Hello, I’m Pico and I’m very excited to be joining the CREWS project in Cambridge for Michaelmas term. I am coming to CREWS through a fairly unusual route, as my practice is primarily that of an art director and designer not an academic. I can usually be found working at Flying Object, a creative studio based in London, as their in-house art director or at Studio Forage, an experimental design collective, focussed on storytelling through critical design. My personal practice is concerned with reading experiences, language, ethnographic objects and speculative thinking. During my time with CREWS I will be working on a research project that deals with the confluence of these interests in the context of an extinct writing system.

Limestone fragment with a Cypriot syllabic inscription, c.5th C BC. Met Museum New York.

All writing systems have a lifespan. Generally, they emerge from an earlier system of writing or symbols, and from there they embark on a journey. This journey is not static, instead it is in constant flux. Writing systems must be plastic and adaptive, constantly shifting to suit changes in technology, means of text production, trends and developments in the language, or languages, they describe. Eventually, for whatever reasons, be them geographical, political, cultural or otherwise a system will cease to be used and becomes extinct.

The post-modernist American author Donald Barthelme once commented that “the alphabet is staggering under the tremendous variety of functions we ask it to serve”. Existing as a vehicle for language, culture and limitless ideas is indeed a huge task.

Experiment rebuilding syllabic glyphs in the style of the font; Times New Roman.

For my project with CREWS I will be engaging in a little bit of fantasy and attempting to reincarnate the Cypriot syllabary, taking it on a journey up until the present day. I will be creating a divergent historical timeline, as if from a parallel universe. A universe in which the syllabary has remained in use as the predominant writing system for the Greek language on the island of Cyprus. Throughout this imaginary timeline the syllabary will be forced into situations it has previously never had to occupy. For example, how would it have adapted to be written in ink with a brush on a smooth flexible substrate like paper? Or could it be forced into mono-spaced glyphs for use as on a typewriter?

Digital rendering of a cigarette packet with Modern Greek warning label in Cypriot Syllabary.

I hope to use a variety of broad research sources and techniques, alongside material and typographic experiments to aid in imaging these situations – starting with the material evidence we have for the syllabary and using speculative design thinking to extrapolate this up until the present, informed by precedents from other writing systems both extinct and still in use. As I work through this process I will be creating new renderings of the original glyphs, adapted to suit technologies from the different periods. I will apply these to objects, both in the form of digitally doctored images as well as physical artefacts, to create something that hopefully gives the atmosphere of an uncanny, unrequited history and provides the opportunity to ruminate on literacy and language more broadly.

So if anyone wants to help lend me their expertise, advice, or just wants to spend an afternoon playing around with a bunch of art supplies please do get in touch!

~ Charles (Pico) Rickleton (Flying Object, Studio Forage, Royal College of Art)

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