ArtReview Asia’s reading guide

From the Umbrella Movement to the textures of everyday life – Adeline Chia's picks

By Adeline Chia

Science of the Secondary: Boxed Set (Vol. 1–10). © Atelier HOKO

Nightmare Wallpaper by Pak Sheung Chuen | Para Site, HK$360 (student price HK$220)

Not exactly a festive title, but hear me out. This is a therapeutic tome. In the early noughties, Pak was known for staging performances that celebrate the everyday and the chance encounter, but he fell into a depression given the state of Hong Kong politics since the failure of the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement protesters. This book is the result of his self-healing through attending court hearings of the Umbrella Movement protesters, during which he took notes and made sketches and automatic drawings. His writings and artworks in this volume paint a picture of personal transformation, showing a way out of political despair through the aesthetic and the irrational.

Family by Masahisa Fukase | Mack Books, £45 

Best known for his iconic photobook Ravens (1986), Masahisa Fukase created his last series, Family, in his family business, a photo studio in Bikufa in Hokkaido. Taken over a number of years, the photographs feature the changing members of his family, as well as framed portraits of dead relatives. Undermining the sombre mood are his playful additions: he invited extras to come in to pull faces or stand in the nude. (An idea for surviving excruciating festive dinners? Just a thought.) This is a rerelease of the original 1991 book, and comes with an original text by Fukase and a new essay by Tomo Kosuga.

Science of the Secondary: Boxed Set (Vol. 1–10) by Atelier Hoko | Self-published, US$169 

Atelier Hoko, a design duo based in Singapore, has been releasing books under the Science of the Secondary ‘research programme’ since 2013. Each volume investigates a certain mundane object or feature of urban life in obsessive detail. Example: the Toilet paper issue has a section discussing the Smear Zone and best paper positioning for Fingertip Protection. Enquiries into the Window, Pipe, Apple, Cup and so on feature the same level of half-jokey, half-serious scientific rigour, making it a perfect gift for anyone interested in the textures of everyday life that we take for granted.

Diver by Allan Balisi and Dina Gadia | Bad Student Press, ₱2,000 

Filipino artists Allan Balisi and Dina Gadia collaborated to create this beautiful twin-volume risograph artbook that makes use of wordless sequential imagery to tell stories. They are a bit like silent comic books, but editioned. Balisi provides a sad cinematic narrative set in the deep sea, featuring closeups of a pair of hands letting go, while Gadia offers a tender and charming tale of how a bird manages to drink water from the bottom of a bottle. The books are printed by Bad Student Press, an indie press based in Quezon City, which has other excellent titles in their stable.

Something So Clear by Kapil Das | Steidl, €35 

A man moving a thick, brand-new mattress into a dirt-poor house. A boy breakdancing at the bottom of a dry swimming pool. The word ‘DUDE’ written in the snow. These are some of the memorable images in this photobook about India by Bangalore-based Kapil Das, who edited this tome from thousands of photos taken over a decade. He says he wants to upend visual clichés about his home country, and the result is this scrapbook of streetscapes and portraits set in gritty surroundings and imbued with his wry sense of humour. One of eight winners of the Steidl Book Prize in Asia, this informal diary is by turns random, nonsensical, hilarious and moving.

Grandma, I Want a Penis by Dusadee Huntrakul | Bangkok CityCity Gallery, TBH700 

Thai artist Dusadee Huntrakul and his wife, Pat, collaborated to create this charming children’s book based on Pat’s real-life story. Because of her two brothers, she had always wanted a penis, which her grandmother promised to buy from the market. Except that she didn’t (obviously.) But lo and behold, 36 years later, Pat in fact did receive a penis… This genitalia-positive book features gleeful drawings by children as well as the more accomplished adults. A joy all around. Read the full review here.

A New Sun Rises over the Old Land by Suon Sorin (translated by Roger Nelson) | NUS Press, S$24 

It’s not often you get Cambodian literature translated into English, especially pre-Khmer Rouge fiction. Here’s a nationalist novel, a bestseller in its time and still a school text, that sheds light on the country during the 1950s after the country gained independence from French rule. First published in 1961, and Suon Sorin’s only work of fiction, the hardscrabble story revolves around Sam, a poor country boy who leaves for the city, where he gets messed about by landlords, ‘capitalists’ and shitty politicians. The propagandistic happy ending supporting the postcolonial regime may not be to everyone’s taste, but this is essential reading for anyone interested in Cambodian history and literature.

How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse) by John Cage | Siglio Press, US$24 

You don’t even have to like Cage’s music to enjoy this book. This collection (an expanded version of the 2015 edition), which excerpts from a diary of 30 years kept by the avant-garde composer, brings together his musings on everyday life, art and politics. Known for pushing the boundaries of what was considered music, Cage also believed strongly in the importance of chance. In keeping with his personal philosophy, each entry’s word count and font was calculated by consulting the I Ching. The result is a visually lively text with touches of the poetic. 

Online exclusive published on 19 December 2019