Guangzhou-based artist Lin Aojie transforms the art of keeping a diary into an artwork.
“If You Throw Enough Mud at the Wall, None of It Will Stick” runs at A+ Contemporary Shanghai until 7 May 2017, and features a diary-based series of textual and visual works revolving around the artist’s creative process, his dealings with the art world and his everyday experience.
Keeping a diary is a casual way to preserve memory and to elevate a personal perspective on everyday experience. It is the dominant voice in Guangzhou-based Lin Aojie’s exhibition “If You Throw Enough Mud At The Wall, None Of It Will Stick” at A+ Contemporary in Shanghai. Lin makes text accounts of his thoughts about the creative process, about visiting Shanghai and his dealings with galleries, even about his time spent in Starbucks. He also presents a pictorial history of his own work.
In 1963 an important diary was published in China. It contained the selfless reflections of Lei Feng, the model soldier of the Peoples’ Liberation Army. A typical entry would say:
“All high buildings and large mansions are built brick by brick. Why can I not be a brick? That is the reason everyday I do many trivial things.”
Lei was humble, doing his bit, helping others. His deeds and reflections tended to be almost too good to be true and were promoted by the Party as an example of righteous living. It is with a similar sense of incredulous wonder in the everyday that Lin relates his account of a week’s visit to Shanghai in Diary of Freedom (2015). Presented in dual language on two upright monitors that look as if they are only temporarily leaning against the wall, are banal accounts of visits, meals and conversations. These are juxtaposed with rousing aphorisms such as, “Small institutions around the globe please unite / Artists keep waiting / Artists-trashes keep deceiving—Awesome!!!”
Elsewhere there is a similar mood of inspiring poetic appeal. Another pair of videos with an intimate deadpan humour are presented on screens one above the other, but on different floors of the gallery. They show the artist and the Director of the Shanghai branch of A+ Contemporary in conversation. You Left Me Off Your List Part 1 (2017), screened downstairs, is set only about three metres away, just outside the gallery door. Lin asks if the director will consider dropping a group of gallery artists whom he says he does not like, and he presents her with a helpful list. The gesture seems arrogant but it is clearly not serious and in the video both protagonists stifle their laughter. You Left Me Off Your List Part 2 (2017) is a sequel where the director patiently explains that sometimes the gallery looks for future potential. The work suggests a learning process. Lin is callow, and his arrogance can be excused, because he needs to learn what galleries do.
Many other works suggest naivety, or at least the utmost informality, as if Lin were unfamiliar with the formal procedures of exhibition making. Kevin (2017) and Lead Your Way (2016) are small, slightly silly cartoon drawings, glued directly on the wall. It’s up to Artist, When Boss is Gone (2017) is two black and white A4 photocopies in plastic pockets taped to the wall, while Bizarre Dream (2017), another diary item, is a small notebook, containing a poem remembering a dream. The notebook is found abandoned on the floor hidden behind one of the gallery’s architectural pillars.
Design Sketch (2017) is also tucked away, displayed beyond the public gallery in the office behind the reception desk. Wobbly, drawn by hand on an i-Pad, it is a hapless architectural rendering of A+ Contemporary’s environment, printed on nine A4 sheets pinned on a notice board. Considering A+ Contemporary’s meticulous and stylish spaces, the drawings do not give a very good impression and stand in opposition to slick digital architectural renderings. Lin’s interpretation of the conventions of the architectural genre challenges its flattering depictions with a pragmatist’s touch.
In Self-introduction (2016) he approaches the presentation of his own work portfolio in a similar way. The work is again drawn on an i-Pad but this time the drawings are recorded as they are executed, a sort of animation. Each work produced in a six-year period is represented with a rapid line sketch. Although these are rudimentary and made relatively quickly, there are a lot of them and each receives a title written out in English as well as Chinese. This makes the experience of watching longwinded. The drawings themselves look like the jokey sketches of ex-Beatle John Lennon (1940 – 1980) and Lin’s attitude connects with Lennon’s occasional swaggering insolence, as well as with the soft radicalism that Lennon managed to combine with being an international megastar. This was exemplified by the 1969 recording of the anthem Give Peace a Chance at the ‘bed-in for peace’ in Montreal; seamlessly joining expensive hotels, international travel and popular anti-war protest.
Lin’s Starbucks Left (2015) is an analogous gesture, attempting to fuse incompatible aspects of contemporary life together. He casts the ubiquitous international café business as a space for critique and dissent. The video comprises a series of unceremonious still images, views of Starbucks and its livery, provided with captions such as, “Nowhere would encourage us to think like Starbucks do.”, “Class struggle is still the focus of attention of Starbucks.” and “In Starbucks, instead of talking about business or life, we think about the society issues.”
The struggle for truth
Dominating the main gallery space with a repetitive minimalist soundtrack is a large screen. Its scale and position suggest it is a definitive statement. However, the screen remains black while a line of text at the bottom, like a subtitle, tells of Lin’s struggle as an artist. The title, Battle (2017), aggrandises the narrative that has the artist summoning the mental strength to make good work and engage with galleries to a point where his work is exhibited – and the struggle was worth it: “And when I put it up, woohaa!” he cheers at the end. Like Lei Feng’s heartfelt reflections on his upright life, Lin’s account is candid but ambivalent when it comes to being believable.
Lin too, like Lei, conceives of himself like a brick, making a small but necessary contribution in the art world. But he is an awkward fit, so his contribution does not reinforce, it ‘deconstructs’. The presentation of truth has become one of the defining anxieties of the present. The utterances of leaders, celebrities, armies, the media and independent bloggers, as well as both the still and moving image, are all regarded as suspect. By focusing not on final statements but what it is to be a participant, Lin explores just how fugitive sincerity has become.
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