Four questions about asemic writing, #02: Spencer Selby

1. Do you think the practice of asemic writing is something different from visual poetry? Or a part of it?

This is a tough question. I could actually argue both ways, and for that reason I cannot give a clear choice of one option or the other. It does appear that alot of those now doing asemic work were not like myself or you, Marco—they didn’t seem to be around or circulating work between the 80s and approximately 2010, when vispo was so strong and important to a generation of creators that were mostly also experimental text poets. Also, it seems to me that most who have spoken against asemic as a valid form also have had somewhat narrow or overly precise ideas about what constitutes visual poetry, at least compared to what mine have been and what I understood in being introduced to the vispo form by Crag Hill in the 80s.


2. Asemic texts appeared often here and there over the course of the 20th century. Then, at the very beginning of the 21st, it seemed that a consistent part of artists/writers, all over the world, started focusing on it. It isn't the occasional appearance of asemics in a wider context of art, but it seems now a specific practice or current. Do you agree?

I would agree. Asemic works in the 20th century were usually dubbed that after the fact, don’t you think? I’m not saying this sort of attribution is necessarily invalid, just that this is another way everthing associated with the asemic term is slippery and open to question.


3. Some authors think it can be said that something like an actual asemic “movement” is rapidly (or slowly?) growing. Do you think so? Or do you think there’s simply a wide constellation of different individuals, far from being defined a movement?

I would say the latter, but only because of how this question is worded. My view and knowledge of art history tells me that movements can come about in many different ways. It is possible that “a wide constellation of different individuals” could constitute a movement, but if so, the asemic movement does lack aesthetic or critical underpinning at this stage. Which also could be OK, but not in the long run. Eventually there must be more significant critical underpinning. This could take any number of forms (which would certainly include surveys like this one and other interviews, such as those appearing in Michael Jacobson’s asemic book recently released in paperback).


4. Anthologies, exhibits and web pages collect very different kinds of asemic works. Some of them resemble scribbles and calligraphy, so they fit the definition of “writing”. Others do not, since they include recognizable letters and symbols, or abstract art. Do you think asemics can include these areas or not?

I definitely believe asemic writing or art includes more than handmade scribbles or calligraphy. In fact, most of my asemic work is also a form of digital art created on a computer. But that doesn’t mean “anything goes.” I don’t share the view of Jim Leftwich, that you might as well use the term pansemic, and then include anything and everything that might possibly be viewed as having some sort of symbolic or other type of meaning. I must however mention that regular participation in the Facebook asemic group makes me think that anything almost does go for some. Or put another way, the consensual boundary separating work called asemic from any or all abstract art is a bit too porous for my taste. For example, I don’t believe most geometric art is also asemic. Also I don’t believe the possibility of discerning marks or patterns in photos is all it takes to make such photos asemic.

*  I would like to append one note to the above: I am not against development or use of different terms, for this or any art that might be forging new territory. To be honest, I think some confusion and controversy surrounding asemic art is caused by taking the term itself too seriously. I can imagine doing the same thing Jim Leftwich has done, and devise a new term or terms (metasemic? parasemic?) for the the work called asemic that I have done. By themselves these are just labels, perhaps useful, at times even necessary, but it still must be said that no single term or phrase, for any category of art, should be taken as much more than reductive, expedient shorthand.


thanks to Spencer Selby ||

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