Public Programming


Alvin Li & Chang Yuchen

Our acquisitions of artist books and other printed matters reverberating through the Sinosphere have continued over June, during which New York-based librarian Yuchen travelled to London and gave a performance lecture at the launch of her latest art book, Coral Dictionary, at Asymmetry HQ. This time, we spotlight three publishers: te Magazine, Weproductions, and Inter-Asia Woodcut Mapping Series. We approached them with three questions: 1. Could you introduce your publishing practice? 2. Could you describe the publication(s) we acquired from you? 3. Who’s your imagined reader? 4. Tell us about your favourite library in the world.

These titles have just arrived in the Asymmetry library. Come read and play with them during our Open Library hours soon!

-- Alvin & Yuchen


te Magazine No. 1: The Lost Society, published by te, 2021. Image courtesy of Printed Matter, Inc.

te Magazine No·2 Song of the Nightingale, published by te, 2023. Image courtesy of te

1. Could you introduce your publishing practice?

Publishing is about building connections between writers and the audiences. te is an annual bilingual publication of contemporary art and cultural anthropology. Each issue expands on a specific theme, and we invite practitioners in diverse fields to explore and reflect on the dynamic cultural landscapes across regions. Recurring motifs include the fluidity of cultures, languages and beliefs in specific communities and the adaptation of individual narratives to the shifting social and geopolitical environment. Based on the same criteria, we will publish more books in collaboration with individual artists; instead of making a traditional artist catalogue, we are planning to use a working method similar to the one we developed for te to dig into their research and forge a cross-disciplinary dialogue with relevant scholars and practitioners around the theme.

2. Could you describe the publication(s) we acquired from you?

In the first issue The Lost Society, we invited practitioners from different disciplines such as anthropology, sociology, and contemporary art to bring in and reflect upon their respective expertise, knowledge system and research trajectories and to explore food as a multi-faceted intricacy, while at the same time reconstructing the relationship between food and geography.

te’s second issue Song of the Nightingale takes inspiration from recent events and debates reverberating all around us, and the 10 pieces in this issue investigate the transformative points of contact where sound, language and action intersect. Together, the contributors discuss this abstract and ubiquitous medium, creating an album of diverse and dialogical tracks.

3. Who’s your imagined reader?

We did not aim at any specific group of readers when we began. However, we try to make the publications easy to read. We would like to target people with diverse cultural and educational backgrounds, who are interested in art and culture in general. They do not necessarily need a background knowledge of art or art history. So, when we edit the publication, we will position ourselves as someone who has never encountered these works and practices, trying to avoid the cliche ‘academic writings.‘

4. Tell us about your favourite library in the world

Fight Club. Strictly speaking, it is not a library in the widely accepted sense, as its public-facing role is limited to its managers and their friends (as well as acquaintances). The books come in all sorts of odd shapes, and they are randomly shelved by the visitors. The space is located in an urban village in Guangzhou and is jointly rented by a group of people. It is all about sharing: the collection of books on display is the result of exchanges among friends, and you can see many interesting self-published books from China, books left by poets who have passed away, strange letters, and rows of adult comic books, to name a few. By the way, there is also a bed provided free of charge to its visitors.


Water on the Border, published by Weproductions, 1994. Image courtesy of Weproductions

Water on the Border, published by Weproductions, 1994. Image courtesy of Weproductions

Water on the Border, published by Weproductions, 1994. Image courtesy of Weproductions

1. Could you introduce your publishing practice?

Weproductions publishing was established in the early 1970s by Telfer Stokes and joined by Helen Douglas in 1974. Their early publications were conceived as Artist Books and produced in unlimited offset paperback editions. In 1979 a printing press was set up by Stokes & Douglas in their workshop at Deuchar Mill in Scotland and their books were produced in offset print runs of around 600 copies. After two decades of in-house printing and working with small presses in the States, by the late '90s and2000s Weproductions returned to the use of commercial offset printers for larger multiple editions and also introduced small hand-printed digital editions to their range.

Spanning over fifty years of art production, Weproductions books explore and demonstrate the possibilities of book form as an artistic medium: as a space to structure narrative and unfold visual narrative. Codex, concertina and scroll form have all been used with images and text to develop narrative and a flow and phrasing across the page and within the book. Emergent themes in many of the books by Helen Douglas are a sense of place and an exploration of the natural world.

2. Could you describe the publication(s) we acquired from you?

Water on the Bordergrew partly out of our experience of working with children in producing Yarrow Cooks. It was also inspired by the sparse Scottish Borders’ landscape in which we lived: sometimes in winter in snow it can look like a Chinese painting; solitary pines, calligraphic marks against white, mountains and rivers. So the idea came to establish connections between Scotland and China: by combining drawings of trees, plants and insects made by primary school children with photographic images of water taken from the Yarrow Water, Scotland and West Lake, Hangzhou.

All the ink drawings in the book were done by primary school pupils in Hangzhou and two primary schools in Yarrow and Selkirk, Scotland. Similar to Yarrow Cooks we took classes and the children made ink and charcoal drawings often working outside by the waters edge. The photographs of water were by myself (Helen Douglas), a recurring theme in my work. The translation of Chinese poems into Lalands Scots incorporated within the book was by Brian Holton. Brian finds a deep-rooted affinity between Lalands Scots and classical Mandarin Chinese.

