Foreign scripts and familiar handwriting

One of the ideas that led us to create Movement Alphabet is the individuality carried in our handwriting. Handwritten text communicates character and mood. As the residue left by a moving body, we feel it in an embodied way as a kind of dance. Like prehistoric cave paintings and abstract expressionist painting, we can interpret without instruction because we can’t help but internally reconstruct the movement of the body that created these marks.
Lee Krasner - Untitled (1953), an example of embodied abstract expressionist painting

Lee Krasner – Untitled (1953)

Franz Kline - Mahoning (1956), an example of embodied abstract expressionist painting

Franz Kline – Mahoning (1956)

In our previous dance work This Floating World, Jan painting ‘hieroglyphs’ on the walls with her whole body using tightly choreographed dance motifs and an interactive setup that mapped her limbs into digital paintstrokes. The resulting shapes were unexpectedly calligraphic, like looking at the letters of an unknown language. They evoked a sense of communicative intention. As in music and dance, we don’t see specifics or literal meaning but we feel the human behind the lines, the possibility of a deeper connection with greater understanding.
Jan Lee and Tim Murray-Browne - Movement Alphabet. A hieroglyph captured during the development of This Floating World, created by mapping Jan Lee dancing into paint strokes with a 3D camera

A hieroglyph from This Floating World created by Jan’s dancing

Last year on my birthday, Jan gave me a copy of Codex by Luigi Serafini, a hand drawn encyclopaedia from an imaginary universe published in 1981. Legs grow from chicken heads, lovers morph into reptiles and rainbows weave knots. Any explanations are shrouded in a dense handwritten script, swirly letters reminiscent, to my eyes, of handwritten Greek, and organised logically into words that feel so plausible that many have attempted to decipher it. To date, none have succeeded. Codex Seraphinianus (1981) by Luigi Serafini. Hollow trees. Codex Seraphinianus (1981) by Luigi Serafini. Rainbow helicopter weaves knots
One of Serafini’s intentions was to recreate the experience of a child browsing an encyclopaedia before they can read. It parallels a theme Jan and I heard Golan Levin talk about at KIKK festival in 2015. Coming from a Jewish family that weren’t particularly religious, he described the first time he saw the Torah. His dad pointed at the Hebrew text: ‘See that? That’s God’s handwriting.’ We feel the weight of meaning held in text, sometimes even more when we can’t read it. So it is that our project is called Movement Alphabet. We are creating portraits of movement, tracing the whole body through space and time much like ink on paper holds the movement of a pen. Right now, our portraits are grids of images, each capturing a short period of time. Stacked together they’re suggestive to me of elaborate Chinese calligraphy (as someone who can’t read Chinese) in a way similar to how Serafini’s writing feels to me a distant cousin of Greek.
Movemet Alphabet by Jan Lee and Tim Murray-Browne - Movement Portrait of Andre Afonso created at the Victoria & Albert Museum on 16 July 2016.

Movement Portrait of Andre Afonso created at the Victoria & Albert Museum on 16 July 2016.

They are intended as writing from the body, carrying the same individuality as handwriting. Much like how we write, the habitual patterns of movement from our body are ingrained from a mesh of influences. The natural mechanics of our physical selves mix with influence from others – parental instructions to sit up straight, teenage attempts to walk in a sexy way, unconscious mirroring of those around us and the assimilation of gestures much like we learn language. Likewise, numerous teachers have made tedious attempts to neaten my writing, with moderate success (if you could see it before…) yet it has ended up unique and personal. Letter variations are adopted from others and I spent many a maths lecture at university exploring how to make my notes look more like a Hollywood blackboard. I receive few handwritten envelopes in the post. I instantly recognise writing on the front for nearly all of them. Again, likewise with the moving body. Many times I’ve spotted someone in the distance who became recognisable by their gait once they began walking. Tim Murray-Browne, 12 September 2016.