by liberal japonicus
Fun weekend at the LJ house. Looking at Xu Bing's artwork, a modern Chinese artist who has constantly wrestled with the relationship between words and the world, and came across this. Before I explain, see if you can read it. (explanation below the fold)
Square Word Calligraphy by David B Kelley
Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Huh? Xu Bing came up with a calligraphy for English letters and each word is made into a single character. From http://www.xubing.com/index.php/site/texts/xu_bings_square_work_calligraphy/
When Xu Bing exhibits Square Word Calligraphy, he installs a calligraphy classroom in the art gallery, with the aim of introducing visitors to a world previously considered too obscure and elitist to bear trespassing by the uninitiated (figure 12). Desks set for use with Square Word Calligraphy copy books, ink stones, brushes, and other writing utensils fill the gallery. When visitors take up the brush and begin working on a page of the red-line copy book, the process of demystifying Chinese calligraphy begins. Eventually, when they realize that they are writing English language nursery rhymes rather than unfathomable excerpts from the Chinese classics, they realize it is not necessary to feel intimidated by Chinese calligraphy.
The illustration is from the Omniglot page about Square Word Calligraphy
David's version of Square Word Calligraphy differs from the original system by creating a different set of symbols from the 214 radicals, thus forming a different Sino-Roman alphabet. David's alphabet uses different symbols because he thought that ten of Xu Bing's original Sino-Roman alphabetic symbols could be improved by replacing them with more Chinese-like ones, specifically the symbols for "A", "D", "E", "H", "K', "M", "Q", "R", "V" and "Z". David's goal is to aim for a more consistently Chinese-like appearance to SWC words.
Both Xu Bing's and David's versions initially appear indecipherable to English speakers; however, once they see the alphabet chart, they can read everything easily. Yet, many people say they feel really strange because of the sudden complete awareness of comprehension, after being so sure it was unreadable. Use the Sino-Roman alphabet chart below and see for yourself whether you can read the example text, and how quickly.
One thing that was mentioned in some of the accounts of Xu Bing's work in general was that some Chinese felt offended by Xu Bing's art, because he seems to be poking fun at Chinese history and learning. My (Japanese) wife, interestingly, had a similar reaction, and wasn't too pleased that my daughters and I were writing our names and any other English words that came to mind as Square Word Calligraphy. Fun stuff.