adventures in nonism: asemic art

our name, the nonist, was originally (for our purposes) coined as a half joking, half serious, (all drunk no doubt) reaction to the chain rattling ghost of art past and the verbose zombie of art present. i for one had gotten tired of all the manifestos and texts i was expected to care about, all the explanations i was obliged to stay awake through, not to mention the boundaries which a knowledge of art history sneakily laid down. “been done.” “reminds me of so-and-so.” “that’s so passe!” simply put “isms” were a drag. who needed em? nonism was a way of saying fuck you politely. we were young and full of wine so what else would you expect?

the term was never used seriously but the sentiments it clumsily expressed remained a vital part of my opinions about art influencing not only my way of experiencing it but my method of creating it as well. there was a fairly simple main thrust- remaining willfully ignorant about certain things could, contrary to accepted wisdom, prove beneficial.

when looking at art i employed a simple mental algorithm. if a piece struck me, tickled me, wowed me, grabbed me, mystified me, etc, it was, to my mind, good. if a piece did not wow me and required a 40 minute lecture complete with schematic diagrams and interpretations by 6 leading critics to make an impact then it was bad art. simple as that. in my mind there were too many illustrated paragraphs out there masquerading as art with an explanation. some people love that stuff. i do not.

when creating art the imperative was simply to do whatever the hell i wanted, trends and art history be darned. it seemed too easy to trap yourself in an effort to be relevant and to do something new. those concerns are more than anything a way of imposing boundaries on oneself. life is too short to play those games. they say “those who don’t know the past are doomed to repeat it.” i’d say if history has proven anything it’s that even those who know it full well repeat it anyhow. and in terms of art why should i be denied a certain style or subject or method just because someone else already tread that ground a hundred years ago? what’s that got to do with me? sure i won’t become wealthy and world renowned but who says that’s why i create things?

anyhow this brings me to asemic art. when i was creating the pieces which now make up the archeography section i remember chatting with people excitedly, explaining what it was i was doing. i never once used the word asemic because until last week i’d never heard it.

and them’s the wages of “nonism” folks. for good or bad i built a small body of work without ever being aware of the tradition it followed, the category it fit in, or the name which so succinctly described it.

last week i came across a link to asemic magazine at coudal. it’s an unassuming little mag but it pretty quickly clued me in that what i’d been doing was best described as asemic.

tim gaze, creator of the mag (and asemic artist himself) offered this definition:

The word “asemic” means “having no semantic content”. Illegible writing or pretend writing could be described as asemic.

elsewhere he had this to say-

[Hand]writing does not just contain semantic information. It also contains aesthetic information (when seen as a shape or image) and emotional information (such as a graphologist would analyze.) Because it eliminates the semantic information, asemic writing brings the emotional and aesthetic content to the foreground. By contrast, e-mail is writing almost devoid of aesthetic and emotional content, apart from what the words contain. Asemic works play with our minds, enticing us to attempt to “read” them. Some asemic works make the viewer hover between “reading” (as a text) and “looking” (as a picture).

as it turns out the list of related artists and groups and styles is pretty lengthy. cobra, kruchonykh, zaum, georges mathieu, bryon gysin,tao magic diagrams, ulfert wilke, mirtha darmisache, ungolee, guy de cointet, antoni tàpies, mark tobey, lyrical abstraction, cy twombly just to skim the surface. really it’s just a matter of where you draw the line. (no pun)

i found it a bit ironic that i’d find my own interests allied so closely with cobra, practitioners of automatic drawing, inism, zaum, lettrisme, etc since they are manifesto lovers one and all. it seems to me though taken as a whole, this kind of work was done in so many era’s, in so many contexts, by members of vastly different artistic cultures, that perhaps all the fevered-artist revolutionary tracts used to rationalize it were not strictly necessary. course it’s art we’re talking about and what is?

anyhow i thought i’d offer up a gallery of related works. as it turns out many of the artists who did / are doing asemic art are very underrepresented on the net. there was almost no bryon gysin calligraphy for instance. how can that be? almost no Rachid Koraichi work… so i just did the best i could. see below.






















one thing i find fascinating is that huge swaths of the world’s texts masquerade as asemic art. what i mean is that to me, islamic, chinese, and japanese calligraphy are all, through my own ignorance, without semantic content. as are hieroglyphs, aztec Logographs, and every other ancient writing system. and of course this is exactly the reason they inspire me. i can look over a korean man’s shoulder on the subway, glance at his newspaper, and be inspired. i’d say ignorance has a definite benefit in that respect.

if you happen to be an artist working in this vein and you’ve happened upon this post to be rudely awakened… “hey! you mean i’m not blazing a new trail? i’m not doing something new? i’m not necessarily a genius?” just think of it this way- your an artist, even at your worst you still know more about art than the average joe, you go to shows, you read histories, you’ve taken some classes most likely, so if you are only now hearing about “asemic art” then i’d say it’s safe to assume there is still a lot of ground to be covered since those who came before didn’t make certain your aunt in trenton had a “deformed letter sequence” poster over her couch. either that or it’s a dead end. so long as your enjoying yourself.

lastly for those interested in this sort of thing i’d like to recommend dbqp: visualizing poetics a fine blog i’ve only just discovered which covers this turf well.

g’night and sweet dreams.

posted by jmorrison on 11/20 | sights & sounds - art | (13) comments | send entry