Magazine article Artforum International

Lin Tianmiao: Asia Society

Magazine article Artforum International

Lin Tianmiao: Asia Society

Article excerpt

Lin Tianmiao's works, gathered here in her first retrospective, flesh out her evolving relationship with organic fibers while revealing that the sophisticated and collective processes by which she produces her sculptures and installations has remained a relative constant. Curated by Melissa Chiu, the exhibition of fifteen pieces begins with the China-based artist's earliest major pieces from the mid-1990s, which feature cotton threads inspired by memories of her childhood, and concludes with newer works in silks connoting luxury and wealth. Her practice revels in the various textures these materials produce: Pale silk fabric may represent her skin, wound balls of cotton suggest a disembodied ego, and embroidery and silk fibrils swathe everything like insect threads.

Lin's work is carefully produced by hand. This often leads viewers to draw associations with craft and to see in it an exploration of "women's work"--a feminist reading that is only intensified by her use of images of the body, mostly her own. But feminism is of a different ilk in China, and the artist herself generally eschews such interpretations of her practice.

Indeed, to examine her work solely through the lens of gender is to overlook many of the artist's intentions. Consider one important aspect of her oeuvre: her tendency to employ semiskilled laborers to realize her sculptures (a practice that is relatively ubiquitous in mainland China). For Lin, the use of outsourced labor means she can maintain a uniformly high level of craftsmanship on a large scale, providing luxurious, nearly haptic visual experiences. Examine, for instance, her earliest piece here, The Proliferation of Thread Winding, 1995, in which hundreds of balled cotton threads seem to have exploded from the gaping wound of an institutional bed. Without the assistance of a labor force, works of this size would be nearly impossible to achieve. …

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