Asemic writing/Asemic Manifesto III
Ekaterina Samigulina answering Mark Giovenale’s questions on behalf of Asemic International
(Asemic Manifesto III)
Because of its ambivalent nature, asemic writing can’t be called neither writing nor visual art in their common meaning; it would be incorrect. However, this attempt to classify asemic writing as a new type of visual poetry can provide an interesting perspective on studying the history of visual practices and reinterpreting this heritage from the asemic point of view. Visual poetry is synthetic; it is a symbiosis of a conventional sign and a picture that also draws on categories of fine art (colour, space, texture, composition, etc.) in relation to this conventional sign (be it a letter, a number or any other recognizable symbol). Symbols in a visual text imply a meaning (though not coherent like in a typical linear composition, but discrete). In visual poetry, signifiers don’t lose their content completely, they "dissolve" it in their compositional unity, thus simultaneously existing in two dimensions – both textual and visual. It is this synthetic nature that makes a work a visual poem. However, this creative principle cannot be entirely referred to asemic writing since the textual dimension is reduced to stylised, ineligible writing that reminds more of painting or drawing. In this regard, an asemic anti-sign is closer to a picture than to a text. If it is a synthesis indeed, it is more complex - a metaphor of ‘a text in itself’ implies the movement of an artist's hand that intends to write, not to paint – to write in absence of any designated code apart from emotionally induced characteristics of a line (its pressure, colour, thickness etc.). Asemic writing attempts to view the text as visual art and also, more importantly, view the language as an image capable of transferring meaning without actual linguistic means involved. In other words, asemic writing is a signless artistic interpretation of the language (either the language itself or the language as handwriting or font), creating an image of that language.
In the traditional literature, we constantly see images of various language groups, classes, communities, etc. We see images created by writers in accordance with their vision of these linguistic elements. In fact, the same thing happens in asemic writing. We can find some kind of a parallel between it [asemic writing] and literature: just as a writer uses "the dictionary of the day" and creates a condensed image of this dictionary, an asemic artist unconsciously reproduces handwriting or a font tradition of the language he imitates. But at the same time the asemic artist goes further than the writer. If, for example, Li Bai’s brilliant poems restore the flavour of the Chinese language in the 8th century BC, Hu Bing's "Book of Heaven" unfolds the metaphor of the Chinese language in general not only in terms of institutionalized writing but also in terms of the nature of writing, its distinctive features. "The Book of Heaven" can be recognized as Chinese by any person on the planet, just as the writings of Jean-Christophe Giagottino can be easily referred to books in the Arabic languages.
Back to visual poetry, creating the image of a language is almost never a goal in itself. More than this, visual artists have been increasingly using contemporary technologies (let alone the Baroque) and - like many Dadaists, Constructivists etc. – worked with typefaces (today it could be digitally manipulated fonts) that were actually international, bare signs. Not the character of a single sign but the compositional semantic location of all characters used on the worksheet is the most important thing in visual poetry. Rudeness and constructiveness of the font developed in the cellars of INKhUK (Institute of Artistic Culture), displays a certain perception of the Russian language in the revolutionary times: Russian as the language of the proletariat (which relates it to today’s asemic writing). It’s also characteristic that visual poetry has never aimed at creating a new (‘non-bourgeious’ in the Russian interpretation in the 1910-1930s) language. The "avant-garde" view of the Russian language is not an image of the Russian language at all.
To sum it up, it is a kind of logical impasse. On the one hand, asemic writing cannot be attributed to visual poetry because of its non-synthetic nature. On the other hand, the use of visual art elements leads to the creation of an image (it should impel us to relate asemic writing to the field of art); but it is not just a mere image, it is the image of a language. And this fact immediately takes us out of the field of visual art and instantly refocuses on literature. We can make only one conclusion: asemic writing is a border zone (but not a "synthetic" one) between writing and painting; it is a transitional phenomenon, which will never have its transition complete. We suggest securing the proper term "asemic writing" for a new kind of art that has no analogues and cannot be included in any of the existing classifications. Asemic writing is neither visual poetry, nor painting. Asemic writing is asemic writing only.
