- Chen’s minds on sendai * mediatheque
experience in typography with movable type
Typography is the art and techniques of arranging type, type design, and modifying type glyphs. And Movable type is the system of printing and typography that uses such movable components as individual letters, punctuation or other symbols, to reproduce the elements of a document. Going back as far as courses of history in school as I can remember, Typography with movable type was invented in China by Bi Sheng (畢昇) out of ceramic or clay during the Northern Song (北宋) dynasty (1041-1048), and to be listed in The Four Great Inventions of Ancient China that are celebrated in Chinese culture for the historical significance and as signs of ancient China’s advanced science and technology. However, Digitization opened up typography to new generations of printing techniques and its users. And Typography was no longer a specialized occupation in the Digital age.
Though Typography nowadays has lost its luster, you will find that there is still a “typography studio” on the B1st floor at sendai mediateque. It contains lots of movabletypes, printing materials and machine donated by a Japanese printing company at the opening of smt in 2001. As a public cultural complex, it seems to be smt’s mission to give a whole new meaning of old medium -Typography for the citizens. In order to rediscover the enjoyment of Typography and to evoke the beauty of movable types, smt have held the special exhibition “Characters” in 2003 and a series of typographic printing workshops with the printing society that is found by retired craftsmen and volunteers who are interested in typography for years running. And the printing society plays a very important role in these workshops in smt under my observation. As members of the printing society, they not only maintain the studio regularly, support the participants in the work process, but also share their skill and experience as tutors. Perhaps it is a win-win situation for promoting the cooperation with smt and volunteers through Typography and its media power.
Come back to the subject, “experience with typography”, it’s a flash enjoyment to contact with movabletypes, many interesting materials and equipment, etc. After Bi Sheng invented in China around 1000 years, I can’t believe that I had a chance to take part in this workshop to experience the printing process across thousands miles to smt, Japan. As a member of the printing society said, there are five major steps in “typography with movable types”. They are the work of text, type finding, typesetting, printing, and type distributing. In this printing workshop, I rethought the origin and beauty of Chinese characters through the work of text, in which I use such letters as mountain (山), forest (森), snow (雪) and sun (日) to make up the image of Japan - the sun and Mt. Fuji - in my card. It is an interesting way to recognize the meanings beyond Chinese characters, different from lectures in class. As Michael Spock, the ex-director of Boston Children’s Museum, said,” I hear, and I forget; I see and I remember; I touch and I understand.” In my opinion, this workshop has a great effect on helping the participants explore the meanings beyond their own characters, even get hooked in their culture via their hands.
To my mind, the printing workshop gives “Typography with movable types” a special task of acquainting the participants with their own letters by the printing process in the Digital ages. With Digitalization had the enormous impact on Typography, it also influenced people to change in writing. In the present, people get used to write something by computer, not by hands. Gradually, people will start to forget how to write their characters; I think it will be a serious problem in the future, won’t it?
Jouyuan CHEN (smtインターンシップ生)