Installation view of LIN TIANMIAO’s My Garden, 2018, glass, aluminum, liquid circulation system and carpet, dimensions variable, at Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai, 2018. Courtesy the artist and Rockbund Art Museum.

Lin Tianmiao

Also available in:  Chinese

A spectrum of fluorescent green and teal liquids jetted into the air, in a dizzying chromatic symphony contained within a field of glass capillaries sprouting vertically from a plush pink rug. Lin Tianmiao’s striking installation My Garden (2018) filled the fourth-floor atrium at the Rockbund Art Museum, in her first institutional show in Shanghai (6/26–8/26). The sides of the cylindrical tubes were etched with Latin, English and Chinese plant names that Lin translated literally. In the process, she stripped away their cultural significance and auspicious associations, resulting in whimsical monikers such as “chicken oil tree” or “fan god,” while the philodendron is interpreted as a “Happy Forest of Taro” in Chinese. Created in collaboration with the Shanghai Museum of Glass as part of the institution’s multiyear project “Annealing” (2014– ), Lin’s installation celebrates differences through mutual linguistic misunderstandings and epitomizes her recent technical experimentations that disentangle complex cultural and global systems.

In the silk and cotton thread works that first gained her international recognition in the 1990s, Lin used found utilitarian objects to display an intimacy with domestic materials or invoke a metaphysical dimension between objects, images and sounds. In 2018, Lin’s installation Initiator (2004) was exhibited at the Denver Art Museum, and Sewing (1997)—a work that comprises a video of Lin’s hands guiding a piece of cloth projected onto a socialist-era sewing machine wrapped in white thread—was shown in the Guggenheim’s touring survey of Chinese contemporary art “Theater of the World: Art and China after 1989,” which traveled to Bilbao (5/11–9/23) after debuting in New York, where Lin lived between the mid-1980s to the early ’90s. Upon returning to Beijing where she is currently based, Lin became an integral member of the Apartment Art group—a scene that survived underground in the private spheres of artists’ homes—and established a practice that emphasizes the personal rather than the collective, oftentimes slicing through the silenced gender discourse of the 1980s. In 2019, her works will be on view in exhibitions in New York and Beijing, and she will unveil new installations at the Shanghai Museum of Glass. 

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