Re-animating the script : an exploration of new directions in calligraphic animation with reference to the kinesthetic, plasmatic and transformative qualities of Islamic calligraphy
Mohammad Javad Khajavi
Date of Issue2017
School of Art, Design and Media
Experimenting with Islamic calligraphy (here defined as any calligraphy written in Arabic script) in new and innovative ways using a diverse range of media is a recurring theme in contemporary art of the Arab world, Iran and Turkey. Such experimentations have begun from the middle of the 20th century and later have formed a trend, which is known by some scholars as “neo-calligraphy”. Today, artists explore Arabic script and Islamic calligraphy in painting and sculpture as well as other media such as textile, silkscreen, photography, etc. Such explorations have moved Islamic calligraphy in new directions, extending its aesthetic boundaries and expanding the range of materials and media used to explore it. In the meantime, explorations of Islamic calligraphy in time-based media such as animation have been relatively limited until recently. In the past decade, perhaps because of the cultural shift from the dominance of static media to the dominance of the dynamic media, interest has grown in creating and exhibiting animations and time-based artworks incorporating Islamic calligraphy as structurally integral. In spite of this growing attention, a paucity of academic study of calligraphic animation and calligraphic time-based art persists in fields such as animation studies and contemporary art of the Islamic world. The dearth of examples exploring Islamic calligraphy in time-based media while attending to their temporal nature and dynamic capabilities has particularly disrupted such study. As both artistic and academic exploration of calligraphic animation emerges, this thesis addresses artistic possibilities and potential issues that arise in extending the exploration of Islamic calligraphy into visual time-based media, particularly animation. This practice-based research explores how the temporal nature of animation can heighten experimentation with Islamic calligraphy, focusing particularly on animation’s dynamism, which renders it a privileged medium to manifest certain qualities of Islamic calligraphy sometimes described as “proto-animated” (i.e. the quality of invoking a feeling of movement and change). I argue in this thesis that Islamic calligraphy lends itself to animation, specifically, because of its kinesthetic, plasmatic and transformative qualities. The calligraphic line of Islamic calligraphy variously invokes a kinesthetic sense (i.e. a feeling of vitality, dynamism and rhythmic movement) while Arabic letters are plasmatic (i.e. their shapes are malleable) in that they shift shape according to context. Moreover, many specimens of Islamic calligraphy and neo-calligraphy present a desire to transform letters and words to things other than text. These qualities can inform both artistic exploration of calligraphy and scholars’ understanding of temporal events in visual time-based media, specifically calligraphic animation. These proto-animated qualities in Islamic calligraphy and neo-calligraphic art foster the artistic possibilities offered by the dynamic capabilities of a time-based medium like animation. The practical components of the thesis address the lack of examples and are significant for the exploration and development of ideas throughout various stages of the research. The results of this study suggest three possibilities that, in turn, suggest myriad artistic opportunities for artists exploring Islamic calligraphy in visual time-based media. These three possibilities are: the possibility to create dynamic calligraphic compositions using a variety of temporal behaviors; the possibility to transform the form of calligraphic elements, their identities and their functions over time; and the possibility to play with the legibility and readability of calligraphic forms over time. The three artworks—a calligraphic animation and two installations—constituting the practical aspect of the thesis not only exemplify some of these artistic possibilities, but also emphasize the applicability of the findings to a diverse range of artwork. Aside from practitioners and artists, the results of this study are useful to scholars in the fields of both animation studies and contemporary art of the Islamic world who want to study calligraphic animation or calligraphic visual time-based artwork. Moreover, given the rich traditions of both Islamic calligraphic art and neo-calligraphy, the result of this study should be valuable to anyone interested in text-based temporal art in general.
DRNTU::Visual arts and music::Animation