Water on the Border explores the border between land/river bank and water - a border which affects all our futures. It focuses on the important vitality of both to the Earth’s well-being. The book references the Scottish Borders of Scotland and England, where the Tweed River de-marks and flows between and through both countries. 'Most importantly, the book, which is the fruit of a dialogue with China, looks from West to East, as it acknowledges the landscape painting tradition of China; it is also conceived to work from both ends, as it attempts to look from East to West in book form at the same time.'

The experience of looking East, and being in Hangzhou, was formative for the making of Water on the Border and myself. Learning Tai Chi embodied chi. Cycling across the Su Causeway on West Lake was filmic in experience: it unrolled as we cycled, vertical trees metered and framed the scene. And Chinese scroll painting together with Chinese books deepened my understanding of the visual reading of narrative across the page. All were to influence the way the book was laid out in rhythm across the page, breaking up the double spread of left and right. In making Water on the Border I learnt about the book as a place of contemplation. Working across the page and phrasing in arm’s breadth encouraged me to think consciously about scrolls and the aesthetics of scrolling: this was to influence my subsequent making of books and scrolls.

3. Who’s your imagined reader?

My first reader is myself, then my friends and then a wider public. With Water on the Border there was of course a responsibility to all those who had been involved in the project - most importantly the children and parents - as active participant readers. We sent a number of copies to people we had met and worked with in China but unfortunately never had any reply.

This book had a story to tell and we made an exhibition of the drawings with the book on view, to sell and to open out the work to the viewing reader public. We had many viewers and readers of this book - and the book sold out quite quickly. I now retain very few copies. Whenever a Chinese person likes this book I feel deeply pleased and heartened. So it gives me great pleasure that this book has entered the Asymmetry library to continue its life and the dialogue between East and West.

4. Tell us about your favourite library in the world

Ah! This is difficult.

I am going to choose the Gabrielle Keiller Library and Penrose Library at the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art. Gabrielle Keiller collected rare Surrealist and Dada books produced by Surrealist authors and artists. The library has wonderful books in its collection. The library itself exists/is housed within a gallery room within the Modern Art Gallery. With its very physical presence and visible display of books it brings the book into a mainstream dialogue with painting and art of the period and acknowledges the book as an important expressive art medium.

This I believe is how Artist Books should be placed within art galleries.


Inter-Asia Self-organised Woodcut Collectives Mapping Series II: Collaboration, Authorship and the Capital, published by IASWC Working Group, 2021. Image courtesy of Asymmetry Art Foundation

Inter-Asia Self-organized Woodcut Mapping Series III: Institution and Beyond, published by IASWC Working Group, 2022. Image courtesy of Asymmetry Art Foundation

1. Could you introduce your publishing practice?

We are a research collective with different backgrounds and professions across different cities in Asia, such as Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Taipei, Hangzhou, Tokyo, and more. Based on our common interests in socially engaged art, D.I.Y culture, and collective and collaborative art practices, we started to engage an emerging network of woodblock printmakers by producing an annual publication and organising related activities, including most recently a travelling group exhibition titled “Debordering: Woodcut Printmaking Practice in Inter-Asian Context” at the Tokyo University of the Arts.

This publication mainly focuses on art collectives in East Asia and Southeast Asia, who have been using woodblock printing as a medium to organise themselves and to engage with various kinds of social movements. We set “Asia” as our scope, not because we want to develop an exclusionary community, but to create exchanges and discourses among the practitioners in this region and to bring insight beyond the physical and ideological limitation of national borders. Inspired by the “Inter-Asia” methodologies discussed by scholars like Chen Kuan-hsing, Sun Ge, and Naoki Sakai, we see that people in the region share similar structural and social problems, such as capitalist encroachment on daily lives, ethnic conflicts in the postcolonial context, unjust policies towards marginalised communities, and more.

We notice the lack of the following: first, platforms to share experience and knowledge; second, frameworks to look at these conflicts from a transnational perspective; and third, places to accumulate and present such discussion. Our publication attempts to enumerate the practices of our participants, which speak to the possibilities of transnational art activism, collective art marking, and a new model of social relationship based on deliberation, experimentation, and egalitarian modes of communication and production.

2. Could you describe the publication(s) we acquired from you?

We started in 2019. Our publication is called Inter-Asia Woodcut Mapping, which is an annual self-organized bilingual (Chinese and English) publication. Each issue focuses on a specific theme and includes recent works by the featured woodblock printing artists, serving as a printed space to present their works. We also conduct interviews with the artists to document their practices. So far, we have published four issues. They are printed in Taiwan and Hong Kong, and distributed to independent bookshops and spaces in China, Taiwan, Japan, Malaysia, and other countries.

3. Who’s your imagined reader?

In general, anyone who is interested in printmaking, social art practice and collective art-making! For instance, we noticed that there is a gap between researchers and practitioners, where few artists have access to the many research materials available in the historical context of woodblock printing practices. Therefore we position our zines as a platform bridging theory and practice, and both researchers and practitioners are our target readers.

4. Tell us about your favourite library in the world.

The Rumah Attap Library (RAL) is located in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and is run by our friends in a collective made up of cultural workers, writers, researchers, lecturers, and journalists. The library holds a good selection of books on art and the humanities which are not easy to access or are expensive to acquire in Malaysia, and hosts events from time to time (on view now is an exhibition on the history and making of the trishaw in KL). This is not common around us. People rarely go to physical libraries nowadays when things can be easily acquired online, but RAL also offers a space for people to mingle, chitchat, and host talks and workshops, which facilitate the production and exchange of knowledge. Their proactive position on community building fills in the gap where traditional libraries in the area fall short. (Edited by Junko Asano)