Writings that play with illegibility and their response to practical needs

Asemic writing, according to artist Tim Gaze, “sits on a continuum between abstract images and legible writing.” This type of writing has been growing in recent times and has been extended from poets, calligraphers and visual artists to graphic designers who have been experimenting with this method. Gaze exposes “three different ways for asemic writing to occur: “deliberately made as an illegible form of writing; writing intended to be legible, but for one reason or the other is not legible; and something which accidentally looks like illegible writing. Some of the areas of experimentation include “different typographical arrangements,” intuitive calligraphy and visual poetry.

In discussing “Boundaries of legibility”, Typographer, Adrian Frutiger writes, “It is still difficult for us to make an exact judgement of this anti-reading reaction and its significance. Perhaps something fundamentally new will emerge in the future from a movement that at present is still considered to be decadent.”

According to Roxane Jubert, however, “Curiously, writings that play with illegibility have a more ordinary presence than we might expect.” “Aside from rebellious creations, they can respond to the most practical of needs.”

Jubert offers examples such as the Ishihara test for colour blindenss which “features a number written inside a circle of mulitple coloured dots (often red, orange, green and gray.”


Another example of llegibility she points to are the patters that are found on security papers such as currency and cheques.

Microprinting appears as just a thin line to the naked eye, but can be easily read upon magnification. The introduction of microprinting in 1990 began with the addition of the words “The United States of America” printed around the edge of the portraits. The new bills still use microprinting, but in a different location. These words now appear around Ben Franklin’s lapel. In addition, the words “USA 100” are printed within the lower left “100.”

This image magnifies the tiny print. The “1” is actually less than half an inch in height, and it holds dozens of “USA 100″sPhoto credit: © WGBH Educational Foundation
 Microprinting is very difficult to reproduce accurately on photocopiers because most copiers do not have the ability to work at such high resolution. This situation may not last long, however, as improved scanning devices are now able to print at this fine detailed level. The Treasury hopes the combination of the many anti-replication features will help deter potential counterfeiters.

Other forms of security papers include security envelopes of which the illegible print or patterns are used to hide its contents. Joseph’s King’s ongoing flickr project “to collect and organise envelope and security patterns from around the world” which include abstract forms, cicles, lines, scribbles and cross hatching can be arguably seen as asemic. http://www.flickr.com/photos/josephking/sets/72157594547931731/page2/

Here are some samples from his site:

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Authentication is also an area where there is a use for illegible type. The Captcha is a “program that protects websites against bots by generating and grading tests that humans can pass but current computer programs cannot.” “Images of text are distorted randomly.” http://www.google.com/recaptcha/captcha


More to come….


The Writings of My Ancestors and the Merging of Cultures

I seriously don’t know where this aspect of my research is taking me but I found it very interesting.

In researching non-verbal communication and different types of visual languages I came across Saki Mafundikwa, the author of Afrikan Alphabets: The story of writing in Afrika. It is a comprehensive review of African writings systems.



Here are some page samples of the book:



Just recently Mafundikwa gave a TED talk titled Saki Mafundikwa: Ingenuity and elegance in ancient African alphabets. In it he speaks of “the creation of a new visual language based on the African creative heritage.”

This interests me as I started wondering about my own heritage as a Trinidadian and a Caribbean woman. What about the creation of a new visual language based on our diverse cultural heritage?

The Caribbean diaspora is a “melting pot” of different cultures. The blood of European, African, East Indian and Indigenous people are engrained in my DNA. Trinidad, the country of my birth has a long history of different people coming to it’s shores and thus enriching the land with their culture.

Many in the world still see the Caribbean as an underdeveloped region with a “laid back” attitude. This is evident in how the Caribbean has been portrayed in film and posters and yes even typographically over the years.

When I did a search for “Caribbean typography” this is what I found.



African Connections

A native of Zimbabwe, Mafundikwa founded his country’s first media college with the intension of creating a “Bauhaus sort of school where new ideas were interrogated and are investigated.” Mafundikwa says his school encourages students to “look inward for creative influence”.

In his talk, he went on to list in detail the different graphic languages in Africa and of particular interest to me was the Abakwa graphic writing of the Congo and Angola.

