Maintenant #65: Marco Giovenale
An interview with Marco Giovenale by SJ Fowler.
There are figures emerging in European poetry that are defined by their refusal to be limited to one form of poetic, who increasingly maintain their central concerns across sound, visual and linguistic mediums. Then within this group, there are those who are breaking new ground, following in the footsteps of poets as agile as Apollinaire and Mallarmé, whose explicit concerns shed new light on what we might consider poetry. Marco Giovenale is one of the most gifted of Europe’s new breed of poets, and a leading practitioner in the field of asemic writing. The remarkable art of asemic text is one of the most enlivening areas of contemporary poetry – a wordless, semantic, post-lingual poetry that utilises the figuration and trace of handwriting and automatic writing to create superimposed abstract poems and ideograms of visual poetry. Drawing influence from postmodern Chinese calligraphy, the work of Brion Gysin, Roland Barthes, Henri Michaux, Christian Dotremont and others, and the field of undecipherable semiotics, asemic poetry is a beautiful and fascinating practise, and Marco Giovenale is one of the most gifted and seminal artists in the field. A prolific journalist, publisher and critic and a respected performer across Europe, we are proud to welcome Marco Giovenale as our first Italian poet into the Maintenant series.
3:AM: How did you begin your work with asemic writing? Was there a practitioner who influenced you especially?
Marco Giovenale: I’m not sure I can actually figure a year or period I can define as the starting point of my asemic activity in general, also because I have also been a (bad) painter and I made a lot of (not so bad) drawings too, in the 90s: some of these ones were abstract charcoal pieces or ink scribbles, my personal prehistoric asemic writing. In fact, I’ve invented the verb “to drawrite” (to draw + to write), to give a name to my activity.
I am also a linear and visual poet, and I’ve been and am deeply interested in the works of several avant-garde artists from the 20th century, first of all the Italian poet and artist Emilio Villa, who was the author of a number of “sibyls”, visual poems –not asemic ones– handwritten mostly in Latin or French. Hence my “asemic sibyls”, which are indecipherable. I started drawriting them around 2005: they were messages or leaflets written in English and/or Italian, usually arranged in square grids or labyrinths.
I soon started calling them “sibille” (in Italian), “sibyls”.
The first book of asemic sibyls by me has been then published in 2008 by La camera verde.
3:AM: Do you think asemic writing has a wider repute under the name of art, rather than avant garde poetry? What is the repute of asemic work in Europe do you think?
MG: It’s something not so easy to catch. Looking at the practices in art all over the world (as far as the web enables us to map the situation), it’s not at all easy to understand if asemic writing can count on something like a “repute”: I can say it’s true, and –at the same time– it seems to me that the “language-plus-art” areas in which we usually put the asemic writing are mostly inhabited and loved by the visual poets and collectors of vispo artists, rather than by art gallery owners or artists. Many experimental poets, too, love the asemic zones of the world wide web.
Little or wide communities of asemic writers (who are often also [visual] poets and artists) are deeply involved in their friendly links and exchanges of gifts, mail-art objects, collab pieces and performances, and I am proud to belong to some of those groups, blogs, weblists. The first names of visual artists one must refer to, are –in my opinion– the ones of Tim Gaze, Michael Jacobson, Satu Kaikkonen, Karri Kokko, John M. Bennett, Jim Leftwich, Jukka-Pekka Kervinen, Márton Koppány, Drew Kunz, Ekaterina Samigulina, Biagio Cepollaro, Riccardo Cavallo, Cecil Touchon, Geof Huth, John Martone, Tommasina Squadrito, Rosaire Appel. But there are many other names I should mention.
Most of the drawriters I know live in the US, you see. But Jukka, Karri and Satu are from Finland, Ekaterina from Russia. Tim lives in Australia, Márton in Hungary, Biagio, Tommasina and Riccardo in Italy. I think that asemic writing is a practice spreading all over the world; and Europe is only a part of the net. One can take a look at some of the activities around, following groups like google asemic, and sites like asemic.net, scriptjr.nl or blogs like M. Jacobson’s The New Postliterate and Post-literate.tumblr.com, or the new asemic-net blogspot, or the facebook group as well as the Future-Script-Gallery.
