While at Durham University Summer school, I saw and was impressed by this (see right) and other examples of Taoist calligraphy. Ch'i, the Cosmic Spirit, fills the world, giving life to nature, movement to water, energy to man: it is the centre of Taoist breathing exercises, involving the art of smell and burning of incense.
The search for ways to represent ch'i visually accounts for abstract tendencies in the Chinese art of the period. The undulating movement of air filled with concentric rings of incense-smoke appears in both painting and callibraphy.
And simultaneously, I was made aware of that mathematical paradox, the space-filling curvea line that links all the points within a space and on completion, fills up the entire space. (The paradox? Well, since by definition a point lacks dimension and a line is uni-dimensional, there is no prospect of ever filling the space! Ugh.)
The two things worked on my imagination. Take the space-filling curve; in its initial stages, the expanding inside of a square. Divide the squares into four and link the centre points of each (a). Use this as a module or basic unit and any number of modules can be linked to form larger shapes (b) and (c).
We have a basic procedure capable of infinite extension. Variations in the linking points between the modules create irregularities in the overall pattern.
Making the points into circles and inclining the links to capture something of the movement of Taoist "smoke whorls" creates an optical reaction by colour dazzle and spins the eyes flickering along the line with nowhere to rest. Vary the colour scheme, make the curve a closed systemand the eye wanders forever, held within the design.
"Diagram of Change" from the Taoist canon, attributed to the Chinese emperor Hui-tsung of the Song dynasty (b. 1082, ruled 1101-1125/6, d. 1135)