“The Secret societies of the Yuroba, the congo and Palo religions in Nigeria, Congo and Angola respectively, developed this intricate writing system which is alive and well today in the new world in Cuba, Brazil, Trinidad and Haiti,” he said.

This peeked my interest further so I did a search for ancient writing in Trinidad and I came across an article on a Trinidad and Tobago news blog titled “Freemasonry: Ancient Afrikan / Kemetic / Egyptian communal way of life and being by Dr. Kwame Nantambu, March 9, 2007.

Freemasonry is alive and well in Trinidad. In fact I work just opposite an active lodge with the Freemason symbol on the building.

Could this be their secret language?

In further looking at African graphic writing I came across the works of artist Victor Ekpuk.

“Much of my recent work explores drawing as an independent genre that is not a support
for my painting. Ideas are expressed as directly as possible in simple black or white lines on negative spaces. Color in this case is used when needed to support the drawing.
I am fascinated by graphic and writing systems from ancient African cultures and I am also
engaged in creating contemporary aesthetics out of that idea.
To this end, my current drawing project attempts to deconstruct these graphic symbols and signs. Symbols are recomposed and executed on large surfaces, using pastel and graphite on paper.
The goal is to explore these signs, not necessarily for their intended meanings, but for their
visual aesthetics as abstract forms.

-Victor Ekpuk


Title:Children of the Full Moon


Ekpuk’s drawings somewhat resembles the drawings on the indigenous Caurita Stone in the Maracas Valley in Trinidad.


“It is agreed among Amerindian communities in Trinidad that etchings on the stone bear spiritual significance. The site of the Caurita Stone is now regarded as an important part of the ongoing quest for knowledge and understanding of Amerindian ancestral occupation and life on this island.”


Asemic Writing study update

So while researching more on Asemic Writing I took a look at the movement’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/groups/76178850228/) and wrote a note asking anyone for assistance in locating or pointing to academic writing on the subject.

Michael Jacobson, one of the main authors on asemic writing responded to my request and forwarded me Tim Gaze’s email for more information on the subject.

Tim Gaze is the publisher of Asemic Magazine (http://asemic.net )which is dedicated to asemic writing. He also edited a book with Michael Jacobson called An Anthology of Asemic Writing.

He also has a small press called asemic editions editions which is devoted to publishing works of asemic writing, abstract comics, Lettrisme & similar. It is based in South Australia.

So I wrote to Tim Gaze and to my great joy he wrote me back with a trove of information on asemic writing including the names of some notable practitioners and texts on the subject.

This is a great start to this project and it is a lot to process but I am really excited and can’t wait to see where all this carries me.

Asemic Writing – A study



What is Asemic Writing?

Asemic Writing according to poet and asemic writing practitioner Tim Gaze, “is something which looks like a form of writing, but which you can’t read.”


Another practitioner, Michael Jacobson elaborates by saying “…that asemic writing is a shadow, impression, and abstraction of conventional writing.”

“It uses the constraints of writerly gestures and the full developments of abstract art to divulge its main purpose: total freedom beyond literary expression,” he said.

Gaze and Jacobson published a book together called an An Anthology of Asemic Handwriting. 2013


Henri Michaux, Narration (an excerpt) by Henri Michaux 1972

As Jacobson notes: “The forms that asemic writing may take are many, but its main trait is its resemblance to ‘traditional’ writing—with the distinction of its abandonment of specific semantics, syntax, and communication.”

– See more at: http://www.asymptotejournal.com/article.php?cat=Visual&id=24#sthash.nbA8YBxG.dpuf

Traditional English writing /calligraphy looks like this…


Asemic writing as an abstract calligraphy


International Forms and Practice

Asemic writing is also international and mimics different languages and to great extent…


Institution: China Art Gallery
Location: Beijing, China
Materials: Mixed media installation / Hand-printed books and scrolls printed from blocks inscribed with ”false” characters.

Book from the Sky is an installation that took Xu Bing over four years to complete. A Book from The Sky is comprised of printed volumes and scrolls containing four thousand ”false” Chinese characters invented by the artist and then painstakingly hand-cut onto wooden printing blocks.



I got really excited about an exhibition I attended this evening  at the Horizons Art Gallery here in Trinidad.

