‘Biface Graphy’ is a collaborative project in progress since 2009. The project involves the construction of a calligraphic language based on interactive writing and later evolved into large-scale outdoor installations (Open Scroll).
The project departed from the idea that calligraphy, if it is to be transformed, needs to re-negotiate its relationship with painting, but also with epigraphy, rubbing, seal carving, etc. These practices bridge the ink line with its material or contextual counterpart. Modern calligraphy remains stuck in a highly individual conception of the artist. The embedding of literati practice into epistolary relationships or festive gatherings needs to be addressed beyond the individual author, his studio practice and the public display of artistic production. We wished to replace the figure of the calligrapher by a twin author. This intersubjective dimension goes beyond individual enunciation, or even subjective enunciation, and looks for the necessary social content of enunciation (Deleuze and Guattari 1980:101).
In ‘Biface Graphy’ writing sessions, a scroll hangs in-between us two, vertically, the brushes thus not having to compete for a same surface, each one being able to freely occupy a whole side of the paper. The script is realized with calligraphic brushes and ink; it is not readable, but constructed through the interaction of the two brushes writing simultaneously, conscious of each other’s movement.
The ‘Biface Graphy’ studio gradually became more structured. The scroll was suspended in space on a permanent standing man-sized frame. The writers are facing each other, standing on platforms under which the translucent scroll can run ‘endlessly’, without preventing their movement and the running script. The writing surface is sensitive to movement; brushes are thus not acting on a flat surface. The flexible surface is sensitive to pressure on both sides and convey the strength and darker spots of encounter as well as the depth of one-sided gestures. The wooden structure where Biface Graphy was produced was meant as an abstract machine producing its own intrinsic language. Here, content and shape are not opposed, but the trace produced is beyond expression, beyond signs. Rather, it takes shape directly from the hand-and-tool polarity (Deleuze and Guattari 1980:101).
The scroll’s structure allows our writing process to rely on uninterrupted gesture, letting hands lead our minds. By choosing translucent silk, we wanted to suspend the strokes and allow them to conquer space. At first, Biface Graphy appeared to us as a way to register directly a sensible experience, avoiding expression and its bias. The hand is here prolonged into the brush, which itself is in continuous movement, and produces traces which can themselves serve as tools. In Deleuze and Guattari’s words, the hand should not be considered as a simple organ, but as a code, a dynamic structure (Deleuze and Guattari 1980:79).
In the long term, as the project extends over several years, the interaction between the two calligraphers gained in depth and finesse and a common language was approached, in an asymptotic fashion. This secret language proceeded by a constant and formed its own sub-system (Deleuze and Guattari 1980:123), fed by the existing system of variation provided by calligraphic shapes. An essential difference between Biface Graphy and traditional calligraphy is of course the unreadable quality of the script. Chinese calligraphers make up a mental image of the graph to come and its position in the pictorial space before the act of writing, while Biface Graphy relies on a prior contract between two authors. Such contract is closer to exercises of spirit writing, divination or forms of talismanic writing, than to historically contingent ideographic writing. In the divination process, there is a question, an answer, and a third part that is played by nature’s entropic processes. To our eyes, the braid-like structure of Biface Graphy was eminently recognizable. But at first sight, without being backed up by an apparent writing process, the scrolls risked to appear as any abstract ink painting.