Volodymyr Bilyk in conversation with Michael Jacobson

Asemic Writing is having something of a moment right now. Long ignored even in the niche experimental writing community, these days asemic writing is as legitimate artistic practice as it gets.

One of the reasons why things turned out that way is because of the man called Michael Jacobson. Michael is one of the artists who was just doing his own thing only later to find out how impactful it was. Today he is one of the biggest promoters of asemic writing and his outlets The New Post-Literate and Post-Asemic Press are at the vanguard of modern asemic writing.

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VB: What do you think about giving an interview as an artist? Every time i start one i get this “talking about music is like dancing about architecture” thing tingling in my brain. What about you?

MJ: I like giving interviews, as long as they are done through email. I have done a few live interviews and bombed my way through them. Interviews over email allow me to think about my answers in more detail. I’m not a performer or a politician. I don’t have readymade answers in my head. The only way I will do live interviews anymore is if they include beer.

When I’m not being interviewed, I like interviewing other asemic scribes. So far I’ve interviewed Tim Gaze, Rosaire Appel, Marco Giovenale, Jefferson Hansen, and the Voodou artist Charles Jerry. I’d like to interview you too sometime; we can chat about the new edition of your book Codex Abyssus coming out soon. Interviews allow me to express myself in a way that is different but complementary to my asemic writing. Contrary to asemic writing, which is a mysterious illegible form of writing, interviews allow me to express myself autobiographically.

I like dancing with architecture: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dancing_House! Before I became disabled, or a shaman, I used to remodel homes and do painting and carpentry. At one time I even thought about going to school to become an architect. Instead, I created the collective blog Cypherstructure to document my local architecture and other structures around the world — basically anything from a Teepee to skyscrapers to glitched videogame structures: ”Architecture: real or virtual, new or disintegrating.”

VB: By the way — Isn’t it stupid to talk in a Paris Review manner without irony? I mean — every time i talk about it, even if i’m telling the truth it somehow manages to be untrue. Have you ever experienced such feeling?

MJ: The Paris Review is something I should read, but don’t. I get most of my literary fix from Rain Taxi, Gone Lawn, Asymptote Journal, Literary Hub, Zoomoozophone Review, 3:AM Magazine, Utsanga, Otoliths, Brave New Word (of course), and random links to literary sites on Facebook. I have a hard enough time keeping up with asemic writing. It’s ironic that with a wordless or illegible style of writing like asemic writing, you end up having to use words copiously to assist with explaining the work, but once explained it’s a concept that people “get” right away. I enjoy discussing asemic writing whether created by myself or other scribes because It gives me something to talk about and helps to sharpen my thoughts about my own work and the work of others.

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VB: Let’s talk about work ethic. You’re a man who spends a lot of time and efforts into his output and that is something not everyone is capable of doing. Is it necessary for the artist to develop some sort of discipline to the creative process?

MJ: Writing, publishing, curating, and making art all keep me busy and sane. If I don’t create, I drift off into negative thoughts and paranoia. My life is all about creating asemics and publishing my work and the creative works of others at The New Post-Literate, Post-Asemic Press, and through my administration of the asemic writing facebook group. Discipline is needed to follow through with completing works till they are conceptually or aesthetically satisfying.

VB: Should it come naturally or it should it be imposed on oneself? What is your case study?

MJ: To me, creativity is about making interesting connections — connecting pen to paper, brush to canvas, ideas to the computer, connecting color to form and space. I like calligraphy that is not stylistically “perfect,” but is alive and honest. Non-conventional abstract calligraphy is what I am into. It is hard to say if it comes “naturally” because most of my recent work is done on computers. Computers = work and play, but the natural universe is now where I rest and recharge. It used to be the other way around for me. But there are always interesting combinations of digital and non-digital art; ultimately hybridity seems to be where asemic writing is headed or is already at, such as in Jefferson Hansen’s book 100 Hybrids, which is a work of poetry combined with asemic writing that I recently published.

