KARL KEMPTON Engages
Listening To Red by Dona Mayoora
(Timglaset, Malmo, Sweden, 2018)
Malayalam (member of the Dravidian language family in Kerala, India) and English are two of the languages poet-artist Dona Mayoora speaks, writes and illuminates. Contemplating this collection, the conclusion becomes obvious she volunteered as a scribe for Red rendering its whispers through the prism of asemic writing. Works outside this group prove others, such as Blue, also whisper secrets to her inner ear. Moreover, many of her works exhibit by subject of choice and illuminated poetic- and artistic-lined voice, the nuances heard by her intuitive ear.
Asemic writing, a post-literate movement, begins with surrealists sourcing from the unconscious to play with meaninglessness, anti-syntax made-up writing shapes. Abstract expressionists exploring with calligraphy-like brush stokes expanded it, again from the unconscious. Some point further back, to rock art as asemic because of its “contemporary meaninglessness.” From the 1950s into the 1990s increased use of abstract verbal signs, iconographics and calligraphies found in global visual text arts solidified by the late 1990s into what has become a formal movement. “Post-literate” carries implications beyond the constraints of this movement. Nevertheless, literally tongue-in-cheek or not, the apocalyptic, or pessimistic suggestion requires comment. There is some justification for this post- of many post-s forming the deconstructive post-modernist fence line, plucked atonally as if a new music of the spheres with which to rewrite the past and present projecting into a future of its own image. Their argument arrives from obvious positive consequences of computer graphics reinventing what the printing press destroyed in Eurocentric cultures, illuminated books and calligraphy. Calligraphy in these regions remains reduced to pretty writing. Iconographic images convey quicker in meaning, greater in expanse than word. That graphics ubiquitously populate today’s media leads to a logical assumed eventuality: image replaces word. However, most asemic writers create without conscious meaning, “write” from the unconscious asking readers/viewers to create their own meaning and intent of the work. Essentially, Rorschach art.
With the eclipse of symbolism by the pre-World War I avant-garde painters, the arts, except perhaps music, have been lead by painters, not poets, in Eurocentric cultures. From this, though not its direct cause, evolved in the late 1940s non-reference art followed by non-reference poetics. The work refers only to itself. Symbols were outlawed as were other references external to the work causing the illiteracy of iconographic symbols and other symbolic usage. Intent of the artist had no consideration. Criticism devolved to material content, brush stroke, color, and so forth. Non-referential poetic theory and criticism followed suit and tied to a jumbled dialectical-materialism philosophy justifying their materialistic poetic and sometime-misuse of Buddhist philosophy to support meaningless expressionism. Some asemics scribble (their term) meaningless abstract images and calligraphies. Are we heading into the desert of the self-indulged? Bleak as this may appear, this worship of the mirage, I suggest an optimism seen in Dona Mayoora’s interpretations of Red’s commentary during her moments of silence or contemplation. Hers and a handful of other abstract calligraphers may be forging the initial steps reinvigorating lost Eurocentric calligraphy and illumination traditions. Here neither unconscious sourcing nor scribble reside. Conscious intent and meaningful iconographic abstraction abide: “Will Red (the square symbol) be heard, was my first thought. If there is no common language for communication, how will it be interpreted by the listener (bracket). Between these two symbols there are barriers, flow of gestures etc. Is the listener hiding, or is the listener eagerly waiting to hear Red. I often found myself in a situation where people misunderstood what others say and/or misinterpret what one is saying. Even with a common medium of language.”
Many are red’s symbolic and associated meanings: anger, blood, courage, danger, desire, energy, fire, heat, id, joy, longing, love, malice, passion, radiance, sensitivity, sexuality, strength, stress, vibrance, vigor, willpower, wrath, and so on. Enter a red painted room, blood pressure elevates, metabolism increases as well as enthusiasm and energy levels. Red belongs to Satan and Cupid. Many reds are muddy, unlike the clear, bright red rose representing a light-filled heart. In Sufism, red sulphur transforms silver to gold, the symbol of enlightenment. Theosophy’s red, the 6th ray of their spiritual rainbow, means devotional love.
