Read Vs. Unread

November 20, 2013


It starts from here: some researchers did an investigation among pedestrians to find out their daily (commuting) routes and activities. Here is a very interesting fact that nearly all men finished the questionnaire in 5 minutes but women got a long list to write and it took much longer time for women than men to fill in the sheet. The reason why this would happen is not too hard to find, because men would just write down like this: ‘I often drive directly to office in the morning and then come back home around 5.’ But women, who differ from men mentally and physically, act in a total different way. Some of them might write like this:’ I sent my children to school at 8 and cross the corner of Market Street to buy some housing decorations and on the way to office I met Miss A and chatted with her for 10 minutes. I received a parcel in post office near the city center in the afternoon and went to pick up my children from the kindergarten at 4 then came back home together.’

We will learn from this research that women’s body moving is an uncertain process full of trivial changes and we will never find a straight line for women’s daily route. This kind of route is, more or less, disordered in its form, but uncertainty and unpredictability in essence. It seems that a woman’s daily life is consisted of abundant, fragmented activities in a perfect way. No one can define a woman or predict her thoughts. Women are full of quaint ideas, and this is what makes a woman unique.

It reminds me of a Chinese artist, Xu Bing, who is most known for his printmaking skills and installations pieces and, one of them, “Tianshu” (“Book from the sky”) is the representative work of Xu’s. Xu designed and print over 4000 Chinese characters that looked Chinese (they have similar structure and appearance) but were completely “meaningless” and unreadable according to standard Mandarin. Xu fragmented the old Chinese characters, pieced them together, and then made his new Chinese characters to explore and express his thoughts on deconstructing language to challenge our existing cultural assumptions. I think there may lies some relations between Xu’s Tianshu and women’s behavior we talked above. Women’s behavior and Xu’s Tianshu are both unreadable, unstructured, unpredictable, and don’t need to be understood. People usually write in order to express themselves, to be understood, but what if one person writes an unreadable book? I don’t take it as a confusion of language, I regard it as an uncertainty which brings exploration and possible experience to life.


Architects, often do the ‘readable’ job which means, ‘architectures with designs on the user – that the user will follow certain intended patterns of consumptions.’(Jane Rendell, 2010:29) Here is the living room, there is kitchen, and the bathroom is in the end of the corridor. The same ‘readable’ plans are also carried out by urban planners, which want that everything is in control, can be predicted and things always happen in a safe and ‘good’ way. The result of these readable plans is that the future house or environment becomes a function of the designer’s vision of it in the present, just as the machine is the product of the machine’s designer. While the unreadable things didn’t plan anything, they just provide options for users and invite people to have a good use of the space, just as the unknown routes of women, or the ‘meaningless’ Tianshu.

Boya Guo


Jane Rendell, Site-Writing: The Architecture of Art Criticism, London: I.B. Tauris, 2010.


5 Responses to “Read Vs. Unread”

  1. Jordan Lane Says:

    If you write a language which cannot be understood, does it continue to be a language? What happens to the handwriting of the last speaker of each language before they pass? The artist Xu Bing reminded me of a book called codex seraphinianus by Italian artist, architect, and industrial designer Luigi Serafini. The book describes a world that does not exist and is written in a language that no one can read.

  2. Katla Maríudóttir Says:

    You say that “We will learn from this research that women’s body moving is an uncertain process full of trivial changes and we will never find a straight line for women’s daily route.” I would like to think that has a lot to do with the society that these particular women are a part of? Somehow I would like to think that even though the men’s lists were shorter and more concise that their moving bodies also can be subjected to trivial changes.

    Do you think we can assume from this research that women’s behavior is in general: “unreadable, unstructured, unpredictable”?

    • nicoleguo Says:

      I like your question!! Of course there are many many kinds of women’s behavior, but none of them could be defined. I would say they are unreadable, unstructured, unpredictable, because I can’t find and use other specific words to describe them.
      Maybe we should say men are unreadable either, but women live their lives in a more unreadable way!

  3. elsajannborg Says:

    one thing that I’ve been thinking of a lot is how viewer/reader often searching for a meaning in everything. Like art couldn’t be art without a meaning.

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