If we think of the repute of the asemic writing in terms of market, I think we are in part in the area of the visual poetry (or the newest conceptual art), so I can suppose there are not so many galleries and collectors, compared with the situation of the other lines of the visual arts. But I’m almost sure the situation is going to evolve in some way. (Unpredictable for now).
3:AM:Your asemic work often takes on the form of a fluid script, akin to a signatory handwriting perhaps. How did this practise develop?
MG: It definitely is fluid handwriting, often. The texts and signs are usually born & woven at the same time with some complicated story or notes I actually write then overwrite, just like superimposed strata of meaning (or safe exits from any fixed meaning). Sometimes the lines and fragments I (dra)write deal with trivial events, sometimes they are long essays I writerase. (Since, you know, to write two or more times on the same line is kind of erasure).
In other occasions I do prefer a “capital letters” form of writing. Or: I make up series of glyphs standing in some kind of in-between spaces: not alien alphabets nor human ones.
3:AM:How does your visual and asemic poetry collide with your more formal, linguistic forms?
MG: This is a crucial point. I am a linear poet too, and I also write very short stories, especially prose in prose (quoting Jean-Marie Gleize’s “prose en prose”).
When I was “only” a painter –or only affected with what I used to call “the drawing disease” (I used to work compulsively, drawing hundreds of pieces a week)– I felt like there was a rigorous distinction between the textual state of mind, and the mood I lived in when drawing. In fact, as soon as –writing a poem or prose– my mind seemed to switch to a drawing mood, and I started making strange glyphs or scribbled sketches, I abruptedly dropped any writing, at the moment.
Years passed, I quit painting. When I drawrite, now, it is not impossible for me to feel the urging of a verse, of a series of (experimental or twisted) prose. I can make asemic pieces and/or work to linear texts almost at the same time. The switch is not an “on/off” one.
This is for the practice.
As for theory, I must admit that in my mind the two areas of (hyper)semantic or absurdist or –generally speaking– experimental writing on one side, and the asemic work on the other, are for me two sides of the same coin. I always am in some kind of path ‘against the power’ of (established) meaning(s). I am always in a difference/differance, when writing or drawriting or simply drawing.
Not to mention that the meaning and the language, and the link between the two, are (almost always) power, misunderstanding, and “the-already-known” discourse. So, I prefer the twisted ways of the experiment, in the (not-so-)linear world, and the ones of asemic drawriting, in art, to express not my self but the difference speaking & flickering outside or inside of the apparently known “me”.
3:AM: It seems there are figures emerging in European poetry who will not limit themselves to one form of poetic, and increasingly maintain their central concerns across sound, visual and linguistic poetry. Have you felt this?
MG: Yes. I agree. At the same time, I feel the situation is overwhelmingly complicated. It seems to me that the real situation of the visual, poetic and verbovisual arts in Europe, or maybe all over the world, can be described as an unfocused one. One of the recent discussions on the web, in Italy, is concerning the position and the actual political weight or power of writers and intellectuals aged 30-40. A statement emerging from the ongoing debates –an idea I deeply agree with– consists in observing that the “map” of the intellectuals, artists, writers and so on, can no more be easily drawn, or drawn at all.
The literate and artistic world has always been something falling out of rigid borders and definitions, but the positive growth in schooling in the West and the spreading of that strange kind of mirrored collective conscience/unconscious known as the world wide web, make the situation more and more undecipherable. That said, I partly agree: yes, in Europe and elsewhere there’s a lot of writers who are also musicians, architects who make poetry, composers who install electronically painted ‘objects’, street artists and asemic writers who are also in the mood for making old fashioned “oil on canvas” abstract paintings. But: this does not map anything; and doesn’t tell us how the things are going on, on a global scale. This is because any really “global” scale absolutely cannot be seen by individuals or even by large groups of critics. I can imagine large teams are working on some history of the arts in the 21st century, but they won’t catch the whole, nor even a significant part of it, since the world itself as a collective mind started making art, abruptly, as a whole net, as a neural series of connected individuals, millions of ones.
