Exchange of Handwriting
a play involving two people
Sometime around 2004 I decided to alter my handwriting, which had not undergone any essential changes since primary school. It more or less corresponded to the standard style of handwriting which I had been taught. All the letters were aligned with the correct slant, all were the same size.
After several initial attempts, this simple objective developed into a game for a man and a woman, the goal being to learn each other’s style of handwriting.
The game does not consist of mastering the other’s handwriting – that’s not even possible – but rather in the effort to transform one’s own. After a certain time, the participants reach their limits, realising that certain elements of handwriting are shaped according to subconscious patterns that cannot be appropriated. Confronted with the impossible, they pose themselves the question, what next? Knowledge is no longer of any use, only physical exertion and hard work - the stereotypical repetition of drawing the same line, again and again. A special physical bond is thus forged between the participants during the exercise.
After undergoing this procedure, my handwriting went through a radical transformation. It is much more legible, for example, than it had been previously.
The first version of this performance took place over 36 working days, from January 14 to March 4, 2006, at Art in General in New York. In cooperation with Christina Courtin, a Brooklyn based musician, I rewrote 36 short passages from the English translation of the book The Cunning Little Vixen by Rudolf Těsnohlídek. 4 hours a day for 18 days we worked on learning to imitate each other’s handwriting as precisely as possible. After a month and a half, we needed only our memory while copying the text.
The second version took place in the Atrium of Pražák Palace at the Moravian Gallery in Brno from December 13, 2006 to March 11, 2007. For 58 working days, the participants in the project, Andrea Láníčková and Filip Smetana each learned to imitate each other’s handwriting. The two participants copied out the essay Taking up Residence in Homelessness by Vilém Flusser.
The third version, took place from August 16 and November 9 2007 Art at the exhibition Art in General: 25 Years Later in the UBS Gallery in New York, as part of a group exhibition along with 9 other projects that had taken place in Art in General over the years. Each of the participants (Diego Cagüeñas and Kendra Mylnechuk) learned to imitate each other’s handwriting with a different text - the first was the essay by Vilem Flusser Taking up Residence in Homelessness and the second as the conclusion of Levi-Strauss‘s book Tristes Tropiques.
The fourth version, took place from February 25 and May 1 2011 at the exhibition The Other Tradition at Wiels Center for Contemporary Art in Brussels. Each of the participants (Aurelia de Conde and Alan Fertil) learned to imitate each other’s handwriting with a text which has been written specifically for this performance.
The fifth and latest version took place between September 29 and November 26 2015 as part of a collective exhibition Silver Lining at National Modern Collection Gallery Veletržní Palace in Prague. Adam Havelka and Nikola Tláskalová for 50 days tried to imitate each other’s handwriting using short texts which I wrote each day and I sent to participants by email or SMS. It is a short story inspired by fairytale and fantasy literature.
photo: author’s archive and Barbora Mrázková