In my last blogpost I challenged myself to a six weeks, 12 robots project. And this is how far I got: I made myself another of these maze-journals I love to keep for my daily sketches. I had them also for my fish and beach findings projects (if enough people speak up, I’d love to show those, too!).

I am not really happy with any of what I produced this week. I started off with BB-8 (although followers of my instagram account will know that it was the second robot I shared there). I essentially looked at a picture and tried to copy it. I thought I needed to get a feel for robots, and kind of went with it. As a copy from a picture goes, I think it’s o.k., but this is just not what I had in mind for this project.

The second robot I drew was the lady robot with the ipad stomach. It was on the same day, and I wanted something significantly different from the spherical Star Wars robot, but the result looks more alien than robotic to me.

And my third approach, ghah. The fact that the shadow is wrong. This keeps bugging me. But, well, that’s how I drew him. Maybe the next week will turn out more playful and more comic, somehow I felt quite pressured by my own expectations in this week. I want to go for simpler and more friendly this next week.

Any of you tried anything? I would love to see it if you drew something!

And now to something completely different…

Learning Japanese

Some of you will know my interest in writing as an abstract thing. At least ever since I started making (artist) books, but probably much longer I have been very interested in just how writing looks, the abstract idea of putting marks on paper to convey meaning. The magic of reading, when you look at writing, and it’s like a ghost voice inside your head is speaking to you… This is all just very interesting and wonderful to me, and has been part of my artistic work for a while.

page from sketchbook by H. Kurzke, from maybe 4 years ago, using some abstract (asemic) writing

My newest thing is learning Japanese and Japanese writing. It is my handwriting you can see in the photo above. It looks awful. Just like a first grader smudging letters on the page, I just can’t seem to get the length, tilt, and overall look of the letters and symbols right. At the same time looking at them makes me happy and proud. Like so many hobbies I pick up, as an artist, I never know whether this is actually part or will be part of my art practise, or something private. At the moment it clearly still is the latter. But who knows…

I cannot clearly recall, when my interest for Japan and Japanese language and writing came about. When I was a child, my father went to Japan for two weeks on a business trip that involved some travelling in the country. He took a film camera with him and came back with maybe a 30min. clip about his impression of Japan. I was absolutely fascinated by it, and must have watched it hundreds of times. But that never really translated to a wish to go there, or learn the language or anything like it. At times, when I touched Japan or Japanese culture here or there, when it came to paper, printing, bookbinding, or pottery, this fascination bubbled up again, but it always vanished: Japan is a long way away, and it never felt completely real to me, I suppose. But over the last couple of years, the interest grew. To an extent that when I came across duolingo (more about that in a minute), after trying out Spanish, French, Polish, and Dutch, all languages I had (tried to) learn at some point – I started to learn Japanese and stuck with it. I have since had my Japanese lesson every day and there came the point where I actually felt confident enough to tell people, that I am learning Japanese.

Learning Japanese, the first thing you have to do is to learn different ways to write the language. To write Japanese you can use Romaji (which uses roman letters only, it looks like: aiuoekakikukeko…), Hieragana (which look like this: あいうおえかきくけこ。。。), Katakana (which look like this: アイウエオカキクケコ。。。), and Kanji which are not a sound based system and look like chinese characters. In real life Japan, to write a sentence, Hieragana, Katakana and Kanji are all used side by side. A simple sentence may look like this: マリアとジョンは寿司好きです。
Pronunciation of Romaji is very much like reading them out in German, so for me Romaji wasn’t a big issue, but English speakers actually also have to learn how they are pronounced. That is why for English speaking learners, some discourage learning Romaji. However, knowing Romaji is the best way of typing Japanese on a English keyboard (I am typing Romaji, and then I can chose to replace them with Hieragana or Katakana). It just musn’t be used instead of proper Japanese writing.

So, you can imagine, the first weeks of learning Japanese were filled with learning to read and write Romaji, Hieragana and Katakana. Learning Kanji is something that never seems to stop, you just learn the Kanji with new vocabulary. (Well, I do. Many learners actually don’t even bother to learn many kanji at first and then try to catch up later.)

I heard others who tried to learn Japanese and kind of gave up because of the complex writing situation. But probably due to my inherent interest in writing as such, that didn’t put me off. On the contrary, I really enjoy writing. And if learning to read and write kana is the only thing I’ll take away from it in the end, then it would still be worth the effort for me.

And the world has never been better for language learners. When I grew up, learning a language meant a huge investment both in time and money: You had to sign up for a language course, pay for it, pay for the books, and then go there once or twice a week and spend the time there.

Now there are language learning apps which actually help a lot and are more effective than I thought they ever could be. I am using a couple of apps, and I feel like I am really gaining from using them side by side, all of them are free, some contain ads, for others I voluntarily spend some money, still less than I would have paid for a language course, though. I am using duolingo, lingodeer (this is especially good for Asian languages), Kanji tree (to learn Kanji), and My Time! Japanese Vocabulary (which is a flashcard system to learn vocabulary).

In addition, I now discovered italki. This is a plattform, where you can find people to talk with. You can look for tandem partner, people to chat with, or formal lessons (which will cost about the same as taking a course, but you’ll have private lessons). I payed for my first video session this Monday. I signed up for it because I realized that, as good as these language learning apps are, they always present me with multiple choice, and I learn much more to translate Japanese to English, than really to say anything. And indeed, my first half hour of trying to say something in Japanese has been just a bunch of stammers, and learning to really speak Japanes seems like a really long way off.

The last language I tried to learn was Dutch. As a German speaker, you immediately understand a lot, and you can start speaking pretty much from the first day you sign up. So not being able to properly introduce myself in Japanese of studying for half a year every day has its frustrating moments. But then I see the writing again, and it just puts a smile on my face.

Recently I have been thinking of how to use this experience of starting to learn a language in my art making. Mhm, maybe a little robot, starting to learn?…

2 thoughts on “Robots Week 1 and Writing 日本語の字

  • Judith Hoffman

    Hi Hilke – here are my thoughts, for what it’s worth. I assume you will ignore anything you don’t like. (-:
    I still love the little waving guy, I think he’s great. I wonder if you would like the lady with the iPad belly better if she had wheels? My first thought was how does she get around? Although of course there are many modes of transportation for a robot. The spherical one doesn’t say “robot” to me. But when you say he is, it makes sense. The shadow under the floaty one? I didn’t notice it was wrong until I read your post. It is a charming appealing robot that I would like to have clean my house – able to reach high shelves, etc. I probably haven’t seen a robot in movies since Star Wars, so I am totally out of date on my technical info. They are all good starts, something to work from. And the Japanese? I am in awe, you are amazing. Whether or not it becomes something related to art, it seems like a path you need to take.

    • Hilke Kurzke

      Thanks for your comment, Judith!
      Your thoughts on the robots definitely are fodder for thought. Whether the floating thing is a robot probably depends on what the definition of robot is. I suppose drawing the spherical Star Wars robot got the idea of spheres stuck in my mind. Trying something more humanoid and a robot with a facial expression definitely in my plan for next week. As for the getting around of the ipad robot: well, I figured she had small wheels underneath her skirt. But adding more obvious means of propellation for the next trials is a good point, too 🙂

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