So I can mention a few names of the whole. I recognize writers who are visual poets and musicians, like Jukka-Pekka Kervinen (from Finland), or Roberto Cavallera (from Italy), and many others like them. But expanding this list won’t build up any map of nowadays Europe, since that map no more exists. Hundreds of young artists from the Czech Republic, from Hungary, Spain, France, Sweden, are constantly moving across Europe and the world, mixing languages and making fab projects. Installations fill the most advanced cities (most of them are NOT in Italy), sculptures invade the everyday life in every country. There’s a constantly growing spreading of artifacts, sites, webzines and webzones, groups, independent or non independent music labels, etc etc etc, filling our days and hours and spaces. This does not mean “too much art”, but it’s a faithful portrait of the contemporary aesthetics that the 20th century foresaw and contributed to build.
At the same time, most of these works deal with rights, political statements, engagement, and are profoundly involved in attacking the unjust roots of the neo-capitalistic world. But –as we know from Marx– this won’t work, unless a revolution or a series of revolutions doesn’t spark. So, the whole world of the up-to-date aesthetics and contemporary art(s) may risk remaining a mere game for rich sons of the www bourgeoisie & dotcom middle and high classes. While hundreds of people make art and travel across the world, installing things that surprise us and make us think (things we appreciate), thousands of people literally starve in the same cities, shadowed by those installations. That ought to make us think of our role of artists and writers, in a world that is globally connected as well as globally unjust.
3:AM:Could you offer your opinion on the poetry scene in Rome?
MG: This city currently is –and has been in the last decade– extremely rich in proposals, readings, lectures, performance experiments, collab events, official or independent festivals and laboratories. I think I and many other (linear) poets have been part of all this. But recently, as the political wind started turning on the wrong side (the side of the worst government of the Republican era in Italy: racist, sexist, undemocratic and so on), I’ve been more and more involved in absolutely and radically independent projects. I should mention dozens of ventures and places which are important, in this sense, in Rome. But first of all I want to refer to the more than decennial work of the cultural centre La camera verde (already mentioned above), run by Andrea Semerano. It is in fact one of the most important places in Rome, despite of its being a two tiny rooms place. It’s a cinéma d’essai, and a vital venue for readings and events, also a publishing house, and a photography and art gallery.
That said, the scene of the (linear) poetry in Rome can be described as mainly mainstream. But it has also poets who make experiments in the same line of the French and American and Swedish main experimental trends: I must mention, first of all, Michele Zaffarano, who is also an important translator of Tarkos, Espitallier, Gleize and many other writers.
3:AM: And Italy in general in fact?
MG: It seems like Italy mostly –and sadly– deals with mainstream. This is my opinion. A new Italian anthology of “recent” French poetry, after years of silence and non-translation by the Italian major publishing houses, is a perfect consequence of what I say: it almost completely missed the target of giving the Italian readers a thorough and sufficiently convincing picture of the experimental scene in France. Generally speaking, most of the curators, critics, editors, Italian poets, do not absolutely know neither suspect what’s going on beyond the borders of the Italian scene or the globalized mainstream. They go on spinning around their dusty studies about Caproni or Pasolini, they focus on lyrical works, narrative poems, epic (!), novels novels novels, and they even do not suspect what the langpo and the post-langpo scene have been and are, nor what flarf is, nor who are the main authors of conceptual poetry now, what’s the importance of UbuWeb, PennSound, Epc or Eclipse, to give just a few examples.
A recent text, appeared in an academic magazine, about the beginning of the web2.0 blogs of literature in Italy simply lists and tells the story of a few (mostly mainstream) sites, which actually give the map of the “state of the arts” in this country. I can hardly define it “my” country, since I do not share almost anything with many of the writers mentioned daily by the current Italian newspapers or the lit mags on paper and online. I don’t even read nor understand the classical (or hardboiled) novels they constantly push to the top of their interests. I don’t read nor even understand their language. My studies go back (I should rather say “go forth”, since they’re –to me– a sort of future:) to Amelia Rosselli, Emilio Villa, Carmelo Bene, and a few others.
