Do you remember when you first heard about asemic writing, and what impelled you to take it up?
I have been making asemic works long before there was a name for it since as far back as the 1970’s. An early influence on me in this area was Mark Tobey. I felt there was a meditational element to working with silence and illegibility to express the indescribable. Mark-making instead of writing; abstract, non-objective instead of representational or literal. I think asemic works represent a desire or perhaps a recognition of the need to be immersed in the depths of ones being, in the intuitive awareness of things and of one’s consciousness beyond words. In a way, whatever we say or write or read or study seems a hollow shell, not a living thing, not something to bring deep nourishment which is only found in one’s own penetrating insight beyond our normally excessive attention to the small things of life. We get lost in the palpable even though we are engulfed by the infinite like hanging on to a lifesaver in the middle of the vast ocean.
How do you see the relation between your asemic writing and your collage work?
My typographic abstractions which began in earnest in the early days of this century and may be thought of as an extension of the mark making that preceded it only in a kind of reverse way, breaking down language as found in printed matter, making it silent and emptying out the profane to release the universal play of archetypal forces. I guess I want my work to reside in a state of timelessness while being made from intentionally ephemeral elements such as street posters announcing an event or advertising messages found in a magazine or newspaper or billboard. I think of all of these elements as bits and pieces of the overarching Massurreality or mind world we all share in through mass media messages: a kind of mental landscape generated by continual exposure to images and messages and information and data constantly broadcast through mass media and social media. Whether we are paying attention to it or not, it is affecting us very deeply in ways we cannot quite understand. Maybe the desire to make asemic writings is a result of this cacophany all around us.
If you look at my other asemic type works you can see examples of other ways I work with the asemic idea outside of typographic abstractions. Even like this, I figure out ways to subvert a pre-existing order by overwriting an already existing ‘printed communication’ using its structure as the basis of my palimpsestic composition. The main point is that all of it is based in and relates to language even though I am taking it on a journey into the realm of the abstract. Since it becomes a form of visual art, it has the capacity of being universally appreciated as something to do with language and at the same time universally indecipherable.
And more generally, do you have any ideas about the relation between asemic writing and typography, which seems (at least superficially) to be antithetical to it?
It would seem antithetical in a way because printed matter is not writing, it is designed and is not flowing from the hand of the author. So it could be said that to work with the typographic element of language is more a form of either deconstruction or reconstruction when it comes to asemic writing; when it come to a ‘pouring out’ of intuitive gesture. In either case however, writing or printing, the root purpose remains the same. There is an intentionally close tie to language and the tension between language as a carrier of culturally shared meaning and conventions on the one hand – the very purpose of language after all – and the inclination to explore the elements of language in a more open, intuitive form of expression that does not adhere to the conventions in order to point to something beyond language. We currently use language as a carrier of something beyond the elements of language itself to be communicated from one person to another in a presumably predictable way to an audience who is also presumed to comprehend the message conveyed through language. However, when we encounter a form of language with which we are not conversant, this does not mean that the confronted text is an intentionally asemic one. It just means that we do not understand it; though, with effort, we could.
Questions from Peter Schwenger related to his soon to be published book from the University of Minnesota Press: Asemic: The Art of Writing
Images: Asemic Poem – 2011 – Cecil Touchon, Sketchbook drawing – 2012 – Cecil Touchon