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An asemic textform generative system


The origins of tianzige can be traced back to ancient China, where it served as a tool for calligraphy practice. Over time, tianzige became popular for use in both calligraphy and handwriting practice, particularly in education settings. It is still commonly used today, especially for teaching children how to write Chinese characters. This grid system provids a structure for calligraphers to practice their strokes and characters in a standardized and organized way.

The grid system refers to the template of grids with guiding lines inside, which are arranged to guide the placement and proportions of each stroke within a character.

Tianzige is one of the dominant memory anchors for many Chinese students across genrations, including myself. It is also one of my initial contacts with rules that demands constant repetition as a form of practice. In my childhood, I grappled with my resistance to this mechanical movement, and I often felt disoriented amidst countless sheets of grid practice. 


The strokes, once cohesive, began to separate, and the unity of them disintegrated, so gone the original meanings of the character. Moments like these turned my repetitive movements more towards drawing than writing. This mechanical practice goes on and on until the grid is carved into my intuition, surpassing my primitive instincts and rationality. Reflecting as an adult whose handwriting has deteriorated but retained its grid-like form, I am reminded of how heavily I rely on this grid form more than I realize. It bridges my writing's legibility to others as well as my own readability in relation to others' handwriting.

Tianzige is a totem that embodies my relationship with the rules and convention that shaped my intuition. It functions as a tool whereas it simultaneously toolizes a part of me. From this love-hate relationship, I created an asemic textform system that copes with this grid system through a performative act of conformity. Structurally, each character adheres to the grid, visually mirroring generic tianzige practice sheets. However, none of the characters is real nor do they make semantic sense. 


left > right ------ process of generating the asemic characters within the grid system


I wrote a python script (source code credits to Allison Parrish's tutorial) to generate random strokes bounded by a grid, then I used a plotter to respectively draw the grids and the asemic text within.


​↑ some of the generated characters in tianzige

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