Water Calligraphy Device
by Nicholas Hanna


Beijing Design Week 2011: a tricycle modified by Canadian artist Nicholas Hanna mimics the Chinese custom of writing temporary messages on the road with water.

Water Calligraphy Device by Nicholas Hanna

A computer strapped to the handlebars of the Water Calligraphy Device allows the rider to type the Chinese characters they wish to spell out.

Water Calligraphy Device by Nicholas Hanna

These characters are transmitted electronically to a set of valves, which release water droplets in programmed patterns as the trike moves forward.

Water Calligraphy Device by Nicholas Hanna

Two large containers positioned at the back of the device store the water.

Water Calligraphy Device by Nicholas Hanna

The project was inspired by water calligraphy practiced in parks around China, where passages of poetry are spelled out on the ground for onlookers.

Water Calligraphy Device by Nicholas Hanna

Hanna unveiled the tricycle for Beijing Design Week, which begins on 28 September and finishes on 3 October.

Water Calligraphy Device by Nicholas Hanna

Another water-carrying tricycle was designed by Bill Moggridge, whose cycle purifies the liquid instead of releasing it - see the project here.

Water Calligraphy Device by Nicholas Hanna

Here is some more information about the Water Calligraphy Device from the festival organisers:

Water Calligraphy Device - an ubiquitous form of transportation on show at Beijing Design Week

Water Calligraphy Device by Nicholas Hanna

For Beijing Design Week, Canadian Media Artist Nicholas Hanna brings a fun and innovative transports means to Beijing. The Water Calligraphy Device (水!法器) is inspired by the Chinese custom of writing calligraphy in public spaces with a water brush as a contemplative and poetic act. Calligraphers writing passages of poetry, surrounded by a group of onlookers, are a lovely presence in Beijing parks.

Water Calligraphy Device by Nicholas Hanna

The Water Calligraphy Device combines the inherent beauty of an ancient form of writing, a refined public art practice with the mystery and magic of mechanisms.

The device is mounted on a flat-bead tricycle (三!") which is a ubiquitous form of transportation in Beijing. Passages of Chinese characters are input to a computer. Custom software on the computer processes the characters and transmits them to an electrical system that actuates an array of solenoid valves. The valves release droplets of water on the ground as the tricycle moves forward, thus forming Chinese characters that slowly pool together and eventually evaporate entirely.

  • Rod

    This is a great way of communicating. In a country where expressing yourself isn't the norm I could see this bike being used to communicate human rights and pro democracy messages. One minute its there for the people around and the other minute its gone again. (no traces)

  • mic

    thats great! could that be used for political messages… i guess a fast way to prison in china….

  • Rui

    Sick of any design or arts associate with China always ended up followed by those comments about human right blah blah…political issues. I bet these two have never been to China.

    This design remind me those older people practice Chinese calligraphy with water-filled sponge attached to a wooden stick in the park. They always write beautiful poem. Lots of them very talented. It's lovely picture and environmentally friendly. Please don't let any type of political shit break into this charming and romantic action.

    • mic

      i admire the poetic quality of this design, without a doubt. sorry that such a thing comes to my mind in the first place, but there must be a reason for that. no, i've not been to china, what is it that i would have seen/learned if i had been to china, that would prevent me from making such comment? are you chinese? maybe you can explain it to me.

      • oscar

        if art is all about politic, sorry then, you need more depth. I trust that when Nicholas does this piece of art, it is nothing to do with those shallow mind..

        • mic

          neither of you convinced me that politics is something shallow or bla bla blah (human rights) with any arguments and if that has to do something with whether i have been to china or not.
          as i said, i respect the idea and that it has nothing to do with politics and is still beautifil in itself, but i have not heard of a reason why it is bad to add a political comment to it. i just mentioned, this is something, that could be used politically.
          i believe its the people closing their eyes (ears) that give power to political regimes that do not respect freedom. i lived in a communist country (fortunatelly a long time ago) and i know that every oportunity to speak the truth should have been used (i you got the guts to do it)

    • Evie

      Totally agree with you on your first paragraph. Anything that pops up associated with China is always bashed with tons of comments that are not related to the article itself and people get offended when you ask them if they’ve been there when making such comments. We ask because your perception of China is one-sided and filtered through American media.

  • Rex

    @Red Pill Junkie

    So what? Your department store next door also has them…
    And I also guess the two above have never been in China.

    • Fair enough. I was just commenting on the impracticality of this device for political/dissension purposes, given its native context.

      And I do apologize for bringing the political issue to the discussion, but let's not kid ourselves: the objects we design do not function in a vacuum. Politics affects design decisions just as it affects everything else, whether we like it or not.

  • Yes

    The fountain in underground Kyoto station is way cooler.

  • Keep cycling Canuck boy and don't stop till you get to the border

  • I think that Nicholas is a genius. This is a great invention