Asemic Writing: Offline & In The Gallery

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Asemic Writing: Offline & In The Gallery


The word ‘asemic’ means “without the smallest unit of meaning.” Asemic writing is a wordless open semantic form of global literature which often appears as abstract calligraphy or illegible writing. This exhibit will take the viewer/reader on a journey through various styles of asemic writing. Asemic writing has grown in popularity mainly because of the internet, but it has also maintained a hand in physical books and calligraphic works on paper. It has possibly existed in codex form since the 15th century by way of the enigmatic Voynich Manuscript. But it wasn’t until the 20th century that asemic experimentation began to take off, especially with the author Henri Michaux and his wordless interior gestures Alphabet (1925), and Narration (1927). Over the course of the 20th Century artists and writers such as Cy Twombly, Morita Shiryu, Brion Gysin, Max Ernst, Mirtha Dermisache, the French Lettristes, and many others, all created works which resemble writing but are illegible. At the end of the 20th century two great works of asemic writing were created: Xu Bing’s A Book From The Sky and Luigi Serafini’s Codex Seraphinianus; these works were influential to the creative writers of the current asemic movement. Other influences on asemic writing are as varied as graffiti, alien writing, undeciphered scripts, sigils, and proto-writing.


Australian poet Tim Gaze was the main catalyst for contemporary asemic writing through his  Asemic Magazine, which he started in 1999 and continues publishing to this day. He was taught the word ‘asemic’ by visual poet Jim Leftwich; together they explored sub-verbal and sub-letteral forms of writing. In 2008 The New Post-Literate blog gallery was established to showcase the rapidly developing asemic subculture online and to publish full color asemic works in real time. In 2011 the asemic writing Facebook group was created and now catalogs some 60,000 asemic works from 12,000+ members. Asemic authors are also using the technology of print-on-demand book publishing to distribute asemic works into the real world, many of which are included in this exhibit.


With or without computers, asemic writers are returning writing to a status of visual art by making works which have the reader hovering in a state between reading and looking. These works can just as easily be viewed on a gallery wall as on a website. Asemic writers are scribes who scribble, invent, dream, and design new forms of text, and they have ultimately found meaning in meaningless writing.


Michael Jacobson, curator


Michael Jacobson is the curator of this exhibit. In addition, he curates the blog The New Post-Literate: A Gallery Of Asemic Writing and is the author of Works & Interviews.


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