Body Experimental Type visualises human movement through typography

The Antwerp-based type designer talks us through his typographic project combining performance with design featuring costumes by Binyan Wu.

8 September 2020

Haocheng Zhang’s typography training began long before he even realised. Growing up in Dayi, a small county of Chengdu, China, from a young age Zhang’s mother introduced him to the art of Chinese calligraphy. Coupled with his grandfather teaching him the traditional Chinese handicrafts, Zhang developed a knack for all things creative and started painting around the age of ten. Eventually it led him to study animation in Sichuan, before embarking on a master’s degree in graphic design. And, after a couple of design teaching stints at universities, we find ourselves up to date with Zhang who is, at present, studying his second graphic design master’s degree at the Royal Academy Fine Art Antwerp.

Discussing his most recent project to date, Zhang tells us about a collaboration with another student, Binyan Wu, who’s currently studying costume and material design. Both designers have a decidedly open approach to their multi-disciplinary practices, leading them to collaborate on a new project, Body Experimental Type. Initially beginning as a way to “subconsciously dig out more possibilities of the body in the visual dimension,” during the early research phase of the project, Zhang came across the pioneering work of artist Oskar Schlemmer which led the project down a typographic route.

Known for his work in the Bauhaus era, Oskar Schlemmer was an artist and choreographer working with theatre, performance and sculpture. His most famous work, Triadisches Ballett, saw actors transformed into geometric representations of the human body, while wearing rigidly sculptural costumes to enhance this feeling. Zhang tells us on the matter: “His theatrical plot arrangement and costume style was full of graphic context and, in this period, it was regarded as a ‘revolution’ of theatrical performance concepts.” Drawn into this idea of abstract body geometry, Zhang and Binyan’s project developed into a type design project using similar ideas.

Understanding the body as an “important and fundamental dimension of self identifying recognition,” Body Experimental Type is a type design project connecting design with context. “I think our intuition has been flooded with more and more attractive things,” Zhang says on the matter, “everyday new symbols and figures are popping out and cramming our lives. But fewer people care about how to cultivate body consciousness.” As a result, this project aims to acknowledge how the body is the medium of all perception for us humans. It’s a vessel which hosts all our initial perceptions of the world, and thus shapes our physical and spiritual lives.

So when it came to designing the letterforms for Body Experimental Type, Zhang aims to embody the movement of the body through type. In other words, “to make a bodily performance pass emotion through type.” Breaking down traditional Western type design constructs, the humanist project explores type constructed from the body’s centre of gravity and the shadows it casts. “It makes me think that the body’s form is not only visible but also a continuity of human genes,” adds Zhang. And as a result, the experimental project investigates all things related to body perception.

It’s this possibility to probe complex ideas that first attracted Zhang to the medium of design. Questioning himself and the design process, he intends to dedicate his creative career to the study of creative type design and cultural research. And with that in mind, we can’t wait to see what he does next.

GalleryBody Experimental Type: type design and pattern design by Haocheng Zhang, costumes by Bingyan Wu (Copyright © Haocheng Zhang, 2020)

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.

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