The work by Artist Shawn Peters was very inspiring especially with regards to my research in non-verbal communication and language.

Peters carves shapes into planks of wood and paints and inscribes hieroglyphic-type writings and images. He also incorporates other materials like thread, nails, and feathers to add context as seen below. The result is somewhat of an ancient tribal approach.

Here is a sample of his work…

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The Broken Dream Catcher with detail showing inscriptions

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Do I Look Worried

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I went to the artist’s Art Ideas board on Pinterest and found that much of his inspiration came from works of architectural and structural themes, weaving, sculpture, abstract forms and glyphs.

Local Similarities

His work reminds me of the Abstract Expressionism Art of local artists Carlise Chang (deceased), Master Artist Leroy Clarke and artist Willi Chen.

willi chen

Solar Marinorama 1983 | Willi Chen (b.1934) | 14’0″x64’0″ | Steel, copper, brass and acrylic enamel



The Inherent Nobility of Man by Carlisle Chang. Detail 1962 – See more at: http://arcthemagazine.com/arc/2012/08/nation-and-society-in-trinidad-and-tobago-art/#sthash.8AIzpwbt.dpuf

Dust 2 pg 5

The painting Weavers of the Dust by master artist LeRoy Clarke done in the 1970’s


Experiment 2

Idea: A Universal language that is gestural and typographic at the same time.

For this experiment I will be Identifying gestures that are already Universal. Then I will produce a list of bodily signs that mean the same thing in all cultures.

So with “gestures” as my main focus I did a mind map showing my thought process.

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Then while doing a search for “Universal Language”, I came across an article on telegraph.co.uk about a study done on non-verbal communication at the University of Chicago in 2008.

According to the study, “When people can only communicate with hand gestures, they speak a kind of “universal language”.”

“The gestures that people produce when they speak are not universal but vary as a function of language – in some ways, this makes the phenomenon we’re describing that much more interesting since speakers of different languages routinely use their hands in different ways but, when asked to talk with their hands and not their mouths, they all end up looking alike,” said Prof Susan Goldin-Meadow.


So with that in mind I started looking at the representation of hands in ancient cultures.



Fragment of a Stela

Late Dynasty 18, ca. 1327-1295 B.C.
From Thebes, Deir el-Bahri

Gift of the Egypt Exploration Fund, 1905 (05.4.2)

Disciption: Userhat, shown here with his wife Nefertari, testifies to his own good qualities and to his trust in his god, probably Amun. As Userhat was a priest in the mortuary cults of both Amenhotep III and Tutankhamun, the couple must have lived during the later Eighteenth Dynasty. The complex layering of relief and the style of the figures demonstrate the influence the art of Amarna had at Thebes.

See more at: http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/544776?rpp=20&pg=4&ft=egypt&pos=67#sthash.wx0mg2ev.dpuf

Source: http://www.metmuseum.org

Screen Shot 2013-10-08 at 6.56.58 PM

Hands are held up with palms facing forward suggesting praise or worship.


Round-topped Stela of Wenenkhu

New Kingdom, Ramesside
Dynasty 19
reign of Ramesses II
ca. 1275–1237 B.C.
Country of Origin Egypt, Upper Egypt; Thebes, Deir el-Medina
H. 45 cm (17 11/16 in)
Rogers Fund, 1967

Description: Wenenkhu and his son Penpakhenty worship the god Re-Harakhty as he crosses the sky in his barque. From the pyramid chapel at Deir el-Medina, Thebes. – See more at: http://www.metmuseum.org/collections/search-the-collections/546708#sthash.tZMvNYZn.dpuf

– See more at: http://www.metmuseum.org/collections/search-the-collections/546708#sthash.tZMvNYZn.dpuf


Screen Shot 2013-10-08 at 10.18.26 AM

Source of images from http://www.ancientscripts.com

hand1_Page_01hand2_Page_01 hand3_Page_01

Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies http://www.famsi.org/research/pitts/MayaGlyphsBook1Sect1.pdf

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In my sketchbook I identified two hand glyphs.

Experiment 1

Looking at several different alphabets, character sets and various typefaces I will try to identify the key features that make them look like writing.

Anatomy of Type:


Source: Thinking With Type, Ellen Lupton


Sans Serif fonts looked at