Critical Analysis

                                 W H E N ( i ) S T A N D F O R T H E W(H O L E)                                     written by PASCALINE JESSICA KNIGHT A thesis exhibition presented to OCAD University in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Fine Arts April 2017 – Drawing /writing pg 28-34


Over the past few months I began on a course of study and research into descriptions of sound in images for editorial and reportage illustration. I wanted to look into alternatives to written notes on images as other reportage illustrators have a tendency to do, so that an image might have a broader audience, crossing the boundaries of language to make it more inclusive. During my research I was guided to look at forms of ‘illegible writing’ or ‘asemic writing’. Reading the thesis written by Pascaline Jessica Knight, she discussed her influences for her ‘audio visual installation tracing the resonance between and the normative power of language’, with mentions of translanguaging and asemic writing.


Illegible writing or asemic writing is a form of communication where no words are used. It is a form of controlled scribbling and we have all at some point in our lives made asemic writing, it usually is during childhood, before we understand the forming of letters, but even as you chat on the phone and absentmindedly doodle on the back of an envelope or try out a new pen for the first time. Asemic writing has been developed into a controlled form by some. There is a huge community of asemic writing enthusiasts, a world I know nothing about until a short while ago.


The section of the text written by Pascaline Jessica Knight which I have interest in is the drawing/writing chapter. She discusses how the structure of a specific type of school exercise book, namely “standard ruled 7mm 8 ¼”x10 ¾” cahier Canada school exercise books/cahiers d’exercices” creates or causes discipline in writing. Which leads her to make use of ‘asemic writing’ to validate her point, and in doing so makes mention of the work of Mirtha Dermisache.  As a result I chose to take a closer look at the work of Mirtha Dermisache, an Argentinian visual artist who produced vast volumes of asemic writings, her work is exhibited and held in galleries and archives internationally, she has produced visual writings in book form, letters, texts and postcards. On pg 8 of her thesis Pascaline Jessica Knight makes reference to Roland Barthes, a French literary theorist, philosopher, linguist, critic, and semiotician, described her work as the “essence of writing” in 1971, it seems this acknowledgement of her work is what brought confidence in Mirtha Dermisache as a credible ‘writer’.

There is a marked development in Mirtha Dermisaches work between the 1960’s when she completed her studies at the National Fine Arts Schools Manuel Belgrano and Prilidiano Pueyrredón and 1970’s when her work was considered “writing”. It was then that she began organising the work into structured formats and she gained appreciation from art critics such as the very influential Argentinian Jorge Aníbal Romero Brest.

Diario No.1 Ano 1- 1972, Chinese ink and marker on paper is a piece which is laid out in a newspaper editorial structure. On first glance you see headlines and text but with closer inspection you realise the ‘writing’ is not writing. The viewer becomes completely engaged in the page, to all intents and purposes it really looks like a censored newspaper, and you as the viewer make efforts to read the illegible text, hoping to make some understanding of it.

The question should be asked, what is the point artistically in making ‘illegible writing’? Does it have meaning, reason or place in the art or illustration world? I believe during the period of time that Mirtha Dermisaches and the oppressive society she worked in, the this was a way of speaking out, creating an unidentifiable language of free speech.  At the time Diario No.1 Ano 1 was ‘written’ it was one of the darkest periods of Argentinian political and social history and censorship was a tool of the ‘Dirty war’ of the Junta, newspapers were shut down, journalists were murdered and publications were censored. . As the decades progressed through the 70’s when her work was readily recognised as a form of writing. She began creating more wistful forms, with smooth swoops and thick ink marks, the ‘writing’ became more calligraphic in style. The books she made her writings in were very obviously a decision to produce a book of writing. She worked neat graphical pieces in leather bound, heavyweight paper and usually in ink. This is the period of her work that is most appealing to me. It carries more of a story to my mind, with moments of tension through the ‘sentences’ by use of intense scribbles. Using coloured ink and bringing a more experimental feel to her texts, but still retaining a structure of sentences. The 1980’s were a decade without producing art but when she focused on pedagogical work , experimenting and exhibiting.

When she began exhibiting there was a particular emphasis by Mirtha Dermisaches that no notes of explanation or titles should be attached to reference the work, as the artist insists the texts should have “total autonomy” to be interpreted.

The 1990’s saw the return to production for Mirtha Dermisaches, a adaptation in style is obvious due to a change in how her work was accessed. She began making public readings and as a result the graphic style made a change because of a marked use of different materials, such as charcoals and conte, and different publishing techniques. The decade of experimenting was not lost and she did not forget her successful beginnings of the 70’s, during the 1990’s she made a review of her work from that period.

Returning to Pascaline Jessica Knight, I enjoyed her description of her experience as a left-handed child struggling with the structure of the lined and margined pages of  the Canada school exercise books/cahiers d’exercices, the structure did not work well for me either and possibly the angle with which I needed to position both my arm and the writing surface caused my writing to become quite flamboyant as my style developed, it could almost be described as ‘illegible writing’.


Pascaline Jessica Knight makes a good argument in describing the how the infrastructure of writing is only clear when or if that “infrastructure is broken”. The fact of the matter is there is not true way to interpret asemic writing every person can translate an absolutely correct interpretation. The question is how it appeals as a graphic image but also as a piece of written text. Mirtha Dermisaches is a clear example of this art form, creating graphic sequences in a structured format which alludes to reading but also brings an appreciation of the form, line and application of the medium.


                                   W H E N ( i ) S T A N D F O R T H E W(H O L E)                                     written by PASCALINE JESSICA KNIGHT A thesis exhibition presented to OCAD University in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Fine Arts April 2017 – Drawing/writing pg 28 to 34[online][accessed December 2017]

Fundacion Malba – Mirtha Dermisache – Because I write!  08.10— 10.09.2017 Curator Agustín Pérez Rubio Gallery 3, Level 1 [online]

The Archive of Mirtha Dermisache[online]

Patrick Durgin[online]