lisa kokin asemic writing piece stitching

Asemic Writing: The Coolest Writing You Can’t Read

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I learned about asemic writing a few years ago, and it immediately reminded me of kids trying to write before they actually learned how. They madly scribble across the paper after seeing their parent write, and they want to be able to do that, too.

I think they pick up on the energy quickly pouring out of the human onto the page, and it fascinates them. I can imagine how the instant switch from calm, in-charge adult to someone frantically scribbling all over a piece of paper must peak their interest, while the adult thinks nothing of it, since that sudden switch in energy feels normal to them.

So What is Asemic Writing?

Asemic writing is a sort of abstracted text that more conveys ideas visually rather than actually saying anything. Basically it’s writing – usually with aesthetically-pleasing lines, that doesn’t use actual words.

Hmm, I tried to define asemic writing before I even looked it up. Maybe the actual definition from the Cambridge Dictionary will help:

Using lines and symbols that look like writing, but do not have any meaning: Asemic writing is left to the reader to interpret, almost like the way in which one would deduce meaning from abstract art.

  • The key to asemic writing is that even though it is traditionally “unreadable” it still maintains a strong attractive appeal to the reader’s eye.
  • In its most extreme form, this can lead to concrete poetry or asemic writing.
  • An asemic text is international, and may be “read” in a similar fashion regardless of the reader’s natural language.
  • With the non specificity of asemic writing there comes a vacuum of meaning which is left for the reader to fill in and interpret.

History of Asemic Writing

It wasn’t called this, but some form of asemic writing dates back to 800 CE! Two of the most revered calligraphers in China also tended toward bouts of illegible writing, usually after drinkin’.

‘Crazy’ Zhang Xu was a famous calligrapher from the Tang Dynasty. Zhang would use his hair as a calligraphy brush in his uninhibited state. He is probably one of the first to be recognized for asemic writing, along with “drunk” monk Huaisu.

Calligraphy by 'crazy' Zhang Xu, a Tang Dynasty calligrapher - supposedly the beginning of asemic writing
by Zhang Xu: source

The 20th century saw a pickup in interest in asemic writing, with artists like Cy Twombly and Henri Michaux experimenting with word-like marks in their artwork.

twombly Untitled 1970
Cy Twombly, Untitled 1970 | source
mark tobey painting Mark Tobey, Escape from Static, 1968 - the beginnings of asemic art, asemic writing
Mark Tobey, Escape from Static, 1968 © Jeanne Bucher Jaeger

Contemporary Asemic Writing

Currently asemic writing is popular with many artists who have embraced it and taken it in all sorts of iterations.

Cecil Touchon

I super love Cecil Touchon’s work, and he has been practicing asemic writing for decades.

asemic art writing cecil touchon

Eyckmund Oog

asemic writing - artwork by Eyckmund Oog

2 examples by Eyckmund Oog – I only found his Instagram feed, but it is so worth perusing.

Genaro Barba

asemic writing genaro barba
Genaro Barba

Mirtha Dermisache

asemic writing 1974 mirtha dermisache
Mirtha Dermisache 1974

Tim Buc Moore

tim buc moore asemic writing art
Tim Buc Moore

Rachel Smith

rachel smith asemic art writing
Rachel Smith

Lisa Kokin

I also super super love Lisa Kokin’s work, and her asemic pieces are gasp-worthy. Scroll down to see her asemic stitching, and you can see a previous post where I featured her work here.

lisa kokin asemic metal art writing
Lisa Kokin

These pieces may or may not be included in her upcoming book: Promise the Infinite: Drawing out Babel. A growing (potentially infinite) collection of ‘drawings’ constrained by the first page of the Borges story The Library of Babel.

Michael Jacobson has maintained an online gallery of asemic art since 2008! Scrolling through will give you a good idea of how people have stretched the concept of asemic creations. A few of my favorites are below.

Blank 1000 x 1500 1
Carla Wilson | Chris Venables
Blank 1000 x 1500 3
Enzo Patti | Johannes S. H. Bjerg
Federico Federici asemic
Federico Federici

Asemic Stitching

Oh, yes. Let’s look at some asemic stitching. I love stitching for its ability to look like unfussy handwriting.

As promised, here is one of Lisa Kokin’s asemic stitching pieces. Just look at that wild energy that comes through in the thread. Honestly, I feel like this conveys the energy of impassioned writing more than some of the asemic work in ink.

lisa kokin asemic stitching art
Lisa Kokin

And there is Rieko Koga, whom I wrote about previously here. While asemic stitching seems to be just one aspect of her work (which includes magical installations and legible stitching), I’m really drawn to these pieces.

rieko koga asemic stitching art
Rieko Koga

Go Ahead and Try it

Looks fun, right? If you haven’t yet tried asemic writing, get ready for a whole new adventure in art-making. It is gratifying. There’s something freeing about your hand moving across the page, with either zero intention of meaning, or ALL the emotion and meaning you are feeling pouring onto the page.

It can be purely aesthetic, or a way to sort of secretly art journal. We know there are proven mental health benefits to journaling, and maybe asemic writing can be used as a very art therapy way of journaling.


Asemic Online

Asemic subreddit – very fun to scroll.

The New Post-literate: A Gallery Of Asemic Writing

Cecil Touchon’s magazine on asemic writing: Asemics Magazine “Reports from that wordless territory beyond the borders of language”

Michael Jacobson on Asemic Writing – an article on Asymptote

Christopher Skinner writes of creating an asemic font from his handwriting.

A really fun automatic asemic writing generator by Madhav Kumar! (When the page opens, just start typing.) I wrote something along the lines of, my face is having fun and I want to eat tofu rolls, because I couldn’t think of what to write. Isn’t it pretty?!

Screen Shot 2022 01 08 at 9.48.02 AM

Books on Asemic Writing

Federico Federici’s book (see his work above), Transcripts From Demagnetized Tapes, Vol.

An Anthology of Asemic Handwriting by Michael Jacobson

Cecil Touchon’s Asemic Reader

Asemic: The Art of Writing Peter Schwenger

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