A second-generation calligrapher, Hidai Nankoku was one of the most audacious practitioners of this form in post-war Japan. In 1945, he left word forms behind entirely with his ‘spirit lines’, which borrow forms from archaic scripts, but which are in fact illegible marks. He nevertheless insisted they be considered calligraphy, and his statement on the potential meaning of traditional writing systems in a post-nuclear world had enormous impact on calligraphic circles in Tokyo and Kyoto. In the mid-1960s, Hidai was invited by various institutions in the United States and Europe to present his work and carry out demonstrations.
Work has a monumental scale not unlike a painting on canvas. It was created during a performance at Yushima Seido, a temple in Tokyo in August 1964, a physically demanding act given the large format of the work. Hidai worked with an oversized mop-like brush, recalling the force and theatricality characteristic of the concurrent Gutai movement. Further distancing his graphs from any potential meaning, the documentary video of the performance shows that Work’s lines were created running counter to the direction of traditional calligraphic inscription or standard writing. The title also bears little relation to the form of the ‘character’, making Hidai’s rejection of the protocols, semiotics, and lexical connotations of calligraphy and writing total and complete.