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VB: What are the main phases of your creative sessions?

MJ: I try and make or do something at least once a day. If I can’t write or make art, then I read books or waste time on the Internet, or go on bicycle rides, or try and promote Post-Asemic Press titles. My phases vary, some days I feel more like creating science fiction asemics and on other days I study regular poetry, or learn to do conventional calligraphy. I make abstract calligraphy in my own style; I have a way of making asemics, art, and poetry that stems from my very autodidactic education, which is mainly books on the history of writing, everything from graffiti, to proto-writing, illuminated manuscripts, codes, undeciphered scripts, etc.

VB: What do you think about keeping the boundaries, such as X number of pages or pieces per day or session lasting X amount of time?

MJ: My recent work is animated asemic gif pohmz or PΩz, named after Georg Ohm and Om the chant. I try and make something once a day. I have a ton of material inside my brain that I want to get out, and Ello is my studio and the internet is my gallery. I don’t have a set limit. With technology, we are at an interesting time in history where everything seems possible, though I do dread the day when robots will be better at creativity than humans. It’s time to build a spare internet planet, and take better care of our Earth. We are replacing ourselves with tech and dancing with extinction.

VB: Tell me about your work ethic. What is your standard creative session looks like? Are there any rituals involved or some sort of routine?

MJ: I work all the time on art, asemics, pohmz, book publishing, and currently I’m a stay at home dad. With staying home, it allows me time to work on making Post-Asemic Press the most wildly experimental book press in the known galaxy. But soon I plan on going back to work part-time at a regular job, probably painting houses again. I should autograph the houses I paint. I also want to scale back on my creative output and regenerate for a spell, since I am feeling a little burnt out at the moment. My dream gig is to survive off of publishing books.

VB: Do you perform warm-ups or doodling sessions?

MJ: No, I just dive in. One of my goals is to make asemic writing that is illegible but still entertaining.

Sometimes I just like to jam in photoshop till something catches my attention, then I will work on it with effects, sometimes increasing the complexity or conversely breaking the asemics down into simple designs. Other times I will just sketch a simple line on a piece of paper. I don’t like the word “doodle,” It makes me think of pissing macaroni.

VB: What do you think about structuring creative process? Something like — a little warm-up, then a rave-up, then a scourge and rouge and then a little psych out. Is there a possibility to keep the creative process chaotic and unstructured and remain effective in the same time in the long term perspective?

MJ: Chaos & Zen.

VB: What about jumping into the fire and shooting from the hip?

MJ: It has been years since I’ve shot a gun! I prefer a bokken and Aikido. Though I do enjoy living in the Wild West with Cowboys and Native Americans. I’ve been close to the ring of fire many times, and in and out of hell on multiple occasions! Unfortunately, creativity often has its origin in suffering, anxiety, mental stress, and desperation. I quote Charles Bukowski: “The wisest thing to do if you’re living in hell is to make yourself comfortable.” I would also add that making asemic writing is another survival coping activity.

VB: Do you know when and where to stop?

MJ: I stop when the asemic piece I am working on looks cool, or gets an idea out of my head.

VB: What were your creative sessions like back when you started? Was it substantially different?

MJ :In the pre-computer days, I had an art studio and made paintings on canvas, calligraphy on paper, kinetic asemic sculptures, and jugs of homemade wine. I had more money and an actual art studio where I had room to make a mess. It’s not to say what I have now, a computer and a desk, is better or worse, it’s just different. Someday I plan on moving to a farm and take up painting on canvas again, when I am more financially secure, and after my daughters go off to college. I would also like to travel more, maybe have an international asemic scribal convention in Antarctica among the penguins.

VB: Can you spot the dynamics between now and then? — what has changed and what has remained the same?

MJ: As I have grown older, I feel more content with what I have accomplished. I have a better eye for artistic details and find myself to be slightly more patient with my work.

