New Asemic Work

I have created some new “asemic” artworks from fragments of characters produced while shooting a video on binary opposition and calligraphy (see below figs. 1-7). Asemic writing is an “open semantic form” of writing whose words lack referents. Asemic words are “abstract” in that they lack specific symbolic content, syntax or phonetic components. The term was coined by visual poets Tim Gaze and Jim Leftwich in 1997 and has grown in popularity since.

An exploration of asemic writing seems especially appropriate to Chinese calligraphy because many (ancient and cursive) styles are unreadable for the majority of the Chinese population – as are traditional characters for many mainland Chinese. Of course for the vast majority of non-Chinese audiences all Chinese calligraphy is asemic. Chinese artists that have played with notions of unreadability include: Gu Wenda (谷文達), Xu Bing (徐冰), Wei Ligang (魏立刚), Wang Dongling (王冬龄), Bian Pingshan (边平山), Chen Guangwu (陳光武), Tan Ping (谭平), Wang Huangsheng, Xue Song (薛松), Zhang Fan, Qiu Zhenzhong, Zhang Hao (张浩), Luo Qi (洛齊), C.N. Liew (刘庆伦), Gu Gan (古干), Tong Yangtze (董阳孜) and Qin Feng (秦风).

The fragments are intended to work together to comprise a kind of visual text (or visual poem), but also to suggest one (disrupted) character. I have been interested in the idea of visual poetry for some time; that is, a series of images which are linked through similar elements (colour, form, line etc) – the way words are linked together through similar sounds, rhythms and meter in poetry – but still sufficiently contrasting to create visual excitement and allude to a narrative. I used to make visual Haikus from photographs with a similar intention (see figs. 8-11 below).

The idea of disrupted or fragmented characters has also interested me since researching Oracle Bone script (甲骨文) early in 2016 (see post). Oracle Bone characters are the earliest form of Chinese writing, dating to the Shang dynasty (c. 1600 – c. 1046 BCE). They were scratched onto tortoise shells or ox shoulder blades which were then heated until they cracked. The future would be divined according to how the cracks disrupted the characters, so called pyromancy. In a different context I disrupted characters in a pencil drawing I made in 2014 (fig. 11), entitled Fragment of a Poem. This played with the idea of perspective and composition as it was assembled from different viewpoints, like a Chinese landscape painting, rather than from a fixed perspective as is usual in Western landscape.

Fig. 11. Fragment of a Poem, pencil on paper, 50 x 75 cm, 2014

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