Endless Variation: Asemic Glyphs and the Intimation of Infinity

asemic glyphs

Inscrutable Glyphs of Mysterious Power: Primer in Gold by Scott Ross

The uniqueness of asemic writing is its ability to give specific impressions – to transmit meanings, concepts, and abstract notions through word-like characters. Semantically meaningless in essence but suggestive of meaning through its similarity to an actual writing system, these characters become open to a diversity of interpretations and imaginings. And as an art form, and outside the bounds and strictures of a true writing system, asemic writing can create impressions in ways that actual languages cannot. 

I’ve been experimenting with creating asemic glyphs recently: characters that resemble hieroglyphs, logograms, ideograms, pictograms, or sigils than letters. (These are all types of representative symbols; they represent words or phrases, except sigils, which are a type of symbol with a mystical or magical meaning and used in occult ritual practices.) I recently came up with 20 glyphs that, unintentionally, rely on variations of some basic shapes and patterns (see below). These modifications refer to shapes or parts of shapes repositioned, enlarged, or shrunk. If these asemic glyphs belonged to a language, I would call that language Kayan because, again unintentionally, I find the characters resemble a mix of Mayan hieroglyphs and Kanji logograms.

asemic glyphs

Some asemic glyphs I created.

While I created only 20 characters, the fact that each one is based on the variation of a limited set of shapes and patterns made me wonder whether an infinite number could be created. Is an infinitely variable asemic script possible? I don’t know for certain if my asemic script, or any such script, can be modified ad infintium, but it may nonetheless give that impression. Thus, asemic writing can give an intimation of infinity. There are many such artworks – of various styles, mediums, and time periods – that project such an intimation, including the work of M.C. Escher (see this article on the mathematical nature of many of his pieces) and, more contemporaneously, Benjamin Sack (see my article on his work). 

Digital fractal artwork also impresses strongly on us the notion of infinity since fractals, mathematically, have a finite area but infinite detail and depth. Computer-generated fractals contain the same pattern repeated at different scales, so you can zoom into them forever. Fractal artwork as still images (rather than animations) cannot be zoomed into forever, of course, but the sense of infinity is still undoubtedly present because you can imagine there being no end to the patterns.

However, the intimation of infinity achieved through asemic glyphs is different since it gives an impression of endlessness through variation rather than detail or depth. The notion of infinity is communicated through the idea of sequential foreverness (the sequence will never end), not detailed foreverness (the zooming-in will never end). It would be interesting if, algorithmically, variations on asemic glyphs could be computer-generated, creating a sequence that never ends, with new characters continually added, with the size of each character shrinking as more and more rows of characters are added into the same finite area, so that what can be seen as an expanding collection of distinct symbols eventually blurs into mere dots. The result, then, would be like a secret language secretly hidden, uncovered only by zooming in on the dotted surface. 

A similar effect could be achieved by creating a still image of this process, but only far enough that when viewed at a distance you see only dots, or non-word-like shapes, which upon closer examination reveal symbols. This idea of hiding an asemic script through scale or viewing distance can lend itself to the sense of the esoteric, something which is an aim, or at least an effect, of many asemic works of art

One could also imagine an algorithmically-, computer-generated complex asemic glyph, made up of the same distinct glyph at different scales. The resulting creation would be the meeting of asemia and fractal artwork: asemic writing, fractalised. Or you might picture something like fractal spiral arms made up of an infinitely variable asemic script. This, then, would combine the endlessness of depth with the endlessness of variation, thereby creating a single piece of artwork that intimates infinity in two different ways. This synthesis would, I think, lead to some novel and mesmerising artworks not yet seen in both the world of fractal artwork and asemic writing.

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