LIN TIANMIAOReaction, 2018, arc panel structure, vibrating floor, liquid circulation system, dripping device, pulse machine and sound speakers, 334 × 334 × 339 cm. Installation view of “Systems” at Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai, 2018. Courtesy the artist and Rockbund Art Museum. 


Lin Tianmiao

Also available in:  Chinese

In the 1970s and ’80s, Chinese avant-garde artists showed their work in apartment spaces to evade intervention by government authorities. As part of this Apartment Art generation, Lin Tianmiao is known for her intensely introspective installations that examine body and identity through thread-winding: an intuitive and labor-intensive practice that involves “binding” objects in multiple layers of thread. The visceral installations connect what we imagine to be individual emotions, attitudes and feelings to reveal shared sociohistorical conditions. After three decades of textile-based creations and a life between Beijing and New York, Lin’s new works of glass and motors, presented in her solo exhibition at Shanghai’s Rockbund Art Museum (RAM), indicated how the artist has shifted gears, developing a new visual system within which she can reorient existing conceptual interests.

Triggering a keen awareness of our own corporeality, “Systems” opened the floor to the public with a large, white dome resembling an egg. In its cool, clinical cavity is a basin of blue liquid, and directly above it, a spiraling glass tube that tapers to a needle pointing toward the pool’s center. An armrest pad stands invitingly next to the basin. When visitors lock their forearms in place, Reaction (2018) instantaneously becomes an all-engulfing prosthetic extension of the viewer. The needle, simulating an IV, begins to drip; a staccato tone mimicking a heartbeat starts to beep steadily; and the floor begins to throb beneath one’s feet. Using a biofeedback sensor, the work brought to mind the experience of being back inside a mother’s womb, prompting reflections on the sensations and memories of our individual bodies that share in this universal experience. 

This in-vitro experiment continued in the installation Warm Currents (2018), a series of connected glass tubes, coils, narrow condensing pipes, pipettes and funnels circulating a fuschia liquid contained within. The churning fluid—reminding one of acid waste or toxicants, effusing noxious vapors—continuously frothing against the delicate glasswork, yet never quite escaping it, obliquely references a fragile modern society that similarly feigns stability and political order to mask societal tensions. 

In contrast to these sleek science-fiction-esque creations were Lin’s emblematic thread installations—Day-Dreamer (1999) and High!!! (1999–2018)—which address the body as a vessel that carries experience, summons joy and mourns grief. This inclusion was essential to understanding Lin’s engagement with the body in her recent investigations on the current state of individuals and society. However, their placement in the rear recesses of the galleries buried the works’ importance, and essentially stifled the thematic connections made between the old and new artworks.

Lin’s cultural and contextual considerations were evident in her largest work, My Garden (2018)—a room-sized installation that looks at the comical outcomes of lexical (mis)translations. The candy-colored “garden,” planted on a plush, pink carpet, features an assortment of vertical glass capillaries that jet variegated hues of neon greens liquids within its tubes, simulating a pleasant field of fountains. Etched on the cylindrical tubes are different plant names in Latin or English, and Chinese. Many of the Latin and English names, when translated into Chinese, are homophones that make the plants “lucky,” symbolizing wealth, prosperity and health; others, written in Chinese, are originally considered auspicious species in East Asia, but when directly translated into English, become garbled nonsense. The seemingly lighthearted work is the artist’s whimsical reinterpretation of an East Asian garden, embodying Lin’s experience of having lived between two cultures, and comments on the complex systems of language, beliefs, customs and attitudes that are intrinsic to how we shape our natural environments.

The recent works in “Systems,” put forth as an examination of “the self in relation to shifting social and technological realities,” marks Lin’s renewed examination of humanity in its accretion—from the singular body, to the new world as an integrated, global whole.

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