“Organic” potencies of asemic writing
by Tae Ateh

 Translated from Russian by Alina Liakhovskaya


The artistic system of coordinates did not always imply a presence of two interpretational levels of “sacred” and “profane”, where the former represents the pole of an “educated recipient” while the latter stands for the pole of “naive” recipient. The foundation for this division appeared in the process of disengagement of art and life in the very infancy of humankind as a result of art’s displacement into a separate aesthetical sphere functioning according to its own laws and rules. The codes used in funerary wailing, ritual dances, rock paintings have a more universal nature than modern semiotic systems, as they eliminated the possibility of their individual treatment and consequently couldn’t generate an endless chain of interpretations. These codes were a part of collective body of society, where (in a certain ideal sense) there was still no existing phenomenon of the Other[1]; moreover, in terms of culture they were not separated from nature and its cycles. The way people used these codes was as much organic as breathing. Art was a kind of body extension, a gesture, and we notice this longing for gestureness and fleshliness not only in the historical avant-garde at the beginning of the 20th century, but also in the contemporary post-literature phenomenon of asemic writing.

The specific nature of the asemic code consists in the unfixed and consequently lacking any particular meaning nature of its anti-sign which resolves the art’s fundamental opposition of the Author and the recipient (the Other), where both use asemic code as a kind of “black box” having no idea, what is inside it and thus unable to claim the “rightness” of interpretation. Creation and interpretation are joined together into a single act, effectively stopping the discourse from division into totalitarian-sacred-author’s and accessory-secular-reader’s layers. But does this act actually address the challenge of the reintegration of art and life and their pragmatic confluence? Does it help to attain the ideal of equating writing[2] and gesture? For this purpose, as we believe, the asemic workers should galvanize some currently unclearly articulated features of the anti-sign.

Practices closest to asemic writing, such as Lettrist hypergraphy and Hylaea’s Cubo-Futurism (Russian Gileya), paid close attention to the theory of texture and background, applying their inventions to the materials traditional for text (paper, wood, stone). The space of a sheet, previously neutral in literature, merged now with a graphically enriched letter creating a single canvas. Still, it couldn’t go without mentioning that the leading concept was still that of a book and therefore of a word (rather than that of a picture or of a brush stroke!). The subsequent, often theatricalized, vocalizing of the text (the language’s transition into speech) actionised it, representing the avant-gard idea of synthesis of different art forms.

The avant-garde’s pragmatic intention (implemented among other things via this synthesis) can be in a certain sense regarded as a desire for the archaic “merging” with a word as a primitivistic notion of the interchangeability of language and reality, and that of code and givenness. The translation of a word into a gesture and therefore into reality had been achieved (when referring to “institutional” Russian avant-garde of 1910-1930-s not least due to the corresponding nature of political and poetical ideology), however, the avant-garde project intermitted, and the Text, now released from the boundaries of Culture and forced into the territory of action, was deprived of its pragmatic potential. Text reentered the sphere of art and, given the triumph of conceptualism and post-structuralism, became eventually the evident mark of the sphere.

That is why the development and renewal of avant-gardist approaches by asemic writers appear to be hardly productive from our viewpoint. While such techniques as combining anti-signs with abstract painting, their applying to architectural objects, working with collages, contain, as it may seem, some pragmatic intention, they can’t have such revolutionary potential as their genre’s predecessors due to all objective historical reasons. Surmounting of the Text and “art’s moving onto the streets”, the primeval unity of the Author and the Other in the act of creation, cannot be achieved by changing the properties of space, rather only by changing the sign (anti-sign) itself. It’s necessary to “steal” it from Aristotle’s paradigm of mimesis, from associative field “literature-art-secondary reflection[3]”, to actualize it, to put it inside the context of other material objects.

When asemic writing can explicate deep layers of pan-human (including prelinguistic) consciousness, it should also carry some other features of our kind, not only mental but also physical: time duration, mortality, inseparability from environment. These “organic” potencies, as it appears to us, can be found in an asemic installation, based on the concepts of “a found object” and “an observer”.

A similar experiment can be found in Andrew Van de Merwe’s anonymous (for a beach promenader) asemic writings, that are gradually washed away by the water or blown away by the wind.


The anti-sign here is dynamized by the nature itself; the environment attributes to the sign its actionist character, reintroduces it into its own coordinate system. While creating such works, an artist can “imitate” physical processes, he can create compositions using volatile fume, burning objects, degraded materials to invite reality itself to be a co-author, to move out of galleries and, when possible, to negate capitalisation and the vanity of authorship, posting the photos of his own works on the internet with such comments as “look what I’ve found”.

[This theory has its foundation in various ruins, located far away from main highways well-trodden by the men. These ruins are swallowed by the greenery to the point when they seem to be intertwined with the surrounding environment. They burst upon the eye of a passer-by in its full poetic splendour, free from the presence of a master who created them; in reality being a mere carcass for vines and birds’ nests. Abandonment and anti-utilitarianiasm, shallow protrusion from the environment distinguishes them, polish up their image in the same way as the wave polishes a piece of rock fallen into the sea. But it’s time first and foremost that makes them look this way, as all these attributes (that captivate the observer), expressed visually and tactually, are obtained only after the man has left these objects to the tender mercy of wind, rains and lizards.

In this context, the found asemic object turns into an object that has been deliberately left by the artist in the natural environment, given that he does not document it using media and does not specify its whereabouts. This way the artist turns an act of creation into a form of meditation, or into a magic ritual and (in a certain sense), being deprived of his audience, he ceases to be an artist altogether. The object starts to live its own life, gradually becoming a part of landscape, growing into the “background and texture” and only at the moment of its sudden discovery (which may not happen at all) it’s being redefined, though only partly, as its author is anonymous and thus “artificial”.]

[1] Mircea Eliade points out this trait as one of the most common for traditional societies – “the lack of individual thinking”. [Mircea Eliade: Myths, Dreams, and Mysteries: The Encounter Between Contemporary Faiths and Archaic Realities, 1957]

[2] You can get acquainted with our stance on the nature of asemic writing here: http://scriptjr.nl/four-questions-about-asemic-writing-11-ekaterina-samigulina/3429#.WDR17LndXgw

[3] According to Hegel

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