There is one omnipresent but rarely articulated principle in art ethics: anything can be called something only after designating itself. It also has to specify the conditions of being eligible to be called so in the future. That's why we find it incorrect to include the numerous experiments of the 20th century in the asemic area. We can call it the first steps of asemic art, but not the asemic art itself yet. It laid the ground for the philosophical base. Obviously, asemic writing grew out of poetics and aesthetics of the Russian and European twentieth-century avant-garde. It was a crisis time in our history, the era of fin de siècle, when developing a new language of art and setting new objectives was very relevant: the world changed, the new "maker" - the proletariat - appeared in the arena of politics and culture who demanded the new world, the new art not associated with the mystical revelations of the past. The early 21st century appears to us as a kind of a (sad) parody of the beginning of the 20th century: there are no revolutions to expect, the world is immersed into a post-modern anarchy, art is commanded by the archetype of the game (of the capitalist game to be more exact), the proletariat returned to the pit latrines and is cut off from art, everything is ruled by the cultural or money elite, or rather monetary and cultural, for the one who pays for dinner decides it all. In this situation, the art world desperately needed a new sincerity, which is premised on a genuine international and, as we see, class basis. The initial experience of the avant-garde has been closely associated with the movement of the masses and it seems to us that asemic writing adopted this particular line of avant-garde aesthetics and ethics in many ways. Collegiality (whether it's "we" of the Russian Cubo-Futurism or "collective unconscious" in the Surrealism and Transition) plays a huge role in the spirit of asemic anti-sign. The image of the language (that's how we see the asemic art basis) suggests an appeal to certain "common" knowledge, the unalienated and the unalienable experience, an appeal not to the consciousness of the structuring power discourse, but to the emotional, human - and humane - nature of language as the universal code of communication between the oppressed. While contemporary art is subject to elitism and philosophizing, it cannot satisfy the "average citizen" and therefore cannot create space that could avoid totalitarianism of consumptive relations. It is well known that the creation of a new world always starts with an utopic idea, with the construction of an illusion of freedom from the existing rules and practices, the illusion based on the idea ‘in the air’ (and therefore belonging to many) expressed by an artist / writer / philosopher. Asemic writing is far from creating such illusions, but its means of expression suggest the idea of universality: it talks lingua generalis to the viewer / reader, speaks a "language" without code complexity; expresses not the idea but rather the immediate emotion. The emotional platform actualizes itself visually in the form of a (certain) language, it combines a variety of asemic experiments carried out by artists from different countries. However, it seems to be quite problematic to talk about asemic writing as a movement. It is problematic in terms of the history of its origins. While breaking into many separate movements, avant-garde could manifest openly (supported with theory) their "separateness" and fix one or another program in the same document. In the asemic environment, we face a "theoretical silence": except for interviews and articles by asemic writing founders Michael Jacobson and Tim Gaze we see no policy provisions or communities on the basis of "kinship". The Facebook group gives fragmented series of experiments, part of which is even not directly related to asemic writing. We are trying to overcome the barrier formed by private asemic practices by creating the International Asemic Association, writing manifestos and theoretical articles, but the reaction of participants in a virtual community is quite low. In terms of aesthetics / ethics as a sum of theoretical positions, asemic writing has not been completely formed yet, but in terms of poetics as a set of tools to create asemic work, we can talk about its existence. We assume that in the foreseeable future the level of reflection (including researchers) on the existence of asemic writing will increase significantly, and only then we will be able to talk fundamentally about developing operational concepts and analysing the types of asemic writing. Asemic writing as an artistic practice has gone beyond the boundaries of avant-garde, where it can be found in a few experiments only; but without the practice of self-reflection it can remain in the history of art just as a branch of visual poetry, which seems to us not the best option or even a completely wrong option from the terminological point of view.
Asemic workers of all countries, unite! We want to get away from the postmodern layers of meanings into the asemia of the class, into the international alliance of the new post-literate in the name of sensual unity and dis-alienation of souls.
We have answered this question in the previous one quite extensively, but we can emphasize once again: individual flashes of asemic demonstration without manifesting actual ideas often look like a postmodern game, an offshoot of the abstract painting (in the group “Asemic Writing: The New Post-Literate” an abstract painting often passes for asemic writing, what indicates the absence of a clear aesthetic program); and it makes us think of creating a theoretical asemic team that could elaborate the general principles to unite us as a movement. Possibly, there will be different movements to come with their unique explanations of what the asemic art is. But all these movements do not exist yet, and all the void signifiers now belong to the researchers. We have to choose: either to accept that label attributed to the movement, or to create it ourselves – not as a label on a body in a morgue, but as a flag of the New. We urge asemic workers of all countries to unite and go away from all the others!
