How do artists engage in dialogues with their predecessors?


Image: <i>Under the Influence</i> at Art Basel, 2017.
Image: Under the Influence at Art Basel, 2017.

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 do artists engage in dialogues with their predecessors? Note that the thematic groupings reflect AAA's interpretations of these texts.

Part I: A Search for Truth

Part II: Activate/Agitate

Part IV: Ecologies

Part V: On Form

Part VI: Space and Time Travel

Part VII: Ways of Seeing and Being


Au Sow-Yee on Selected Poems by Jorge Luis Borges

I grew up in Malaysia, which somehow has mysterious connections with South America—be it the rubber trees, mythologies, or something about the ocean. I bought Jorge Luis Borges's Selected Poems more than ten years ago from City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, located just between the intersection of Chinatown and Little Italy. So now you can almost imagine how things intertwine. This excerpt from Borges's "The Sea" opened it all:

Before our human dream (or the terror) wove
Mythologies, cosmogonies and love,
before time coined its substance into days
The sea, the always sea existed: was.


Ben Cabrera on Prints and Drawings of Kathe Kollwitz

Image: Cover of <i>Prints and Drawings of Kathe Kollwitz</i>.
Image: Cover of Prints and Drawings of Kathe Kollwitz.

Kathe Kollwitz brought to each of her works an uncanny ability to evoke human emotions through subtle gestures and facial expressions. The reactions of her characters were psychologically true, primarily because she tested them on herself.I first saw this book when I was just starting my career as an artist. Kollwitz was a great German artist. She was a big influence on me because of the social commentary in her art that reminded me of similar social conditions in the Philippines, which I portrayed in my own works. I was drawn to her art and her etchings in particular, which inspired me to try printmaking, a new medium for me at the time.


Choi Yan-chi on Off the Wall: A Portrait of Robert Rauschenberg by Calvin Tomkins

Image: Cover of <i>Off the Wall: A Portrait of Robert Rauschenberg</i> by Calvin Tomkins.
Image: Cover of Off the Wall: A Portrait of Robert Rauschenberg by Calvin Tomkins.

I read this book in my early years, and it generated a lot of controversies and responses when it was first published. I got a sense of the American art industry at that time from this book. Like novels about the field, it talks about the stories of different artists—especially funny things that happened in Black Mountain College—while focusing on Robert Rauschenberg. He attempted to change painting to experimental performances and multi-media activities, which are quite exhaustive, and makes for very interesting reading materials


Fung Ming Chip on Theoretical System of Chinese Calligraphy by Hsiung Ping-Ming

Image: Cover of <i>Theoretical System of Chinese Calligraphy</i> by Hsiung Ping-Ming.
Image: Cover of Theoretical System of Chinese Calligraphy by Hsiung Ping-Ming.

This book provides a clear contextual relationship between the history and content of Chinese calligraphy, and the relationship between theory and artworks, while also commenting on the structure of certain artworks—revealing how Chinese calligraphy, as a special form of art, evolves through the passage of time.

This book is a review of Chinese calligraphy’s history, while my artwork is a preview of Chinese calligraphy’s future development.

My work, in other words, is a response to this book.


Lee Kai Chung on Bas Jan Ader: In Search of the Miraculous by Jan Verwoert

Image: Cover of <i>Bas Jan Ader: In Search of the Miraculous</i> by Jan Verwoert.
Image: Cover of Bas Jan Ader: In Search of the Miraculous by Jan Verwoert.

I visited an Ader exhibition in 2006, and the book always revives my experience. I was deeply impressed by the simplicity of the work, which conveyed the humility of the artist; by contrast, his dangerous performance showed a great deal of artistic determination, and I held my breath during the 16mm film screening. The exhibition inspires my practice: an artist can dedicate his life to art with passion or even obsession.

The book has been sitting on a noticeable spot on my bookshelf for years. Back in 2006, I still hadn’t begun my archival practice, but the book itself as a tangible material, an artefact, connected me to a romantic and introverted artist that was long gone. From time to time, I read through the book as one of my rituals, especially this quote by Ader: "I do not make body sculpture, body art or body works. When I fell off the roof of my house or into a canal, it was because gravity made itself master over me."

I still get goosebumps when I read it.


Muhanned Cader on Renoir, My Father by Jean Renoir

Image: Cover of <i>Renoir, My Father</i> by Jean Renoir.
Image: Cover of Renoir, My Father by Jean Renoir.


It is after you have lost your teeth that you can afford to buy steaks.

There’s nothing more absurd than a "connoisseur."


Shi Yong on Dialogues with Experimental Artists by Chen Tong and Yang Xiaoyan

Image: Cover of <i>Dialogues with Experimental Artists</i> by Chen Tong and Yang Xiaoyan.
Image: Cover of Dialogues with Experimental Artists by Chen Tong and Yang Xiaoyan.

In the nineties when information was relatively insufficient, Dialogues with Experimental Artists was, by and large, the "bible" for me and Chinese artists of the time. Almost all of us had a copy of it. This comprehensive anthology compiled by Chen Tong and Yang Xiaoyan, and published by Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House in 1993, includes interviews of Western experimental visual artists, filmmakers, and authors. I’m fascinated by the words of these artists: their attitude, methodology, the way their artistic practice and concepts developed into works, and their charismatic oration. This book influenced and changed my way of creating art. It means a lot to me!

The most impressive part of the book concerns a pictographic work by the American artist Laurie Anderson. Here is how she describes death: "What killed Chris Burden [famous American performance artist in the 70s] was not the bullet but the hole."


Wang Youshen on Douleur Exquise by Sophie Calle

Image: <i>Douleur Exquise</i> by Sophie Calle.
Image: Douleur Exquise by Sophie Calle.

I didn’t think the French conceptual artist's book could be published in China. Early last year, I accidentally purchased this book from the Internet, and I was really surprised. From the perspective of artworks, this is the best "book" I have read these past thirty years. The author used 287 pages to describe the process of how emotions, pains, memories, and things forgotten grow into language, and then display, read, and communicate as "books." No matter what, Sophie Calle should be glad the publisher, editor, designer, and producers of the Chinese version worked hard to show this "book."




CHOI Yanchi, 蔡仞姿

Benjamin Torrado CABRERA

FUNG Mingchip, 馮明秋

LEE Kaichung, 李繼忠

Muhanned CADER

SHI Yong, 施勇

WANG Youshen, 王友身

AU Sow-yee, 區秀詒

Research Notes
Mon, 31 Jul 2017
Cite as
CHOI Yanchi, 蔡仞姿, Benjamin Torrado CABRERA, FUNG Mingchip, 馮明秋, LEE Kaichung, 李繼忠, Muhanned CADER, SHI Yong, 施勇, WANG Youshen, 王友身 and AU Sow-yee, 區秀詒, Book Recommendations | Artist to Artist, Mon, 31 Jul 2017

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Each Monday, Asia Art Archive publishes new essays, interviews, and curated journeys through the research collections

Image: Under the Influence: Books that Inspire Artists, 2017.
Under the Influence: A Travelling Library of Books that Inspire Artists

Under the Influence: A Travelling Library of Books that Inspire Artists

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Under the Influence: Books that Inspire Artists

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