Calligraphy is text that is art and art is a language of its own one might note

I want to take these ideas out into Istanbul. I’m not sure whether I want to create large scale works as performances or whether they ought to be residual installations or durational works. Of course there is much room for adaptation here.

I have recently been able to research into the art of Calligraphy at the Beyazit State Library which has been invaluable to the development of my research into this practise. I have to explain that even though Calligraphy is very widely available to the public there is actually very little written on the practise beyond biographies and some art history which seeks to put calligraphers into a historical context. It may be argued that Calligraphy has had its day and is incapable of developing beyond the form that it currently holds. What I mean by this is that Calligraphy does not seem to have undergone any revolutions for around 200 years. Before then the ‘art’ aspect of the practise was given some space to breathe. After that Calligraphy seems to develop into a practise in stasis, the emphasis became one of skillful and accurate replication. In other words, Calligraphy had a definitive form and deviation became abhorrent, this is even though progress, so to speak, may be perceived as being deviant and incorrect. [note that I am referring to Turkish Calligraphy exclusively.]

There seem to be a few reasons to explain this. Probably the banning of the arabic alphabet in the 1920’s which meant that people were obviously not going to continue learning and understanding the langauge as ubiquitously. The Art of Calligraphy in Turkey would really have far less relevance to people after that. So one would imagine that the Art of Calligraphy could be pursued to new heights without the constraints of meaning. Another possible reason for the paused development of Calligraphy could also be that its purpose in an Art sense was to adorn the walls of Mosques; the people funding the development of this practise were requiring a very specific thing from calligraphers. Again, the potential for a departure of the arabic language from meaning could contribute to a revolution of the Art.

In the 1500’s, the Calligrapher Seyh Hamdullah introduced, amongst other things, a slanted line and spacing system that meant Calligraphy could be assessed and standardized. Whilst this could be seen as repressive to the development of the Art, it actually leant itself to the development of a particular aesthetic within Calligraphy. Much later, the calligrapher Mustafa Rakim built upon Seyh’s established architecture for characters and produced a stylised kind of Jali Thuluth calligraphy that was both dramatic and visually impacting.

The below images show some examples of simple calligraphy and then how one may measure the characters. These are a part of my own subjective exploration into the architecture of the characters. I am not looking to explore the characters as a part of a textual language. It is my intention to develop an understanding of the calligraphy in terms of its patterns, self-similar forms, its flow. In other words, the architectures of particular calligraphic texts.

I am also interested in the use of calligraphy as symbol and its significance in Turkey to Turkish people who have no choice but to cohabit spaces with this archaic language.

The red lines show that there is a trend within the calligraphic figures to rise left to right at 66.6 degrees. The green lines show the presence of another trend by illustrating the clear alignment of figures on a 95.5 degree line.


This image's red diamonds, and the smaller circles, are used for measuring out the figures and the spaces between figures. The green lines show a 65 degree trend in the character's formation and the blue lines show a similar trend on 128 degree lines. These lines can be used for taking measurements that seem to be determined through relations between the figures. For example the size of one figure will determine its neighbours size by suggesting where it may begin or finish (or where a stroke may need to turn) and so on and so forth.
The red lines show this texts trend to follow a 61.5 degree angle. This text was written by Sheyh Hamdullah and although it is just a sample we can see how he put his technique into practise. The large circles mark the end of a sentence.

These images attempt to show a common trend in the text. I would like to develop my study further so that I can find elements of self-similarity within the text. I ultimately hope to generate an experimental form of calligraphy that is by definition still calligraphy yet is clearly an exploration of the form or symbolic value of calligraphic characters.

A problem might lie in the fact that calligraphy is of course a language and language has pattens of its own. If I am just taking a language and bastardising it then what good is that to anyone? I have some faith that what I am proposing is of value but what the value is, I can not be sure. I imagine that attempting to take calligraphy in a new or uncertain direction has the potential to revolutionise the use of calligraphy in the arts. It may be politically significant in Turkey due to the nations secular identity and the ubiquitous presence of arabic texts that are semblant of the country’s Ottoman past.

Something that I have been working on is the appropriation of text that I have found in Mosques for it to be used in other spaces. This idea is in its infant stages and is potentially very interesting. The way in which the text is re-contextualised is very important and at the moment I have began to experiment with the text by creating it as a mark in dust or as a residual mark left by sweeping an area with a water soaked brush. These marks fade with time yet have a definite presence in a space.

