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Acts of Translation:  Ben Mitchell

By Sarah Bryant
Tuscaloosa, Alabama: Big Jump Press, 2023. Edition of 66 (26 lettered, 40 numbered).

5.5 x 9"; 20 pages. Colophon: “Text for this project was gathered, edited, and recombined by Sarah Bryant from a series of recorded interviews conducted in 2022. Imagery in this book comes from photographs of Burmese letterforms taken by Ben Mitchell as part of his design process. Examples of the Burmese letter Na were traced and carved in linoleum by Sarah Bryant. Papers for this book include Zerkall Book, Clearprint Design Vellum, and Colorplan. The text has been digitally set in Arno, a typeface designed by Robert Slimbach, and Sanomat Burmese, designed by Ben Mitchell, and printed letterpress from polymer plates.” Handsewn pamphlet style binding. Stiff paper wrapper with printed illustration on front cover. Laid in letter fold wrapper. Produced in an edition of 44, of which 26 lettered copies bound individually and 40 bound alongside other collaborative components of the ‘Acts of Translation” project. Signed by Mitchell and Bryant. Numbered.

This is the third in a series of collaborative books from Big Jump Press devoted to translation and communication. This collaboration begins with the question “What is the essential form of a letter?” The text then becomes Mitchell’s philosophy of looking for the archetype of the written letter of a language. His views are accompanied by letterform discoveries that help translate a writing system that will be “a link between language communities and the computer, between the hand and the keyboard, between the archetype and the printed word.

The letterforms illustrated are accompanied with bibliographic information as to where that form was discovered. For example under “Attestations of Burmese Letter NA”: “Stone-carved inscription at eastern entrance to Dhammayazika Zedi, Pwasaw, 19996 CE” and “Lettering painted on a shop sign, Ein Daw Yar Pagoda, Mandalay, photographed in November 2015.

Acts of Translation: Ben Mitchell, cover flap: "Ben Mitchell is a UK-based type designer and founding director of The Fontpad Ltd. He has been visiting Southeast Asia since the 1990s, and lived in Thailand from 2003 to 2006. With a long-held interest in visual communication and especially different writing systems, he has become one of the foremost researchers of Southeast Asian scripts. He has designed and consulted on fonts for Burmese, Buginese, Chak, Cham, Hmer, Kwekor (Myainggyingu), Lao, New Tai Lue, Tai Phake, Thai, Tham and Vietnamese, and regularly makes research trips to Southeast Asia to study typography, lettering and handwriting, which help inform his professional practice.

“Mitchell studied his master’s in typeface design at the University of Reading … His research and dissertation traced the evolution of the Burmese alphabet from its Brahmi roots in inscriptions, palm-leaf manuscripts and traditional folding books, through its initial casting in metal type in 1776, to its modern-day form.

“Alongside his design work, Mitchell researches and documents the graphical and technical aspects of lesser-known writing systems of Southeast Asia, particularly those used by minority groups. To help preserve these written languages, he compiles his findings in Unicode proposals that ensure those scripts can become digitally enabled.”

"Proceeds from the sale of the lettered edition of this book will be donated to Health&HopeUK, a charity working with vulnerable rural communities in Myanmar (Burma), particularly in and around Chin State."

Acts of Translation: Ben Mitchell

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