How does the study of urban landscapes, social systems, and the environment shape artistic thought?
This past March, Asia Art Archive presented Under the Influence: A Travelling Library of Books that Inspire Artists at Art Basel in Hong Kong.
For the project, we invited artists from around the world to choose a book that inspires their artistic practice. Each contributor shared personal stories related to their selection, thereby providing singular perspectives on these one hundred foundational texts from across genres and disciplines.
Since then, Under the Influence has been touring to schools around Hong Kong.
In this third installment of a seven-part series on Ideas, we share the books from the project alongside writing from the artists. We wondered, how does the study of urban landscapes, social systems, and the environment shape artistic thought? Note that the thematic groupings reflect AAA's interpretations of these texts.
Cedric Maridet on Milieu animal et milieu humain by Jakob von Uexkull
"We ask a simple question: Is the tick a machine or a machine operator? Is it a mere object or a subject?" Starting with this question, Jakob von Uexkull develops a new way to think about nature that allows us to redefine an environment, away from the usual anthropocentric method. His concept of "Umwelt" importantly characterises the perceptual world of an organism withinwhich only certain, salient perceptions of its environment are available. This idea is very relevant for my practice that seeks to invent new narratives based on fieldwork, history, fiction, and science, to invent new relations between humans, non-humans, and technology.
Farid Rakun on Jakarta: Drawing the City Near by AbdouMaliq Simone
For me, as an individual as well as a part of the artist collective ruangrupa, Jakarta is a very peculiar animal. Like the infamous fruit durian, everyone has every right to love or hate it, but to be indifferent towards it is a choice no one can afford. I tried to escape the city at least three times in my adult life. I always returned. This book, which I consider a continuation of his previous City Life from Jakarta to Dakar: Movements at the Crossroads made clear to me why my fleeing attempts always failed.
Hu Fang on The Moment when Architecture Comes to Life by Sou Fujimoto
This book gives readers a glimpse into the Japanese architect’s thought about architectural space and, more importantly, his courage to look existence in the eye. This courage is expressed in a soft and flexible way. In his analysis of living spaces, he positions two people, described as weak, in contrast with the monolithic nature of contemporary architecture. He uses writing as the means to search for the creative power of language in the dialogue between the self and the other, and the precise rendition of ambiguous space by language. "Language and architecture complete the transformation of one another in the process of mutual inspiration."
Iftikhar Dadi on The Bureaucracy of Beauty: Design in the Age of its Global Reproducibility by Arindam Dutta
Informed by Marxism and postcolonialism, Arindam Dutta's ambitious and challenging book studies late nineteenth century developments that remain significant for current concepts of art, design, craft, and intellectual property. As Britain experienced full-blown industrial capitalism, the study and display of "Oriental" decorative arts gained major importance. In turn, when new institutions of pedagogy and exhibition were brought over to colonial India, they resulted in our present understanding of craft as "tradition," where the artisan is a shadowy figure without history, whose labour and authorship become impossible to cognise.
Lee Mingwei on The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World by Lewis Hyde
So long as the gift is not withheld, the creative spirit will remain a stranger to the economics of scarcity.... To have painted a painting does not empty the vessel out of which the paintings come. On the contrary, it is the talent which is not in use that is lost or atrophies, and to bestow one of our creations is the surest way to invoke the next.
Marysia Lewandowska on H2O and the Waters of Forgetfulness by Ivan Illich
[A]round 1750 wealth and money begin to "circulate" and are spoken of as though they were liquids. Society comes to be imagined as a system of conduits. "Liquidity" is a dominant metaphor...ideas, newspapers, information, gossip, and—after 1880—traffic, air, and power "circulate".
Language here is synonymous with the archive: by introducing flux, it suggests a space where ideas, immaterial artefacts, and the substance of desire compete for narratives.
The book I chose reaffirms such relationships through the example of water, so present in the natural and political landscape of Hong Kong. Water acts as an agent of sustenance and an agent of change, much like the archive. Its transition from the state of nature to the condition of culture expresses a wider struggle over ownership, purity, and belonging.
Written in the 1980s, the essay discusses corporate interventions in the planning of the city, transforming community relations into relations of commodity.
Illich's clear argument informed my belief that it is through the circulation of texts, images, and sounds that artists and others are able to decolonise existing sets of assumptions about the practices and uses of art inside institutional frameworks. This is how my interest in the alternative economies of art and the importance of the knowledge commons has emerged.