Palace of Typographic MasonryPALACE about
(You are using a an older browser that can't show CSS Grids, so things might not look as intended.)

Room: The Asemic Cabinet

Messages from afar

The written word, par excellence the working territory of the typographical mason, allows to transfer meaning beyond the confines of time and space. As typographic expressions, words travel far and wide. So it is that Dirk van Weelden, our fellow tour guide, preached his written column ‘Messages from afar’ during the opening ceremony of this palatial section, The Asemic Cabinet.

Radio telescopes all over the world are capturing electromagnetic radiation from the universe. Astronomers explain that the various types of radiation are a stream of data that can tell us something about the nature and composition of distant stars, planets and solar systems. But in the vast amount of recorded data, much is unknown and of misunderstood origin, and so there are those who suspect that close study of that misunderstood noise may well yield messages of intelligent extraterrestrial life. All over the world, computers are calculating to recognise patterns in the primordial soup of data collected by radio telescopes. For decades, the SETI organisation (Search Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) has dedicated itself to that task. So far in vain.

Ever since humans started writing (encoding language in symbolic characters), they have thought that everything, including nature is something to be read. Including radio noise from the universe. It is a primal form of human attention: looking at something and trying to convert it into information. Hoping to discern a message in it. It is an exciting way to capture something from the unknown.

Richard Niessen is building this Palace of Typographic Masonry in which he collects all aspects of shaping symbolic human information. From scripts through emblems, symbols, and models, grids and diagrams to cosmological models and alchemical systems. The typographic mason is the eternally questing and learning searcher for the soul of the Profession, which can be described as the complex secret of shaping messages in such a way that they radiate warmth and light, transmit the wonder of the free human spirit.

Here he presents a number of shards that orginate in the Asemic Cabinet, and that is, from the section of the Palace where examples are kept of images that come from the borderland between drawing and script, between letter and scribble, between language and the unknown.

Look closely to discover how many different forms there are of writings and images composed of signs whose symbolic nature is uncertain or unknown. There are parades of tiny creatures among them, twisting and turning to resemble new letters. But there are also sheets of maniacal scratches that seem to refer to bodies so excited that mind and hands had lost all meaningful contact. There are clouds of dashing near-signs and stacked blocks containing cells in which moving lines are held captive. Some sheets suggest incomprehensible but extremely meticulous planning, but there are others, on which the one who wielded the brush or pen must have been a will-less conduit of visions and dreams. In some you might think of priestly writings from vanished civilisations, in others of adventurous attempts to invent their own alphabet or the products of madmen. Are these the true draughtsmen? Or the true poets, bringing closer the ineffable depths behind language?

Those who view these images, erected from near-signs, find themselves at the frontier where the unknown is interrogated by us: is it recognizable, is it an abstract, is it an accident, is it a letter or symbol or is it something else again? These works from the Asemic Cabinet are the traces of poachings in that borderland. They play on old desires and fears. You can see in them the dreams of a secret language of one's own, or think they are gestures with which people conjure the abyss in failing communication, or, on the contrary, the fear of the life-threatening unknown and other. It is also sometimes as if the makers are sending unintelligible cries of distress from a heartbreaking loneliness. Many of them seem to stem from the desire to be able to do magic, so that we witness a shamanic ritual for a tribe with only one member.

But there is always the primal force of the playing mind, the raw childlike energy, which looks in wonder at the marks left by its own hand. And which feeds its wonderment back to the moving pen, like shouting encouragement to a soloing dancer. All these specimen are examples of the human ability to draw and write in such a way that it becomes a form of active waiting: weaving a net into which a yet unknown language of a yet unknown human species will swim. Wandering between drawing and writing, the creators of these samples explore the foreign languages hidden in our own brains. Their hands resemble those radio telescopes scanning the universe.