ASEMICS 16 GREATEST HITS (Vol. 1): Guido Vermeulen (Belgium), Roberto (Puerto Rico), Laura P (USA)

Mail-art by IUOMA member Guido Vermeulen (Brussels, Belgium) - excerpt from the Asemics 16 collaborative book project

December 6, 2011 - The global and epic Asemics 16 Project, headquartered at the IUOMA, closed last month. This mail-art effort that began in May (2011) generated some impressive numbers: Approximately 70 artists produced a staggering 640+ pages of new, fascinating and innovative asemics that are still finding their way into collections, libraries, archives and galleries, not to mention a strong ether presence on blogs and websites. 

Very few bloggers were successful at documenting the entire project. I gave up all hope after the third of five editions. To compensate and share my total wonder with the work produced, I want to blog - as time permits - some favorite pages from chapters in the fourth and fifth editions. Project Co-coordinator Cheryl Penn (South Africa) considers the later editions to be more experimental. Reviewing them now, I agree.

The excerpt above is from Guido Vermeulen's chapter contribution to Edition #5: Asemic Syntax. A fine poet and intellect as well as an artist, I think Guido approached the topic by exploring the the signifyer-signified duality of the sign (as in structural linguistics). In short, he pairs letters with those beautiful (stamped?) images, then arranges them in a larger pattern (syntax). From another perspective, I think he has constructed a code that has no solution, a structure devoid of content, still suggestive of language, that would satisfy the requirements of an asemic syntax. I wonder if any of these ideas passed through his mind?

I also note that another artist and visual poet from Belgium, Thierry Tillier, has made this same exploration of the foundational structure of the sign a center of his most impressive work. Guido has a tremendous blog that should not be missed:

Roberto (aka Roberto Rios aka Piro) became part of the core that kept the Asemics 16 Project moving and evolving through five editions. Roberto helped keep communications flowing smoothly, especially posting and commenting on chapter drafts. Perhaps even more important to the project, he was not afraid to experiment. He pursued a number of different directions. As a result, he produced innovative work that I believe had an impact on the other artists. He definitely gave me ideas and inspiration. This was a huge part of Asemics 16: collaborating, learning, and growing with other artists. Here are two of my favorite pages from Roberto's chapter in the fourth edition:

Mail-art by IUOMA member Roberto (Humacao, Puerto Rico)

Roberto wrote a dedication in the chapter: "Homenage to the Taino Indians of Boriquen." Given my own interest in Native Americans, I found this deeply moving, especially as I appreciated his achievements in the chapter.

Some of my personal favorites in Asemics 16 were works by artists who used asemics as a route to bypass centuries of culture and return to the archaic (about 14,000 BC?) - especially the primal roots of language and expression. This is, perhaps, the ultimate deconstruction - hopefully not Romanticized - to rediscover and renew humanity, not simply to recycle and reinterpret symbols but also to create them, to find their sources. I find traces and possibilities of all of this in Roberto's work; it was a great joy working with him. He, too, has a great blog where you can stay connected with his work and his correspondence with friends:

I am thrilled to have received Laura P's (aka Laura Podob) contribution to Asemics 16 - Edition #4. I think this is wonderful work. It reminds me of the early assemblage pieces by Karen Champlin (Illinois, USA). Laura's work is language and symbol-based, yet she adds depth by incorporating nontraditional material, such as the screen (that serves a presence/absence function with the large black dot). The composition is primarily formalist. Some tremendous overlaying on the right:

Mail-art by IUOMA member Laura P (Farmington, Michigan, USA)

The part I completely adore about this chapter is Laura's use of what seems to be repetitive and over-struck typewriter letters. Regardless of the mode of production, this provides a great reference to the achievements concrete poetry while at the same time producing asemic symbols. Simultaneously she includes ripped page fragments that can function as a kind of Burroughsian cut-up text. They're interesting to read. Here is the center section of Laura P's chapter:

Given that asemic writing and visual poetry are essentially literary modes, it's remarkable you don't see traditional literature integrated with these forms more often. Laura does it very literally here, using the older text as a material overlay on the concrete asemics. What I find interesting is that when I spent some time with this, I discovered it could be read in different ways, rotated in different directions. The cut-ups yield interesting results in this case. There are some very interesting asemic shapes in places where the two texts meet. This would appear to be a text that is meant to be read rather than an image constructed from scraps of language, if the distinction I have made is at all plausible. Regardless, I deeply appreciate this fascinating work from Laura P.