We think there must be a clear distinction of asemic writing from both visual poetry and abstract painting because of their completely different nature. While answering the first question, we have identified these boundaries. In short, at the first glance asemic writing with its graphic anti-signs and fine art elements (color, texture, composition, etc.) relates to visual poetry. However, it is based on "elementary colors and shapes" as applied not to conventional graphic characters, but to pure handwriting, to the image of a language that imitates writing with its artistic lines. Graphology becomes, in fact, the most appropriate tool for analyzing the meaning of an asemic work; besides, its formal characteristics are the sole (and only visually perceptible) content in the anti-sign, and that content may be interpreted as the sum of individual semantics of the elements (color, line, etc.).
The nature of this content does not allow to include asemic writing in the domain of literature because of the means of its creation. While the thing we call 'text' creates images using linguistic resources, asemic writing does not use the language but only the means of visual expression in its pure form. This argument could induce us to classify asemic writing as a new type of non-objective painting, except there is one objection. While abstract painting resorted to basic colors, shapes, lines does not refer to a specific sign system, asemic writing pointedly imitates language, thus creating, besides the emotive content-image, the image of the language itself. This feature is inherent in all the contemporary asemic works but with one distinctive feature. The national context in which the author lives while creating the work, or the national context that he or she wants to emphasize affects the inscribed anti-signs. Each anti-sign and the work in general acquires the features of a particular language that the author mimics, and in this case we can talk about creating a quasi-language, i.e. the image of the language, easily recognizable literally "without words". Moreover, it underlines another fundamental difference between abstract painting and asemic writing: the author of the asemic "text" appears in the form of "human writing" rather than "human drawing", i.e. the main criterion for classifying asemic writing as a textual one is the intention of such writing.
In other words, both the actor and the content of any asemic work is primarily this or that national (or pre-national, "common") language expressed in pure handwriting - the language dissolving into abstractness but not turning in an abstraction like in non-objective art. Other semiotic layers (the color of anti-signs or their background, or the location of pure colors and forms) are only extra ways to express the artistic intention and the author’s attitude to the subject. In this case, it is sensible to say that the anti-sign in an asemic work plays the same leading role as the word / letter in a traditional visual poem - it becomes the spine and the axis for other elements.
However, the nature of anti-sign (its "anti-signness" in fact) destroys the thesis about the synthetic nature of asemic writing, which distinguishes it from visual poetry.
The term asemia that gave its name to this artistic direction (which we consider to be entirely separate and new) - does not involve the use of conventional two-component (signifier, signified) anti-signs, so bringing elements of the existing sign systems in asemic writing, or attributing abstract works with such elements to asemic art seems to us fundamentally incorrect. Creating an image of the language and transmitting certain emotional messages (or the author’s unconsciousness, or collective unconsciousness speaking through it) with quasi-linguistic "signs" distinguishes asemic writing both from visual poetry, the latter working primarily with a meaning (even a discrete one), and from abstract art working with the semiotics of color, etc., as well as from the traditional literature, even if it creates an image of the language, but it does so using a fundamentally different (linguistic) means.
As for the synthesis, the asemic writing potential to mix with other arts is great and even inexhaustible (it is not exhausted, at least so far). Due to its anti-signness, asemic writing can be used, unfortunately, in many contexts, from absolutely parasitic-elitist to effectively precarious. There is a rich political potential in the asemic art. On the one hand, it can become the practice of "withdrawal" from the world of commodity exchange and into the wild; on the other hand it is a provocative and unstable element in the system brought to order by the totalitarian linguistic discourse. We really do not want asemic writing to become a way of making money or acquiring of a social status just because being an asemic artist may be "fashionable". We do not want to see the devils of the scientific postmodernism who are quick to invent meanings where there are none turning their heads to asemic writing. The content of asemic writing is meaningless, period. It is void as a signifier that failed to make its way to its signified. But it is not meaningless as an act, as a gesture, as the hand of the original language stretched into the interior of an impersonal text, which unites the silent us in the name of a different speech.