A dream of a mechanical Alice doll and me typing a keyboard by my toe. 2017 (Detail)
Mixed media painting directly on the gallery wall. Canvas, prints and acrylic paint. 9.5 x 6.5 feet.
A dream of a mechanical Alice doll and me typing a keyboard by my toe. Mixed media painting directly on the gallery wall. Canvas, prints and acrylic paint. 9.5 x 6.5 feet.
I was a school girl in the dream. I was working with a laptop and typing Japanese text with my toe. While I was working with a laptop, I was video chatting with a huge mechanical Alice doll which was opening and closing her legs automatically. The Alice doll had white skin and blond hair, but her face was just looked like me.
The dream left a deep impression on me but I could not decoding the message of the dream for many years. I had many questions on the dream 'Why dream depicted me typing with my foot when I work with a laptop? Why not with my hands? 'Since then, this dream always over my head.
In 2019, I finally realized how to read the dream when I saw Tale of Genji exhibition at the MET. Tale of Genji is the greatest Japanese master piece written in 11th century which is considered the essence of Japanese art and culture. The exhibition had a lot of old manuscripts from 13th to 18th century which were written in traditional Japanese writing format with Brushes on Asian paper. They are very different from modern Japanese writing and I once again realized how 'writing Japanese' have been changed over the centuries. The realization was the key to read the dream, and the message of the dream is actually much deeper than I expected.
To read the dream, you need to know the system of Japanese writing and history of how Japanese people write Japanese text with a keyboard. Please read below.
First of all, Japanese has three different characters in its writing system. Two Japanese syllabic scripts called Hiragana(ひらがな) and Katakana(カタカナ), then Kanji (漢字) which is Chinese characters. Hiragana and Katakana have 50 syllabary each. Kanji has over 50,000 characters, but only around 2100 characters are regularly used in our daily life today. Japanese people use these 100 syllabary and 2100 characters of Kanji for writing. Kanji is a hieroglyphic language. For instance, a word of 'mountain' has a shape of mountain like a simple drawing.
(ex- mountain 山, river 川, person 人, bird 鳥, fish 魚, one 一, two 二, three 三) Thus, writing Japanese (also Chinese) has drawing aspects by its nature, and have been developing their writing culture in a very different way from Western writing culture.
Japanese writing cannot be understand without understanding the drawing aspect of writing. For traditional Japanese writing, visual presentation (visual language) of the text is equally important and respected to the meaning of text itself. Japanese use brushes and ink for writing traditionally. People arrange thickness of ink, their brush stroke, composition of the text and various paper to express their emotions and situation behind the meaning of the text visually. For instance, a man would write a very passionate love letter but in weak brush stroke with very thin ink on a rumpled paper which slightly scented with a flower called forget-me-not when he write to tell his Ex he is love sick. A woman would write him back a sweet letter with comforting words but in very strong, mannish brush stroke with thick ink on a business-like white paper to tell him the love is completely over. What they write (contents of text) and how they write (visual presentation, meaning behind the text) work together to convey their actual message. Japanese considered this visual aspects of writing are equally important to the contents of text, and the contents and the visual presentation must work well together.
6, Paper is an another important aspect of the visual presentation. Colors, material, texture and patterns of paper express specific emotions/meanings and it must work well with other elements of writing.
3,In Japanese writing system, the characters are written in columns going from top to bottom, the columns are ordered from right to left.