In an earlier post I’ve already established that Asemic Writing is something which looks like a form of writing but which you cannot read. Asemic artist Michael Jacobson further 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. The idea of a creating meaning by way of “Aesthetic intuition and by verbal expression” I found interesting because then it renders all readers equal.
In my research I discovered that early modernists did not see the value or need for such writing believing it served no purpose in a world where communication through language was key. Many of them saw it as purely decorative. However recent views and ideas on the subject are being recognised via literature and exhibits.
An extraordinary exhibit I recently came across was a 75-foot high art installation by New York-based artist Wenda Gu titled United Nations – Bable of the Millennium. Gu collected hair from 352 barber shops and hair salons from 18 different countries over a period of 20 years. The concept was to merge language and culture together through the form of hair. The 100 panels are all woven together and feature scripted lettering made out of hair based on Chinese, English, Hindi and Arabic. The installation is part of the permeant collection at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Links to earlier experimentation with Pseudo Writing
In an online article on Gu’s exhibit, David Cateforis, associate professor of Art History at the University of Kansas, says Gu’s work “embodies the concept of babel in its profusion of 116 rectangular panels incorporating nonsensical, invented scripts based on chinese, english, hindi, and arabic characters, and on a synthesis of chinese and english. This nonsensical writing has its roots in Gu’s initial experimentation with pseudo-seal scripts in china the mid-1980s which helped to make his reputation as a leader of the so-called ’85 art new wave in China.”
The scripts in the united nations work he says “frustrate the ability of viewers to read them and, in Gu’s terms, “evoke the limitations of human knowledge.” Gu hopes also that these unreadable scripts will help prepare viewers for entry into what he calls an “unknown world” – a utopian world, perhaps, that cannot be described or defined by any written language.
Cateforis believes that Gu’s intentions though unifying in vision, “seems depressingly out of reach in our present era of worldwide racial, ethnic, religious, and cultural tensions – tensions that often erupt in atrocious and tragic violence such as the attacks of september 11, 2001 and the ongoing bloodshed in the middle east and elsewhere.” However, adding, “but it is precisely because the present situation does seem so dire that we desperately need art like Wenda Gu’s to help us imagine something better, and to encourage us all to work towards it.”
In reflecting on Gu’s work I recognise that scale, the materials used as well as the space exhibited has an impact on the viewer. These together form the catalyst for Gu’s message to be communicated. However, it is the ideas of Universality which Gu expresses so eloquently in his exhibit that I find most appealing and inspiring.