Lin Tianmiao Explores Identity and the Body at the HOW Art Museum

The HOW takes a fresh approach to Lin's feminist-inspired work.

Lin Tianmiao, Loss and Gain (2014). Image courtesy of Lin Tianmiao Studio
Lin Tianmiao, Thread Winding (1995). Image courtesy of Lin Tianmiao Studio.

Lin Tianmiao, Thread Winding (1995).
Image courtesy of Lin Tianmiao Studio.

It took three years, but Chinese artist Lin Tianmiao finally served up the eagerly awaited follow up to 2012’s “Bound Unbound” at the Asia Society in New York. “1.62M: Lin Tianmiao,” curated by Chen Che at the HOW Art Museum in Wenzhou, China, Lin’s first museum solo show in three years, built on the earlier presentation of her feminist-tinged multi-media work.

The exhibition title takes its name from the artist’s physical height (about 5.3 inches), which creates a curatorial narrative throughout the highly-personal show.

Chen has thoroughly researched Lin’s works dating back to 1995, classifying her works into four categories: 1) the deformation of body language, 2) social identity: cultural and gender consciousness, 3) the destruction and recreation of mechanical functionality, and 4) the social sculpture. Using these as a framework, Chen offers something of a case study on key works that are representative of Lin’s art practice over the past two decades.

Lin has been continuously contemplating the topics of self, body, gender, and identity using her signature language generated by personal experience.

Lin Tianmiao, <em>ALL the Same</em> (2011).<br>Photo: courtesy of Lin Tianmiao Studio.

Lin Tianmiao, ALL the Same (2011).
Photo: courtesy of Lin Tianmiao Studio.

“I think the categorized artistic language can be a constraint for artistic creation, similar to how feminism can be a constraint for the artist,” Lin told artnet News. “It is the best condition when artist can freely express themselves, realizing their ideas by using different materials with different tactics.”

Chen approached the show through the concept of “re-curation,” interpreting and organizing the works and ideas from different perspectives to inspire new ideas and understandings. “It is a meaningful exploitation either for the artist or her artworks,” Chen told artnet News, “to rejuvenate the works by providing them with a new context.”

1.62M, a work first exhibited in 2003, was recreated site-specifically for the new exhibition. The installation divides a long, narrow corridor with a crisscrossing white thread that becomes a horizontal barrier 1.6 meters above the ground, or Lin’s exact height. The “re-curation” is intended so that viewers can physically and mentally interact with both the work and the HOW Art Museum space.

Lin Tianmiao, <em>You!</em> (2009–2015). <br>Photo: courtesy Lin Tianmiao Studio.

Lin Tianmiao, You! (2009–15).
Photo: courtesy Lin Tianmiao Studio.

The large-scale multipanel work You! combines modern technology with the traditional woman’s craft of embroidery. Lin used colored silk to stitch of thousands of stereotypically feminine words in digital font faces, reclaiming words and phrases like “fuck bunny” and “gold-digger.”

“Seeing Shadow” is a series of works created between 2005 and 2011 that explore the artist’s social and spiritual identity. Over images of traditional Beijing courtyard and hutong (the alleyways formed by such courtyards), Lin has embroidered a series of blob-like growths. Though secular culture may be withering, Lin offers the hope of reconstruction, through new forms.

Lin Tianmiao, Toy 1# (2015). Image courtesy of Lin Tianmiao Studio.

Lin Tianmiao, Toy 1# (2015). Image courtesy of Lin Tianmiao Studio.

In All the Same (2011) and Loss and Gain (2014), Lin has abandoned her typical materials of cotton thread and silk in favor of artificial human bones and mundane mechanical tools, which represent masculinity. She has grafted the two elements together, thus shattering the original functionality of the tools, in order to call into question the idea of “social identity.” In an interview with the Art Newspaper China, Lin explained that the work aims to demonstrate the equality between the sexes by humorously disassembling human bones and rearranging them according to their sizes.

In Toy 1#, Lin broke even further away from her established artistic language, embracing a totally different approach by creating a simultaneously revolving and rotating mechanical toy. Her unexpected use of hard materials (steel and polyurea, in this case), polished and colored to an almost fabric-like appearance, however, builds on her long-established practice of playing with the contrast of hard and soft.

When charged, the toy functions like a perpetual motion machine. Chen believes the piece could mark the beginning of a new series of work for the artist.

Chen told artnet News that the three-month-long exhibition, which closed shortly before Christmas, is one of the most popular shows that the museum has ever held.

1.62M: Lin Tianmiao” was on view at the HOW Art Museum in Wenzhou, China, September 21–December 20, 2015.

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