Ontological Asemic: In what new language shall we meet?
by Lucinda Sherlock
Ontology – relating to or based upon being or existence.
Asemic writing is a wordless open semantic form of writing. The word asemic means “having no specific semantic content”. With the non-specificity of asemic writing there comes a vacuum of meaning which is left for the reader to fill in and interpret. The open nature of asemic works allows for meaning to occur trans-linguistically; an asemic text may be “read” in a similar fashion regardless of the reader’s natural language. Multiple meanings for the same symbolism are another possibility for an asemic work.
Children need good teachers to help them integrate facts and situations to develop both their sense of being and identity. As adults we often find ourselves in the same scenario, thinking and questioning how different topics intersect and interact with each other. In my world, and for others too, place, narrative, art, dance, music and story, aesthetics, culture, theology, politics, philosophy and world history – intersect and interact in both seen and unseen ways. They make up who we are, whether knowingly or unconsciously.
Many decisions also impact on personal formation, some we make ourselves, others are made for us. There needs to be a conscious attempt to shift our thinking away from the immediacy of our situation to allow people to develop and sharpen real critical skills. What is happening in the real world is a loss of dialectic clarity among those who should be the salt and light. Many now consider the arts as degenerate and dead, and very little, if anything is to be gained from it’s post-mortem. Apparently, more is to be gained by shifting the focus of action to other spheres. A whole lot of things in the post neo-liberalism secular world are in decline and changing rapidly and it is important for us all to think on our feet. Brexit, Trump and Hanson are part of the madness.
My art is who I am in this chaos. It is my narrative and my sense of place. It is my grounding and being. I was born just over 40 years ago in Perth Western Australian. My biological parents where from the Northern Territory, its capital is Darwin. The harbour was discovered in 1839 by the Captain of the Beagle, John Stokes, who named it after a former shipmate, British evolutionist Charles Darwin. This is pretty ironic, when you consider the impact his theories had on the First Peoples of Australia, and on me. The Australian nation was established in 1901, when all the different colonies joined under one constitution to form a national government. One of this new nation’s first policies was the White Australia Policy; its intent was to keep Australia white. But this created an immediate dichotomy and tension for the people who were here first. Who were non white. They were not seen as citizens with equal rights, rather in this new nation’s founding document they were classified in a category with flora and fauna. This immediately created two classes of people, the included and the excluded.
This is my world, my cosmology and a part of my being.
I was born of a white mother and a black father. I had an immediate duality. Where did I belong? My white family did not want me and my black family did not know of my existence.
I was adopted out to a non Aboriginal family in Western Australia, the country of the Whadjuk people of the Noongar nation. I now know my biological father, a proud Larrakia man. I also know that his old mother, my grandmother would have taken me in and raised me up as one of her own, if she had known of my existence.
Nonetheless, my identity has always felt like one of brokenness and non-belonging.
This is my being and narrative, how in all of what that was, do I find myself, my story and my sense of place? I grew up in a loving family with four older brothers and two beautiful parents, who accepted me as equal and cherished me. But this is not my whole narrative. I wanted wholeness.
After finishing high school, I returned to Darwin and completed a university degree in fine arts. During the five years I was there I reconnected with my country and my Larrakia family. I began to find my roots and re-define my sense of self. I was beginning a lifelong journey of gaining meaning and clarity. A journey of discovery.
This informs my art. I am constantly, re-inventing, re-writing and re-defining. Complexity of meaning, duality within – Everything and Nothing; Unity and Diversity.
Text has always intrigued me, my adopted family was a household of books, books and more books; especially the big book. My Larrakia culture is an unwritten, oral culture; but it is still narrative, story, dance and art. It is still text, culture is textual. Text to be invented. Text as images and fonts to be manipulated. Text as language to be read, stories told, songs sung. Text to be un-read. Text is narrative, text is culture. Culture is text. Text as symbol.
But what is the history of the context. Where do I fit? Where does my art fit?
Many years ago I heard the statement: “In what new language shall we meet?” It opened my mind to the possibility that I could find a way to communicate with others; to find my sense of being, to begin my journey, to find my narrative. This is not in isolation, I have Aboriginal cultural rights. I am a proud Larrakia woman. I have permission and I have the knowing, the knowledge of who. I have identity.
People also ask about technique and influences. I am trained in the Western tradition. My key influences are: Mondrian – lines, Rothko – edges – both hard and soft, Abstraction – in its various forms, Malavich – black square (everything and nothing), along with Japanese ink drawing and printmaking. I also follow artists who work with English as a second language; this includes the artists of the Larrakia Nation and other Australian First Peoples.
My story, my narrative. My text. My synchronicity.
I prepare my work by writing and visualizing. Considering my non verbal cosmology. But the question arises is it nonsensical to others? It gives me connectivity, but in reality am I connected or disconnected?
I start with text, text as narrative. Text as words, words are mark making. Text as sense feeling, text as thoughts, text as attitude. My narrative is my ontological existence. Visual versus verbal – both and/or more?
People ask me how I started asemic writing. What was my introduction to Asemic writing? I first found a Facebook page of Asemic writing. “Too funny” I thought initially: then I was challenged by a deeper thought of how it could provide connectivity and place. A context for belonging.
Twenty years after completing my degree, my art was a bit lost, I was making art, but the meaning was still elusive. Asemic Writing has given me direction and focus as well as style. So being adopted, Salt Water Woman, sense of place, language, verbal non verbal all gained context and my art had momentum, rhythm and meaning. Story lines became clearer, with traditional culture being a critical part of a process that culture is alive, moving and developing.
Culture is not stagnant. I discovered a voice, I could speak. I have something to communicate, my story comes to the viewer as bold sub-title. The duality of my existence is alive in my work. Is that universalism? I do not know; but, I know who I am.
Text in print making, narrative in mark making, meaning in lines, and rhythm in stitches. There are many contrasts, this is the narrative that guides my work and tells the story. My ontology. My cosmology. The format I commenced predominantly with books; this gave structure. Musty old books brought to life and told in new ways. I knew about visual diary, I have worked in that format since high school.
Books are the holder of history; both English and Continental. Old texts; from ancient and medieval religions. Historical art is a narrative, a discourse: I had structure and strength in that layout. I had a context for traditional Aboriginal art and images, for the story telling of an oral tradition. Culture and music dance across the pages. And a longing.
My images have many layers; there is depth and meaning in this multiple layers. It is never just one picture – pictures and photos, stitching and lines, ink and paint always point to justice to the process of meaning and engagement. The processes and techniques: the inks, thread, paint, pens, paper, old books, cutting out, washes, blocking out, erasing, gluing over, slicing, dicing and stitching together tell the story of my journey from exclusion to inclusion.
Re-writing and layering reinventing and clarifying thoughts. These works are my story, my observations and my commentary on the world around me. I use journals, visual diaries. This is my practice, my tradition. It is my methodology of documenting processes, a story book. It is my non verbal equivalent to the verbal. It is my telling.