In the Western world, calligraphy—and handwriting in general—is nearly as dead as the paper it’s written on. But for scribers of many Asian languages, calligraphy is not only a part of everyday communication, it’s considered a pleasurable hobby. In Chinese public parks, for example, many people have taken to brushing beautiful characters onto sidewalks with water instead of ink—creating ephemeral splashes of public art that disappear within minutes.
Beijing-based artist Nicholas Hanna has taken the art of temporary calligraphy to a whole new, digitized level. Hanna strapped big water jugs to the back of a sān lún chē, or tricycle rickshaw, and connected them to about 15 computer-controlled nozzles that are affixed to the back of the vehicle. As he pedals down the street, the contraption dribbles water, leaving temporary characters that look like a hybrid of hanzi and the classic video game Space Invaders.
“It doesn’t have the same kind of grace and beauty, because it’s mechanized and it’s automated,” Hanna concedes in the Danwei-produced video below. “I view it as a sort of Western approach to things, but it a way for me to do it, too. To be in China and to play with them also.”