Introductory text to the exhibition catalogue, Venice, Museo Correr 2010
Writing. also defined by Barthes as a "field of infinite signification" is one of the most subtle and successful manifestations of art. This exhibition, dedicated to the strokes outlined by the hand and signs and not to the metaphorical meanings of the actual word writing, offers an overview of contemporary research in the field of handwriting by artists who now work in Europe but come from different parts of the world. in which their origins play an intrinsic role in their personal development of writing. In their works writing is an outline that, originating from the word, arising from the soft mark of a brush or from the scratchy mark of a metallic pen, undergoes continuous changes. offering a dance of signs that are often illegible but are always pregnant with meaning. A rhythm that shouts, cries. whispers, enchants, repels or captures.
The three main civilizations of writing on display here are also the only ones that developed the cursive form. In the title we used both the words "calligraphy" and "handwriting" to include ali different kinds of artistic research in the field of writing: those that are expressed by the accurateness and precision that is characteristic of Arabic calligraphy; Japanese shodo, which evokes the search for truth through writing: the more intimate and personal forms of writing such as diaries and private correspondence, throughout the ages and from all over the world; finally, contemporary experiments on the communicative and evocative power of the written gesture. Ali these expressions are on display in a single exhibition. offering a unique occasion to observe writing as a universal expression of art and an infinite means of stratified cultural references.
The combination of numerous writings and diverse types of calligraphy in this innovative exhibition itinerary allows a better understanding of the meanings they transmit while experiencing at the same ti me the disorientation of the logical sense that makes room for the abstract visual experience. Even in those cases in which the artist strictly adhered to the rules of legibility, one finds oneself in front of works that are carriers of incomprehensible characters, which we observe with all the awareness of one looking at a text. Despite the possibility of deciphering these characters, whether Japanese, Chinese or Arabic, the experience is still one of observing an illegible text that captures the visuaI essence of the written sign, the complex dance of lines pregnant with emotions, expressions of intimacy, the profound and original power of a handwritten sign.
In shodo the space of the work is active, the form alive, the line undergoing constant changes and there is no doubt that it was this that inspired such extensive research on the art of Western handwriting. Indeed, in the Far East. handwriting. the expressive completion of literary texts, has already been considered an art. equal to and beyond drawing, both creatures of the same tool, the brush. In particular, the practice of shodo involves the whole being in a creative game that has highly relevant energetic implications, and writing with a brush is a discipline that completes its study through continuous practice alone, throughout one's entire life. The examples of the Japanese Norio Nagayama, Satsuki Hatsushima and the Chinese Ye Xin, together with the Italians Carlo Buffa and Adriana Seri offer us a splendid range of these powerful signs, carried out with either extreme delicacy or with the strength of one's entire being. Shodo leaves space in such works for the imperfection of an impeccable but profoundly human gesture and, with the exception of Ye Xin, who so skilfully combines the East and West. they remain very close to the tradition of Oriental calligraphy.
Arabic calligraphy has mainly been devoted to faith. The texts, written and re-written, known and repeated, exalt the rhythm with complex webs that enchant the eye with intricate arabesques, appearing to be an unconstrained game between legibility and the image, bestowing it with its own value, one that is magic and enchanting in the presence of writing. In the work of the two artists representing this civilization here, Hassan Massoudy and Abdallah Akar, one can sense a stroke that goes beyond tradition, one that expresses itself with skill and naturalness in the space of the contemporary. However, in Massoudy's work in particular, it maintains that search for perfection and carefully gauged precision that seems to be the opposite of that expressed by artists working with Western handwriting. In the works on display in which the tones of black and white, including all the shades of grey, are dominant, it is the colours of Massoudy and Akar's works that emerge with the greatest strength.
With its entire history focused on the faithful transmission of the text and legibility, if compared with the other two great traditions of writing, Chino-Japanese and Arabic, Western writing might appear rigid, almost immobile. It was during the twentieth century that in Europe, and in England and Germany in particular, a calligraphy movement was founded, emphasizing the study of the individual letters and their legibility, while making ample room 'for the role of those who drew the characters. Today, contemporary calligraphy, a term that is a contradiction in itself (calligraphy means beautiful handwriting, and therefore diverse from a hypothetical ugly one, cacography), is now the field of new research with, amongst others, the aims to recognize Western handwriting as an artistic expression, thus also making it possible to look at its history from a new perspective. Indeed, when observing historic documents, letters and diaries written in times long gone by, we often feel a sense of disorientation, while handwriting that is excessively cursive and interferes with reading allows us to enjoy the image to the utmost. In Brody Neuenschwander's work, the same question comes up again and again: is this a text or an image? While Birgit Nass' works clearly hide a skilful two-way journey of language towards the stroke and vice-versa. In short, constant tension between legibility with its rigid rules and creativity, are no longer at the service of content.
Today, the meaning of handwriting lies in the power of the stroke, in its being the true, honest image of ourselves, of our souls.
And when this gesture, one that is known and repeated, is liberated and merges with our very being, it opens the door to imperfection that brings forth discovery.
Monica Dengo and Monica Viero