viewer only accesses the conversation through the interpreter’s intense commitment to remaining true to what is said.
Writer and curator Chris Fite-Wassilak says of the work: Pierce is drawn to the potential of the transient and unfinished, hence the excavation of the political upheavals of the 1960s and ’70s, and the recurrence of the student – a figure whose role in society is that of the nascent adult, the perpetual being-in-formation. The examination of that potential is always deliberately but ambiguously framed, to foreground the inevitable mediation. Thus, in each city where The Question Would Be the Answer to the Question, Are You Happy? was held, the recorded discussions respectively in French, Spanish and Danish between art, sociology and politics students was simultaneously translated live to English. Mediation, it seems, also involves distortion, loss and confusion.