Monday, September 1, 2008

Looking for a Sign, part II.

It's the first ever post featured both on the Life & Times and State of the Craft! I'm so efficient I can hardly stand myself.

Last year I asked my readers of the Life & Times of Michael5000 blog to suggest a neutral symbol for me to use as the dominant element of a new quilt. I wanted something that appeared to have meaning but that was actually meaningless, or that meant something completely trivial. I wanted a signifier without a signified, for all y'all who have dipped into semiotic theory. "Why?" you might ask. Reasonable question! I've got no answer for it, however.

The readers came back with some fabulous suggestions! But then the suggestions pretty much just laid around the studio floor for a year, until last week. Having put Symbol on my quilting to-do list, though, I clearly needed to start thinking about what the symbol in Symbol would be.

To review: Symbol is going to use a set of neutral batiks that BigSister5000 gave me for Christmas a few years ago. They will to be pieced together too form a very simple background, and then the symbol itself will be appliqued over the top of them, probably in scarlet. If all goes well, it should look attractive and interesting. With me? Good.

OK, so back to the question of the symbol. As I started chasing down the leads that readers had tossed me, I got kind of interested in the concept of the irony mark. I love the irony mark! Although, if people used it, it might reduce the impact of irony. Ironically. But anyway, in terms of this project, it is perhaps both too meaningful, and too graphically simple to be impressive when rendered at four feet tall.

Similar considerations torpedoed the interrobang.*

I flirted briefly with this symbol for something-or-other from mediaeval alchemy. I could have reversed it or something. But I ultimately rejected it for being, maybe, just a tiny bit too figurative. Which is to say, it looks just a little too much like a critter.

Heather's suggestion of letters from the ancient Soyombo alphabet of the Mongolian language -- see why I pose these questions to readers? -- was pretty awesome. I think they are lovely. I was afraid of what the straight lines of the right and top sides would look like at large scale, though. It seemed like they might be too rigid.

Then, I thought I had it! The letter "aum" in the Devanagari alphabet, used in Hindi and several other languages:

It's lovely! It's curvy! It's simple! It's arbitrary! But... as I soon found out... it is the most common graphical symbol of Hinduism out there. My "arbitrary" symbol was just as content-free as a crucifix, star of David, or yin-and-yang symbol.

Back to the drawing board.

Another reader, G, had suggested I look into Maori design, and I was taken by this pendant I had found:

I don't know if that shape conveys meaning in a Maori context or not, but I wasn't taking any chances. I took out the details on the top left to reduce it to a more graphic level, flipped it around the vertical axis, and "cut a hole" to make it look slightly more caligraphic. Here's what I came up with:

Now, here's the question: Have I successfully come up with a completely arbitrary symbol? In other words, have you ever seen this shape in a corporate logo, in religious iconography, in a foreign alphabet, or anyplace else? 'Cause I don't want to make this thing and discover I've just made an elaborate advertisement for the Americaplump MegaAgriCorp, Inc., or whatever.

* Very possibly the first ever use of this sentence in human history.


Anonymous said...

I have a French Curve (drafting tool) in almost the exact same shape, the difference being it's "closed" at the top end.

I always wondered what torpedoed the interrobang (I remember its introduction, thought it was spelled "interebang").

You might consider the shape derived form the aerial view of Venice (or whatever #2 turns out to be). I guess that would fail the arbitrary test, but I like the shape.

Anonymous said...

The original pendant is kind of a Maori St. Christopher medal (manaia). Someone from the culture would probably recognize design elements but I don't know if it actually means anything.

fingerstothebone said...

Well, I don't know about Americaplump MegaAgriCorp Inc, but it looks very Central Asian-y. So maybe something more like the Uzbekistan National MegaAgriCotton Corp. Or the Tajikistan Glorious Carpet Export Co. Or the Kyrgyztan Traditional Musical Instruments Corp.

d said...

hmmm. it doesn't seem like a symbol so much as it does just a pretty design. it looks like stylized fire. and it feels very tribal, which may be what you're going for?

it would look nice on a quilt tho'.

Karin said...

I find it to be lovely with one notable caviat--when turned on its side it begins to resemble a jack-o-lantern face. I'd consider eliminating or modifying the cut out.

fingerstothebone said...

It also looks sort of weapon-y. Like the sharp end of a ceremonial spear of some kind.

Anonymous said...

I loved looking at the symbols. And the interrobang seems kind of unholy.

The only thing the symbol reminds me of is Columbia Gas's old blue flame logo they don't use it anymore and it was only the basic outside shape. It's pretty.

Marc Goodwin said...

This deisgn is Maori, with is from New Zealand. It is a Hei-Matau or a fish-hook in english. It is not like the bone pendant picture you have posted because that is a Manaia (seahorse). The Fish-hook has meaning in the Maori culture and represents strength, prosperity,abundance, fertility and a great respect for the sea.