In late April 2018 three women visual text artists, composing, writing, drawing, collaging or painting with red, were introduced by Serendipity and Synchronicity. Dona Mayoora and Dawn Nelson Wardrope I met through my editing and publishing interests on the Internet. While in San Francisco, I met Yuri Shimojo; she was present at her exhibition, Sumi and Shu, the day following her opening. After one of the more meaningful introductory exchanges with an artist, I purchased her catalogue. Apparently she felt the same, honoring our meeting by accompanying her signature with the ideogram en: fate, karma, a blood relationship, connection, or tie. Its extended karmic meaning holds within it a synchronistic meeting in a significant spacial context during which the special connection is made. Part of our discussion, since her art bridges shamanic iconographic traditions across many unassociated groups she worked with, dove into the use of iron oxides as the first reds in Africa nearly 300,000 years ago, to cinnabar based red applied following a traditional Japanese approach for her series, and to the fact an hour and a half drive north of my home the once oldest known North American First People’s mining site was found uncovered by ocean activity in 1990. The Chumash 6000 years ago pounded large cinnabar boulders into smaller stones to transport for rock art and other arts. The ocean later destroyed it. Our garden hosts a few surviving fragments from the beach viewable from the mountains of southern Big Sur.
Those familiar with typography know en is the space between words and letters. The diligent typographer employs en to form and inform negative space pleasant to the trained and untrained reader’s eyes. The skilled asemic artist-writer manipulates en space beyond the liner lineup of iconographic symbols merging with the em space, the space between lines of type, moving the abstract forms into rhythmic dance, also pleasant to the eye. Her rendered dances came from listening to Red with the ear centered in the word heart.
That being said, let us, then, bring our chairs, attachments to Red, conscious or not, and sit around her waiting campfire cast in a full moon light seen on the first page. Red-lined pathways are marked. The courageous can follow the lines to the fire. The cautious can follow the lines stopping at the boundary of uncomfortable radiance. Or, we can sit in a circle. Page by page glowing images appear and disappear, erasing mind-chatter to hear fiery tongues spell and whisper secrets, secrets Red also speaks in the languages of other colors. Note that Dona listens to clear, bright Red. Thus, always present, the transcendent. The transcendent, if heard, if realized, means that one turning to another in the circle sees their self in one grand talking-to-self monologue. However, most do not want to hear or see. The collection is an earwax remover. Experiencial illumination transforms, erases the cataracts of opaqueness, vaporizes or exiles “isms.” Transcendency resides in her other works; one, a series of lyrical homages to the calligraphic flourished Zen Circle. Another, perhaps a learning from this series: “Rumī’s Rubies,” – the Red square with red abstract writing strokes suggesting his poetry. Her homage to Rumī, while outside the frame of this collection, nevertheless being informed by it, orbits hearts open for ascendant change that begins with clarity of unfiltered listening.
Karl Kempton (Chicago, b: 1943) lives with his beloved wife, Ruth, in Oceano, California. He has been composing visual poetry and visual text art since the early 1970s. His lexical and visual poems have been published internationally in 45 titles, 50 anthologies; seen in over 100 group exhibitions; and, widely published in magazines and on the internet. He edited and published America’s first international visual poetry and language (visual text art) journal, Kaldron (continuing on-line: http://www.thing.net/~grist/l&d/kaldron.htm). He is co-founder and co-director of the San Luis Obispo Poetry Festival (Language of the Soul); co-founder and co-director of Corners of the Mouth, a monthly poetry reading series, San Luis Obispo; co-editor for special editions of visual poetry magazines; curator of seven international visual poetry exhibitions; advisor for visual poetry collections including Renegade blog and anthology; and lead editor for the forthcoming Bengali blog visual text art anthology, http:// synaptry.blogspot.pe/, the first of its kind in India. His latest book, poems about something & nothing, was published by Paper Press, https://www.amazon.com/dp/1516861043/ ref=rdr_ext_tmb.