Observation 2: The Line & Space
For 18 months, I’ve been classifying a collection of symbols, gathered online, all representing the "portable document". To be specific, those rectangles that denote that what you are looking at, as you stare at your screen, is in fact, at least notionally, a piece of "paper". There are hundreds of them – each one individual, but designed around a repeating set of characteristics, namely:
- the orientation, type and delineation of the page,
- inclusion of a folded corner,
- incorporation of a representations of the written word – one or multiple lines,
- additional pictographic content, or letters, and
- the number of documents represented.
Characteristic number three (the decision to represent the written word or not, and how to represent it) is compelling when investigating the act of writing. Vilém Flusser, comments "Writing is about setting ideas in lines, for unwritten ideas, left to their own devices, run in circles."1 Marshall McLuhan adds to this "Until writing was invented, man lived in acoustic space: boundless, directionless, horizon-less, in the dark of the mind, in the world of emotion, by primordial intuition, terror." 2
We could suggest that the surface upon which we write can also seem "boundless, directionless, horizon-less", albeit on a smaller scale. The white page, for example, represents a dichotomy: a microcosm of McLuhan’s fearful, intuitive dark mind whilst simultaneously being a place of thrilling potential. The line can help us navigate that expanse, either by delineating a productive space for words or in the case of those document symbols, going one step further and ultimately becoming the abstract depiction of the words themselves.
A line is elemental. It is a subtractive act and an additive one; a division and a divide; a movement from one person to another through space and time; a boundary that halts; a guide keeping us on the straight and narrow; a queue to walk alongside. It is texture – the warp and the weft; a score, a fold, a fissure, a cut, an attack, a blemish upon the space within which it resides.
A line is play, it is an idea, it is potential. When we encounter those line-filled document icons on our computers, is it encouraging that they aren’t always just white voids, awaiting occupation, but are instead documents already underway? Albeit with only a line, one suggesting only non-specificity and the generic.
My research practice learns from the document symbols’ enchiridion. In order to scrutinize what really happens when we write, if the pressure to write coherently is removed, if concerns with semantics, syntax, orthography and grammar are dismissed, all the small yet remarkable acts that coalesce to form the completed gesture, rise to the surface and each can become a subject worthy of individual attention.
So for now, in my practice at least, I’m ditching the use of a code, of actual words altogether. The line becomes my code, my tool for exploring issues around and within writing.
1. Flusser, V. 2011. Does Writing Have a Future? Translated by N. Roth. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 6.
2. McLuhan, M. 1970. Counterblast. London: Rapp & Whiting,13.