Special Feature: Beyond the Wall - A Visual Writing Exhibit

the mirror
oblivion holds
wearing the mask
of infinity
-Karl Kempton

As a form of language art, “visual writing,” is more than merely a static design of letters, punctuation marks, typographical symbols. With the multiplicity and diversity of both writing and painting, visual writing probes into the significant traits and character of language itself—the interaction of society and language in ways that illuminates the role of language and language values in maintaining and enhancing society. Visual writing is a primarily non-objective art in which an assortment of realities, particularly those associated with language, represent, in a conceptual collage-like manner, the broad movement and model interworkings of global infrastructure. In visual writing, language fragments symbolize thought, interaction, contradiction, people, community, conceptuality, economies, ecologies, law, morality, civilization. Sometimes this occurs using letters, words, maps, scrolls; sometimes natural or unusual processes form patterns similar to texts and cursive markings. Roland Barthes describes language as a “social contract.” In the artworks of Agnes Martin, the referential minimalist system of language—signifier/signified—becomes not only the discourse of politics and progress—and their linguistic appearance—but of the non-linear pattern that is the source of the rarest heights of sense, motivation, exploration and connection—poetry, beauty—the “infinite idea.” Thus, language becomes a fundamental logos, a telos, a philosophical perspective. Without language, society cannot function, and civilization cannot continually rediscover and redefine itself. Language propagates diversity. Difference is a condition of thought. Ambiguity—the unknown—creates consciousness and responsibility. In portraying all of these aspects of language affecting productivity and progress, visual writing gains credibility as a “new art form.”

In a manner analogous with Creation itself, “visual writing” evolved from the chaos of previous experimental avant-garde art movements. Visual writing remains associated with its more elusive sibling, Asemic Writing: whereas Asemic writing seems to be in search of new languages and sets of signs, such as computer programs; visual writing is intent on examining the basic workings of structural phenomena—commercialism, amnesia, desecration, exclusion, vertigo, pollution, paranoia, stagnation, repression, obstruction. Visual writing is very intertwined with the ideas of environmentalism (pollution, preservation) and “Climate Change.”* What distinguishes visual writing as innovative is the poetic transformation of linguistic modalities into movement and new creativity. As Derrida writes of Antonin Artaud’s “pictograms”: “the motion of the motif assures the synergy of the visible and the invisible.” Or, again, “a proto-writing upon which we project all the myths of origin.”

Note: The titles of artworks in the exhibit are mine for the illustrative purposes of this particular exhibit. – Tom Hibbard