Asemic writing (from Asemic open call)
by Cecil Touchon
I am not sure there is an actual increase in the use or appreciation of the hand of the writer or artist. There may be but there is also an increase in the use and familiarity of digital technology by the population at large as well as by the creative community. The new interconnectivity that we are currently integrating into our daily patterns of life certainly seems to be making a lot of things easier and the world at large more accessible. It has greatly enhanced artists’ ability to be aware and communicate with each other in real time from all over the world and that is an amazing thing and difficult to predict what that will result in over the long term. I assume something wonderful.
One of the possible problems this creates is how rapidly a community of poets, let’s say, can assimilate and move through the evolution of ideas and might be seen as a way to shorten the lifespan of artistic movements because so many artists or writers can be aware of each other’s works the very same day that they are created. Imagine how quickly a community could burn through the implications of a new idea when someone presents it. I don’t think of that as a negative but more like an inevitability. I am not sure what the long-term consequences of that will be on the creative communities working today or the individuals in those communities. It is a fascinating thing to contemplate and theorize about.
I am in my 60’s so I remember the world before the internet and smart phones. It was a completely different world, a time of darkness and ignorance compared to what is possible today. Twenty years from now will be some completely other world if things continue to advance as they have been the last 20 years. There is no telling toward what we are leading ourselves.
For me, taking on the representational basis of the use of language and experimenting with an alternative use of the physical act of handwriting, to use it as a form of improvisational musicality, using the tool as if an instrument and the surface as a recording device. So, if a listener can enjoy something so abstract as classical music, then one should be able to train oneself to read marks on a page with a similar form of attention and intuitive comprehension.
A handwritten document such as this is completely silent of signs that convert to verbiage in one’s head. I try to maintain this literary silence in my own works. I don’t want any signs or symbols in my work of this type to avoid a friction in different sectors of the reading mind at least not at this time.
At the same time, there can be a lot of freedom of play involved that allows for the invention or discovery of new relationships created by various ways of physically making the marks. This might include the use of a variety of drawing/writing tools: quill and ink; marker; ball point pen; pencil; charcoal; watercolor with brush, spray paint, fingers, a stick, a sponge, an eraser, etc. and so forth. Then, the variability of surface: rough or smooth paper, colored paper, canvas, found materials, etc.
The physicality of the making of gestures opens a wide variety of issues, possibilities and results as well as leading the mind into a variety of creative problems and solutions. These elements together; tool and surface, has an unlimited scope of exploration and visual phenomena.
I think that the way of working that I am engaged in, as described above, would not be consider a manipulation of existing language as no language is used. What I am exploiting however, are the conventions and ergonomics of language which is to say, making marks at a scale that a tool like a pen was designed for making and working on sheets of paper that are a size designed for writing and producing documents that are normally intended for the use of recording language or readable information. Of course, these materials serve the same function for drawing or illustrating or diagraming or for presenting mathematical information or notation for musicians for the performance of a musical work. Pen and paper.
Beyond this, my works in this vein also take into account the nature of the eye which is to say that the eye has a very small focal point and if one wishes a viewer to see one’s work clearly and in focus and with attention then the best way of doing this is in the conventionally arrived at way of moving the eye along a horizontal line or series of lines such as the lines used in a book.
This idea of lines of text on a page containing clusters of letters and punctuation and small spaces between the clusters is an organizational device arrived at after hundreds or perhaps thousands of years of study by writers and printers about how to provide information – often complicated and complex information – to a viewer or reader in a clear, concise, predictable, organized and mutually agreed upon way so that the information is presented in such a way that the reader focuses on the information being presented rather than being confused about how the information is presented and thus getting bogged down in doubt and ambiguity purely over the presentation. This lack of clarity causes a loss of message which is, after all, the main function of writing to begin with: the message.
You must admire human beings for coming up with these very complex forms of communication and that social stability is sustained long enough that generations of humans can build upon a mutually accepted body of knowledge and form of communication. This idea of transgenerational building of civilization is quite amazing when you think about it. It suggests a heroic level of hope and goodwill toward future generations and a remarkable respect for past generations. That is something worth taking note of.
As artists and writers, we may have our criticisms about how things were arrived at in the past and how those things affect us in the present and what we, the currently living, wish to leave behind or to build for the future. Still, that we even think about these things is an amazing and mysterious thing of great privilege in itself.
Hence coming to the idea of what I am doing, what we are doing, being a ‘future language event’, I often think in terms of how will viewers in the future see the works left behind from our generation once the context that informs it and our little community that supports it has passed away. For future artists will it be as if stumbling upon and viewing the carvings on Mayan ruins in the jungles of Central America created by a culture long extinct? This is obviously a question we cannot answer but it is one that we might contemplate to get a little distance from our absorption in the present moment so that we might consider our intentions as much as our impulses and how that will read in the future. How can our work be timeless enough to hold itself up in the future when, even now, it is incomprehensible in the present among ourselves?
Hence, a ‘future language event’ might be better described as a future understanding or reading event. With enough development, as with abstract painting, readers or observers in the future will have a sufficiently long enough and full enough tradition to look back upon and study in order to grasp what it is they need to know in order to ‘read’, comprehend and appreciate visual writing in the same way that people have become accustomed to being literate. The purpose and effectiveness of visual writing is still in a nascent state, still under construction and consideration. But the day will come when a general audience will just seem to naturally understand it and probably sooner than we can currently imagine. When that day arrives it will be time for artists and writers to explore whatever is beyond that which we have yet to dream up.
With my own work I hope that future readers/viewers will be able to have a resonance with my message which is embedded in all the works I make. This message has something to do with exploring, as best a human can, a belief in an underlying creative harmony that governs all things, a harmony that is the very foundation of all life. A harmony that is spontaneous, self-generating and self-sufficient. A harmony that humans attempt to emulate but often do so in a way that leads to artificial solutions that usually become corrupted and fall apart. Hence, we need to continually return to the ground of life where this harmony can most clearly be experienced. My theory is that this is a prelinguistic state of consciousness. All we can go for at this point is a post-linguistic state of consciousness.
Mentally this has to do with maintaining a form of meditation and mindfulness and an awareness and interaction with the subtle patterns of Life. To me this means inner quietude; to quest after a state of knowingness rather than an accumulation of knowledge. We can see that, through the abundance of information we are engulfed in, there is no way for us individually to embody knowledge. It is too vast and we have machines for that. But we can, as individuals, be an embodiment of knowingness and intuitive understanding and perhaps as artists in a scientific, technological, information-based society, that is where we must find our seat of power and our voice or our silence. Being alive, aware and creative is a serious occupation. But such an occupation requires play and rest and experimentation and humor and room for mistakes and false starts and impulse and inspiration. It requires of us to practice, practice, practice. Not to make perfect but to become perfectly who we are. That is how we develop wisdom which is quite beyond mere knowledge.
I think my first insights had to do with encountering Kandinski’s work for the first time when I was about 15-16 years old in a library book, looking at his abstract works and then trying to do something like that and learning to appreciate line and form for its own expressive values. I was fascinated by that and I liked the kind of results I was getting even then. That was probably the first event that pointed me in my direction toward the abstract as a form of communication. Back then in the early 1970’s, the library was our internet, or you could say that now the internet is our library.
For me visual writing is visual and should concern itself with the visual elements as its communicative value rather than being mixed with elements of the literary which I think is too much of a crutch. It might seem uncomfortable to let a work exist without explanation and without literary content, but this is required for allowing a reader to encounter the work’s deeper communicative values.
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