Asia Society, New York
September 7, 2012 – January 27, 2013
Artist Lin Tianmiao and curator Melissa Chiu sculpt Lin’s personal history of repression into an installation-oriented retrospective titled Bound Unbound, currently on view at Asia Society. Lin is a member of the Chinese diaspora community in New York, whose constituent members left politically turmoil China in the ‘80s, and includes now renowned artists Ai Wei Wei and Xu Bing. Operating from a unique axis as one of the few famous Chinese female artists, Lin’s conceptual concentration on the body and artisanal dedication to technique employs an Eastern approach in its consistent call for female empowerment and recognition.
Lin’s emphasis on reclaiming womanhood is evidenced by her installation, Chatting (2004), in which six sculptures of middle-aged women stand in a circle with upturned, empty palms, and bowed heads replaced with audio speakers. These audio speakers—emitting sounds of women’s chatters, giggles, and sexual sighs—are interconnected by silk threads and are reflective of an instinctual shared intimacy. Situating these bodies amidst a background of stark Pepto-Bismol pink, Lin presents figural beauty in a mode that departs from the male standard of beauty as typically adopted by sculpture, and instead restores female self-worth. In the exhibition catalogue, Lin explains her choices as birthed from a want to remove women’s bodies from sexual desire and to instead illustrate the burden worn by these bodies, “such as the impact of love, the impact of children, and the impact of marriage.”
Reimagining the made-standard white cube ideology of art spaces, Lin creates an all-white fabric-enmeshed dreamscape entitled Mother’s!!! (2008), that is rich with mythical and poetic elements. Her transgression against standard display mechanisms simultaneously illustrates a frozen image of women in society, wherein her characters’ very being is weighed down by tightly wound balls of white yarn, while their long white hair drips and extends like icicles. In order to preserve her characters’ anonymity or to mimic womanhood’s façade of mindlessness, Lin presents headless characters that grapple with self-awareness (i.e. one woman figurine twisting her nipple and shifting her feet uncomfortably, and another spreading her legs and bending over to examine her private parts in a mirror) and fixed socio-cultural roles (i.e. one woman figurine posed as Madonna, and a clothing hanger imbued with feminine curves and long, white hair).
Other elements of the retrospective, whose works span a timeline from 1995 to present day, communicate similar messages in varying degrees of urgency—from the asylum-like horror of her earliest work, The Proliferation of Thread Winding (1995) to the muted intensity in the meticulously thread-wrapped bone and tool crossbreeds present in her most recent installation, More or Less the Same (2011). To my dismay, as I traversed the exhibition space, I noticed that the only man present at the exhibition was the friend I visited the show with, and also that the exhibition was surprisingly unfrequented. This accentuates both the isolated vantage point that Lin communicates from, as well as the unfortunate likelihood for it to fall flat upon Western eyes.