Sculpture as a Written Language

As a continuation of the project 'The New Type' that explores the written language through the unique lens of the Japanese culture, new work was developed by combining sculpture and typography. The project imagines the possibility of creating a written language that, instead of decoding graphemes and phonemes on a page or a screen, constructs the meaning of the words out of a three-dimensional shape.

Researching Kanji system in Japan, I've learned that some of the East Asian languages share uniform written characters for a number of words (all based on the Chinese logographic writing system), despite the different pronunciation of these characters in their respective languages. For example, a Japanese kanji ‘人’ (person), transcends countries and is understandable to a reader in Tokyo, Hong Kong or Taipei even though each culture pronounces the word in their own way.⁠

Inspired by this idea of a universally understandable written language across countries, and building on the work of Joseph Kosuth's 'One and three chairs' & Erik Ku's 'CHAIR' where representation creates meaning, I aimed to create a language translation system through sculpture that would communicate the meaning of Kanji characters beyond Japan through their appearance.⁠

Working on the project, I chose to embody words from the area of product design ('chair', 'stand') as their form follows function and are therefore instantly recognisable to people from different cultural backgrounds from around the world. It is important to stress out that the artwork produced is not product design but strictly communication design. Even though their form would suggest otherwise, the sculptures are not functional when used as product design objects — they would break or dissemble under pressure.⁠ They function as pieces of communication design: a symbol of a chair and a stand whose primary purpose is to communicate the meaning of the written words to the viewer.⁠ ⁠

In order to subvert product design into communication design, sculpture was chosen as the medium since it allows for unconventional use of form. In other words, the constructed symbol of a chair does not have to follow the often rigid and functional form of industrial design.⁠

The Kanji characters, based on which the sculpture was produced, were designed on the same 'shoji' grid used to create the letters of 'Alphabetic Kanji'.⁠ Photography by Kenji Agata.

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