The one I have drawn is a depressing situation, but it’s not without escape. I think of sites and writers who are trying to offer new works and experiments. Only a few links now: Prosthesis, Compostxt, Alessandro Broggi, Alessandro de Francesco, bgmole.wordpress.com, gammm.org, Hotel Stendhal, difficilifoglie.splinder.com
3:AM: You are extremely active in organising around poetry. Could you detail some of activities with presses, organisations and journalism? Perhaps Flux, or the IEPI?
MG: The web –especially in a period of economic crisis like the one we’re going through– can be a powerful resource. But the first activity I want to mention is the one for La camera verde, which is now, I think, the most lively engine I have experience of. I only edit a series of chapbooks, the felix series, who is now taking a break, but will soon turn into a different kind of publication. Then, I edit several on line webzones/zines for hosting (& then publishing) texts and vispo by authors I am fond of. There is, for example, the differxhost project: see the “hosting” sections. I am interested in visual poetry, asemic writing, experimental prose. I also run a “draft” of mag, called “lettere grosse” (huge letters), publishing things I can call “prose in prose” (not prose poems, nor narrative pieces).
3:AM: Could you detail your work with the text festival in Bury, UK, in May 2011?
MG: Thanks to Tony Trehy, who invited me, I have had the opportunity to enjoy a multi-faceted activity in the Festival. First of all, there have been the sibyls printed and exhibited in the Bury Art Gallery. Then I had a double performance on the opening day of the Festival (April 30th, 2011): a first action was the “installance” of asemic sibyls, a second one was the reading of linear texts, new stuff and also already published prose (it was just the very first reading of the Festival: see opening performances + texts linked here).
As for the first half, I say: I went in the morning to the Gallery, to install many asemic sibyls I had drawritten in advance. That was an action of “installance” = installation + performance. Made in the same spirit of this blog.
The installances deal with some kind of faint dissemination of traces, signs, put under the wide veil or idea of a general lack of fixed meaning (since the sibyls do not foretell anything, and they’re written in illegible calligraphy –or… cacography…), plus a general lack of power. There’s no superimposed (or even slight reference to a) power of meaning. Language is kind of power –in itself.
So I did the action (or non-action) of spreading the installances secretly, I didn’t announce it before, I didn’t mention it after, during my reading. I didn’t even refer with a single word to the presence of those dozens of little asemic sheets abandoned here and there, hidden by me everywhere in the Gallery.
They were silent pieces of a silent language speaking (with incomprehensible words) only to the eye who could find them and the hand who collected them.
At the same time, they were not made for (nor addressed to) any greed of ownership, and they were neither signed by me. They belong to the people who find them. They can be lost, they can also be drawritten by anybody, and anybody can erase, rip or overwrite them. They have not been made to last, nor for telling the future or the present. Neither for reminding my art or presence or identity. They are objects made to suggest traces of “sense-non-sense” straight to the people who find them and think they are worth of any kind of (powerless, languageless) attention. This practice is …free of ownership: it can be done by anybody; each of us can make installances like those ones: they’re a potlach, they’re gifts.
Then the reading I made in Bury –at the opening– has been somehow linked to that. I’ve read some series of pieces from a gunless tea (dusi/e-book project, 2007), cdk (tir aux pigeons, 2009), they were in danger (English translation by Linh Dinh, 2009), and some new texts: among them, one which is a distorted version of Detect (Dusie, 2009). In this last piece, a precise statement about power goes this way: “meaning is everywhere : can’t stand it” (I owe the crucial first part of the statement to Rachel Defay-Liautard).
This doesn’t mean –of course– that I give up “sense-non-sense”, but that the exploration of the territories of the asemic, the meaningless, the forgotten, the “twisted” and unusual, simpy must go on, also for political reasons. One of the aims I have, as a visual artist and as a writer and drawriter, consists in showing the growing of the roots of power just inside of language itself.
One of my most recent works is a series of huge paper panels covered with the tinies and almost invisible traces of ink you can imagine. Maybe they just remind us that the blank space (the space around our little planet) is void of us.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
SJ Fowler is a postgraduate student of philosophy at the University of London and a poet. He is also an employee of the British Museum.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, June 14th, 2011.