One of the pioneering artists from the “apartment art” generation, Lin Tianmiao presents a solo exhibition at the Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai.
Art Radar takes a look at the exhibition, which spans the artist’s two-decade long career and four floors of the Rockbund Art Museum.
Opening to positive reception at the end of June 2018, “Systems” explores the breadth of Chinese artist Lin Tianmiao‘s two-decade career. Spanning four floors of the Rockbund Art Museum, the exhibition is curated by Alexandra Munroe, who currently serves as the Samsung Senior Curator, Asian Art, at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
Lin Tianmiao occupies a place in one of the most significant art movements in contemporary Chinese art history. Raised during the years of the Cultural Revolution, Lin found herself navigating rough waters of government-mandated censorship during the early years of her career. She is often attributed as one of the artists of the “apartment art” generation, a reference to the fact that much of the avant-garde art produced during the 1970s and 1980s were created out of the public eye. Kept within the intimate, private spaces of residential complexes, Lin’s early works – which were often made with items such as scissors, vegetable knives and cooking pots – evoked notions of home life and domesticity, reflecting the covert status of avant-garde art in those days. Although state-sanctioned art made it into public spaces, such as galleries, other forms of artistic expression fell under scrutiny. The “apartment art” generation exhibited their works within these private domains, until the fervour of the ’85 New Wave movement came into being.
Described by The New York Times as a woman who “qualifies as a power artist on the current male model”, Lin Tianmiao burst onto the international art scene with her practice of thread winding. Returning to Beijing in the early 1990s, after spending some time in New York, Lin embraced the conceptual and avant-garde movement. Her most renowned work to this date, The Proliferation of Thread Winding (1995), is made out of a bed with nearly 20,000 large needles lodged within the centre, with small spools of cotton threads attached to each needle. With lines of white overflowing and pooling around the edge of the bed, emanating from a cavernous, dark centre, Lin’s work hints at deeper, more ominous issues at the core of itself, probing the audience to reflect on these tropes of private life.
Winding cotton and silk around objects has played a prominent role in her practice. From the age of four, Lin Tianmiao spooled cotton at the behest of her mother, an act that she has since rediscovered through the course of her artistic practice. Lin has often spoken about her natural gravitation towards thread, cotton and textiles, explaining that they formed tangible connections with the housework and chores that she performed as a child. Her works use these materials and processes as a window into her reflection on her role as a woman in society. Such themes of womanhood and femininity have also been a key theme of other significant works, including Boy and Girl (2004), Badges (2009) and Protruding Patterns (2014).
For her latest exhibition at the Rockbund Art Museum, visitors get to experience the progression of Lin Tianmiao’s art. Mixing new commissions with her earlier works, the show is arranged around four key concepts: ‘individual consciousness’, ‘collective consciousness’, ‘public consciousness’ and ‘ultimate consciousness’. Whilst reliving the themes and media that Lin Tianmiao is best known for, the exhibition also uncovers the extent of the artist’s experimentation with other materials, and addresses other themes present in her work.
One of the most eye-catching installations is Reaction (2018), which incorporates biotechnology into art. Visitors enter an enclosed area, and place their wrist on a sensor that measures their pulse. Blue, florescent liquid drips down from a glass tube onto a spiral plate, mimicking the flow of blood within human veins. Lin Tianmiao offers a visualisation of a basic, yet invisible bodily system, confronting visitors with an artificial representation of the systems that sustain us. By allowing visitors to see, hear and sense their own “blood” in motion, Lin Tianmiao pushes us to experience the very material and corporeal nature of our body within an enclosed space, creating a space for communion between our material and spiritual natures.
Day-dreamer (1999) accompanies Reaction (2018) on the opening floor of the exhibition; an ethereal sight, the other-worldliness of this installation work is underscored by the ghostly projection of a male figure on the ceiling. Resting on a thick, white mattress suspended in the air, visitors peer through a column of countless white threads, the figure of a man bearing down upon them. Juxtaposed with Reaction, both works offer a reflection on the human body, evoking the concept of ‘individual consciousness’ that Lin has designated for the floor.
Another new commission is the work Warm Currents (2018),which exemplifies the artist’s foray into the medium of glass. Using numerous glass vessels that resemble laboratory apparatus, Lin Tianmiao builds a winding structure through the space of the third-floor gallery. Pink liquid flows through the glass tubes, referencing the “‘circulation’ of life as it ‘revolves’ through processes propelled by the large apparatus of society, politics, and culture”. A birds-eye-view of society through the eyes of the artist, Warm Currents is Lin’s representation of ‘collective consciousness’. Encouraging its viewers to think of the ebb and flow of human life within the milieu of society, the work is an interesting take on Lin’s journey through the different stages of consciousness.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing works in the exhibition is My Garden (2018), an impressive, large-scale installation that spans the entire fourth floor gallery. Lin’s work with glass continues in this piece, and carries some of the visual vocabulary found in Warm Currents. Covering the room in shades of soft pastel, My Garden comprises tall, living plants encased in glass tubes, bathed in florescent liquid. Each of the plants are labelled with their common names; visitors are allowed to wander through the veritable greenhouse, exploring the various aspects of the installation.
One of the most interesting additions to the exhibition are the artist’s sketchbooks, displayed on the top floor of the museum. Filled with images, blueprints and drawings, they offer a window into the mind of the artist, presenting Lin’s artistic process with incredible detail. For an artist like Lin Tianmiao, who has achieved worldwide recognition for her art, the sketchbooks are an intimate glimpse into the care with which she has fashioned her ideas into reality.
Other significant, previously shown works included in the exhibition are High!!! (1998 – 2018) and Loss and Gain (2014). Resonating with the earlier themes in her career, Lin’s latest thought-provoking, eye-opening exhibition expands on her meditations on society and societal roles.
“Systems” by Lin Tianmiao is on view from 26 June to 26 August 2018 at Rockbund Art Museum (RAM), 20 Huqiu Road, Huangpu District, Shanghai.
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