Emptiness as Fullness: A Calligraphy Book After John Cage
The work of John Cage “4.33” (first performed on August 29, 1952) is about silence, white noise, and the background of sound perception. It is a musical Zen conveying a personal experience here and now. The number in the title has acquired a symbolic meaning.
I’m studying a Wikipedia article.
Zen philosophy implements in practice the principle of “non-action-in-action”.
Zen aesthetic ideal is based on three concepts.
- Wabi is the beauty of poverty, severe simplicity, roughness and at the same time sophistication.
- Saby is the charm of antiquity and the print of time.
- Yügen is a truth inexpressible in words, a hint, a subtext, an incompleteness.
Zen emptiness is understood as fullness, potentially containing the whole universe. Although Zen professes not relying on words and texts it considers calligraphy to be one of the ways of knowing.
White colour in contemporary art, which continues the tradition of Zen Buddhism, is a reference to the walls of the “Vacuum” by Yves Klein and the rectangle of an empty Nam June Paik movie screen. They remain my favourite artists since training at the Free Workshops.
I have found Cage’s text “Lecture On Nothing” with an author’s unusual typographic solution. Each line is illogically divided into four parts. I decided to try and use this wonderful text for a book.
One of the main discoveries during the work was that four minutes and thirty-three seconds equals two hundred and seventy-three seconds. I left 4.33 as a starting point. The height and the width of the strip of the book are 43 centimetres 3 millimetres. In the “Lecture on Nothing”, forty-eight parts make twelve lines each (twelve is four times three, and forty-eight is four times twelve). The length of the book is 273 centimetres plus the distance between pages which provides a timeless connection of the parts. The second means the second and the text is twice as long. It is written on both sides, ending at the same place where it starts. Theoretically, the book can be read endlessly in a two-dimensional circle.
The form is both Russian harmonica and “Concertina” (jingzhe chuang) of Buddhist books which has first appeared in China in the Tang era (618–907). The text is written in the Cyrillic version of humanistic italics. Italics are my way of learning Zen. Due to the strong slope, almost like in the American Spencerian the words look different under the various lighting. They are lighter on a slightly darker background of the paper and a little darker on the light one. The lines are almost invisible in diffused light, but visible in the penetrating one. The main paper is an Indian Khadi, the connecting – Chinese rice paper. Khadi is nice to write on and natural, with lively irregularities of the edges of the manual sheet formation. In addition to the aforementioned benefits is also has slightly noticeable lines – the traces of the grid. I have built letters into this texture, combining and dissolving them in the material.
Already in the middle of rewriting this text, which, with its 533 lines, seemed almost endless, I remembered a story read somewhere about a calligrapher’s student. It has almost certainly happened in China. The student, having carefully studied hieroglyphs for several years, has achieved mastery. When he was ready to pass the exam, the teacher extinguished the lamp and ordered him to write. Of course, then in the light of the day, the work was not so good. The student remained in training for another, or maybe several years and continued to improve. I felt both like this student and his teacher. I was rewriting an invisible text about Nothing, creating a mandala, making essence of practice from the practice itself.
Curiosity is always the most powerful of incentives. What will be the result of my work? Will I be able to do this? What will happen when work is completed? Is it even possible to assemble it?
A whole bunch of issues needs to be addressed and resolved one by one. This was a fascinating journey into the unknown realm between music, calligraphy, and math.