And again, many thanks to all who participated in Asemics 16.


What happens when the sleeves run out?

Elvis = Latin form of Elves. SB has proof he lives.

Hurple Paze, Jimi. I said half. Your shoe? Pray it's ketchup.

Girl Scout cookies. Or Atticus. R crumbs

N - Ray says he can't do a damned thing about it. Wrap them in newspaper

Eelvess - less eve - vessel

B - I told you to keep feeding them.  Now you face the consequences of your instability.

Message to Tulsa - looks like rain in the basement

J - don't forget to pull the rip chord. 

Pretend you are interested

That's your pinky in the chili

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Comment by Svenja Wahl on December 10, 2011 at 9:55am

DVS, your defense means a lot to me!!!

Comment by De Villo Sloan on December 9, 2011 at 11:32pm

Hi Svenja, I am sorry I had to be the one to tell you the whole sordid tale  about why you came to be called a cougar. Trust me, another protest letter will soon be on its way to the DKULT on your behalf. I would recommend: Don't be angry at DK. Lately, she has been acting strangely. We need to be here to help and support her. 

Comment by Svenja Wahl on December 9, 2011 at 7:03am

Y-y-y-y-y-e-s p--p-p-p-p-l-l-l-lease (shattering theeth)

Comment by De Villo Sloan on December 9, 2011 at 3:05am

ban the d-kougar performance! where is dk? where is kdj? they must release the sweet Svenja from the D-Kougars!

Comment by De Villo Sloan on December 8, 2011 at 6:55pm

Roberto, your chapter gave me the occasion to revisit Taino art and artifacts on the web. What an amazing culture that brought together so many different influences from the Caribbean and South America. 

Of course I understand this is a people who were at the epicenter of European colonialism and had to suffer and endure horrors perhaps even worse than others. That only makes your homage more significant.

Archaeologists have spent decades trying to reconstruct the trade routes of prehistoric times in the Americas. The north-south routes have been particularly difficult to trace. The influences are apparent but evidence and proof have been more difficult. There was some excitement in the field when they established a clear Taino presence in the US - I gather it was probably in Florida.

I think of trade routes because mail-art has its own clear "trade routes" going back in time, some withering away (not that many) and others appearing. It's very much a traffic in cultural influence and synthesis.

Thanks again.

Comment by Nancy Bell Scott on December 8, 2011 at 3:41pm

That needs posting in the David Stafford buck teeth thread also, Svenja.

Comment by De Villo Sloan on December 8, 2011 at 2:26pm

hare lip

Comment by De Villo Sloan on December 8, 2011 at 2:22pm

She looks a little long in the tooth. 

Comment by Svenja Wahl on December 8, 2011 at 7:12am

I TOLD you!!!

Comment by De Villo Sloan on December 8, 2011 at 3:01am

For all friends who were involved in Asemics 16 discussions and documentation, Guido Vermeulen sent me a note that provides some interesting background on his chapter that I want to share with you with his kind permission:


Received your asemics 5. Thanks. As to my intentions: it was to create a visual language that was readable if you had the key. So each letter of the alphabet became a visual image.

When you know which visual image stands for which letter you can read it as a real text or poem. That’s why I added in pencil the letters next to the visual images used.

So this is more a return to some origins of visual poetry or how in certain cultures people have used visual images as language (Egypt for instance).

When I did a presentation years ago on Vispo, a few older artists were present who had been involved in the underground resistance against Nazism, and they told me that some resistance groups had invented a similar visual language to communicate between them, so nazi occupiers could not understand the messages when intercepted. This was done in Latin America too!

Another great example of "secret" communication exists in some remote mountain villages in Turkey. There, people use bird sounds to communicate, as when two lovers want a secret rendezvous: They use certain bird sounds, and so on. I saw a splendid documentary on French TV also years ago and wrote several poems on these issues, published in a book in 1992.


(end Guido's text)

I appreciate this added material. When Cheryl and I chose the "Asemic Syntax" concept, it was not without serious deliberation. (Asemic Fiction was an alternative option.) I recall Guido was one of the first to write a comment about the challenge, perhaps the contradiction, of attempting "Asemic Syntax."

The artists took many approaches, but an important one was to dig into the relationship between word/image, linguistic/ visual structures and very likely the realm of codes. It goes beyond asemics to a larger interrogation of the nature of language. Guido is clearly on the front line of this approach. It's a wonderful contribution to the project and provides depth and breadth. 

My interpretation was a bit different, and it's also a glimpse into the intricate world of reader response.



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