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VB: What is your gear of choice? Do you prefer to keep it simple or need to play with some “toys”? What is your dream set-up?

MJ: Right now I use a desktop computer for creating my gif animations. I wish I had a laptop with a quad core processor. My daughter has one and I use hers every once in a while. I want a quad core processor because my dual core processor is laggy with some of the gifs I make. I can’t view them all at the same time when I view them on ELLO. Recently, I bought some watercolor paper and brushes because I am feeling a bit over extended with computers and the internet; I want to take a break from blogging for a little while and re-engage with meat-space.

VB: Do you take extensive notes on subjects of your works? What is your way of organising them? Is it a part of your practice or do you tend to “shoot from the hip”?

MJ: My notes are a trail of dead gifs that didn’t make the final cut. My computer is full of them and I do need to clean them out and create some more space. Lately, I have been combining binary code with asemic writing and have been getting some interesting results. The computer and my bookshelves are how I organize what I make. It’s funny you say “shoot-from-the-hip,” I used to play a lot of first person shooters like Halo, and my asemic kinetic crown poem The Paranoia Machine was created partially so I could read and play videogames at the same time. But these days I am a videogame pacifist.

VB: What do you think about just sitting down and doing the thing straight away without any preparation?

MJ: No preparation other than a direction to create in. Am I making a planet pohm or a calligraphic asemic piece, a line or a ball? I make art that is futuristic but retro at the same time, using lowtech to document hightech. I can’t afford the latest in computer graphics software, so I make do with whatever tools I have available. In the computer world everything changes so fast and looks outdated almost just as fast, might as well carve a computer out of stone or carrara marble. The graphic quality of my gifs look like they came out of the 1980s pre-Nintendo.

VB: Are there any unconventional creative practices you employ in your work? What are they? (you can make things up)

MJ: When I make asemic writing tools I tend to destroy the pen/pencil/brush in the process and use the damage as a creative means. I’ve also tried to telepathically create art on the computer but no luck so far. Someday I would like to build a green flying flarf-bot poet.

VB: What is your standard operating procedure when everything you do just stops making working? Do you take a break and do something else? Or you have a specific routine that helps you to get back on track?

MJ: When I am not feeling creative, I use my downtime to publish other people’s asemic writing. I mean, if I’m not making anything, I might as well assist someone who is. I started Post-Asemic Press mainly to publish my book Works & Interviews and Spencer Selby’s glitch asemic book Unknown Message. I’ve been in the self-publishing world for a while now, and decided in 2017 to make the leap and start a small press. I started to publish other asemic scribes because I find asemic writing to be an interesting new genre that is still among its origin. I want to be the James Laughlin or Lawrence Ferlinghetti of asemic writing. To me asemic writing is the literary equivalent to snowboarding. I don’t like writing contests but maybe someday asemic calligraphy will become an Olympic sport! Someone could win a gold medal in downhill asemic action writing.

MJ: I gleefully trashed almost all of my early work, most of everything I made before The Giant’s Fence, all of my terrible poems and paintings.

VB: What do you think about Mallarme’s piece on whiteness of paper and utter fear of it? Can it be merely a slight diversion from something else — a thought-provoking wrench designed to be thrown in case of emergency?

MJ: I often start by defacing the page with an asemic line just to get it over with — the white page. Then I work the piece until I find it aesthetically appealing. For The Giant’s Fence, I created the lines of text first with a pencil lightly drawn, then after I was satisfied with the form of the line, I would go back over it with a ballpoint pen. For each line in TGF I spent about a half hour, and at 14 lines per page, each page took 7 hours to create, and at 80 pages, you get 560 hours in the creation spread out over a 2 year period. I used a similar technique in Action Figures. I like that the action figures I make are black, white, and other rainbow colors because their diversity and humor saves me from the hole of pure mental distortion. They are night time asemic graffiti dream spirit hieroglyphic drolleries from the future. Someday I will make a movie with them starring in it.

Writer, translator.

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