Water based marks created on a wooden floor. I am trialing using residual images that will disappear over time. Dust and dirt will soon mask this piece of work but I wanted to view and experience the creative process first hand. The text in the background is nearly dried out.
This script has been written in dust on a glass table and was made to trial the concept of working with dust as a medium. This would be ideally created on a larger scale but it would be publically placed and would be on the ground rather than on a table. This piece is very different from the test carried out using water. Here materials are being displaced whilst the water creates an actual stain. Both situations create marks but can mean very different things.
This is a detail from the script made on the glass table. Here harakat (meaning motion or movement) notation is being focused upon.

I want to take these ideas out into Istanbul. I’m not sure whether I want to create large-scale works as performances or whether they ought to be residual installations or durational works. Of course there is much room for adaptation here.

October the First

This last week saw us visit and work in and around Tophane Mosque where we generated a great deal of footage that we are currently in the process of sorting.

Recently we have been exploring more specific, and overall, more satisfying subject matter. Last week was another mentally demanding week but now we feel generally more comfortable being here and have become more acclimatized. It is perhaps made easier by the fact that the temperature has dropped since arriving to something more bearable and we have our appetites back.

Minou has been working in the dance studio with a company of dancers who will eventually perform several times around Istanbul. At least, this looks to be the case and it would only fail to happen if the company suffered some loss in the form of members leaving; unlikely in any case. I have been trying to find myself some form of detachment from the project so that I too can have my own “space”. Fortunately I have two canvases now in the Studio that Kemal Seyhan has very generously lent to me and I am extremely grateful for. I had been getting tense, what with my feelings being built up without any tactile release into a medium like oil paint. Editing film is obviously not tactile and if anything editing actually makes me feel very squalid and sedentary. I feel as though, for all the pro’s that technology gives us in terms of networking, communications, and providing a means for improving our lives, I feel that actually, what with the hub of all these technologies being the flat screens (or otherwise) that we site down before and gaze, this is a gross way of existing and any prolonged exposure to this situation makes us physically aware of this grossness. Just a thought.

This last week saw us visit and work in and around Tophane Mosque where we generated a great deal of footage that we are currently in the process of sorting. Some of this footage will be used but of course the processes that need to be done in terms of selection, editing, orientation, and then proofing will take some time. The footage is currently being considered for a very informal film short that will incorporate as much as it can from our current environment. How can we provide the maximum amount of information and still have our artistic reactions/feelings intact within a body of work that is to inform and not to confuse. There are many divides in the Arts in terms of what is valid subject matter and what is the purpose of the art, as well as what may be used to judge a piece of contemporary art. For example there may be a clear delineation between those who value modern abstract expressionism for its lack of subjective narrative and those who value photographic realism for its emphasis on providing an illusion and it being of something that can be firmly stated to require skill. Other parties might bundle these to one side and say that modern art and classical representational works both fail to mean anything, both being critical of the materials that they are composed of; instead, one should look to see how the audience feels, what does the art say, art being a language and a study of the human capacity to stimulate and captivate the senses. Such arguments go on and they cause a lot of confusion for those artists who seek to make work within this infrastructure. Admittedly there is a lot of romance involved in these arguments and a lot of unsupported claims and ideals are made for art that can not honestly be upheld. Still I hope that we can make something that is relevant to how we feel.

A big influence on the way that we perceive this city is our naivety to it. We have to be constantly learning because that is the only way to understand and to know. One begins to stop making parallels between East and West because one is not living with the reality of such disparity, we are living in a site that it is what it is. The notion of the two living side by side could not be made by some-one living here because the East and West can only be departed from this site. This would be ground zero and only a traveller could make that assumption.

Anyway we watched some very interesting anime last night, one particular short film was called ‘Franz Kafka’s A Country Doctor’. This was made by Yamamura Koji and it won an Excellence Prize at the 11th Japan Media Arts Festival. There were other films by Kato Kunio but these where generally not too my taste, however there was one episode of ‘The Diary of Tortov Roddle’ that was of particular interest. The way in which the subtitles and the music worked together gave the piece of work a very curious feel.

I am hoping to give English classes whilst I am here to subsidise my life. As this is an expensive place to be perhaps things will work out. I hope so.

I have thoughts for site based works here… The calligraphy in the Tophane mosque was made by a man named Mustafa Rakim. Rakim died in 1826 but his work is still phenomenal. At some point I will elucidate upon my thoughts to do with Rakim and particularly his calligraphy.