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Lin Tianmiao: Protruding Patterns

Galerie Lelong - New York

By Taliesin Thomas

This fall New York City is host to several significant exhibitions of contemporary Chinese art, including Lin Tianmiao’s (b. 1961) solo show “Protruding Patterns” at Galerie Lelong. Lin is one of the distinguished stars of her generation and her art consistently invites a range of interpretations-from ‘handicraft-based’ to ‘feminist inspired,’ she continues to create a diverse body of work that is both charming and candid, often at the same time. Lin’s art resides in the permanent collections of prestigious museums worldwide and she has been exhibiting steadily since the 1990s. Considering the powerhouse cohort of Chinese male artists whose work tends to define contemporary Chinese art on a global scale, Lin’s contribution to the conversation concerning art from China is a necessary aspect of how the international art community encounters the range of practices representative of this field.

The title of this show hints at the quasi-womanist yet gender-role-specific tension at the heart of contemporary feminist and sexual-identity conversations. On the one hand, women cannot ignore the ‘protruding’ scale of male chauvinism, misogyny, and sexism writ large (consider, for example, the flagrant remarks made by the current U.S. president). On the other hand, these prevalent ‘patterns’ of discrimination are also creative fodder for tenacious women such as Lin to address the nonsense head-on, even if that means sowing fuzzy bubble letters that confess derogatory remarks about the female species.

Although Lin adamantly eschews the standard Western feminist label and feminist-oriented discourse-she comments that such descriptions are not relevant to Chinese culture and restrict the interpretation of her work-one cannot help but notice the traditionally ‘feminine’ labor-intensive activities such as stitching and embroidery that define much of her art. Nevertheless, Lin says she hopes that Protruding Patterns reflects the ways in which women’s roles in society have changed over time.

Lin Tianmiao, Protruding Patterns, 2017, installation view. Courtesy of Galerie Lelong, New York.

Lin Tianmiao, Protruding Patterns, 2017, installation view. Courtesy of Galerie Lelong, New York.

This body of work has already been exhibited at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing and the Long Museum in Shanghai. For this exhibition, Lin filled half the gallery space with the aging antique carpets that comprise the base of the installation while an adjacent room displayed new paintings and sculptures of human and animal bones. The carpets were covered with chunky fabric words of red and pink hues that spelled out colloquial phrases that address the female sex in various cultural contexts. These phrases represent an equivocal mix of attitudes toward women that reveal outright belittlement tempered by empowerment: “leftover women,” “Tiger mom,” “bossy” and “goddess” are a few select examples.

Over the past six years, Lin has been researching the Chinese lexicon for labels about women. She has collected nearly 2,000 expressions from various sources including media, literature, newspapers, pop culture, the Internet, and conversations with friends. Employing multiple languages-Chinese, English, French, among others-the words comprise a larger statement about blatant inequity and objectification. Taken together, Lin’s linguistic symbols of interrogation form a 21st-century semiotic that illustrates both the unfortunate normalcy of sexist attitudes toward women and the rising critical backlash. Installed on the ground where visitors can actively trample the words in an act of physical authority, this artwork suggests an extant feminist disposition without trying to be feminist-the actual movement of one’s feet over these phrases demonstrates the ability to crush their meaning while recognizing their presence.

(September 7 - October 21, 2017)

Taliesin Thomas is an artist-philosopher, writer and educator based in Brooklyn, N.Y., and is the founding director of AW Asia (2007 – present). She has lectured widely on contemporary Chinese art and has published in Yishu: Journal of Contemporary Chinese ArtJournal of Contemporary Chinese Art (JCCA) and ArtAsiaPacific magazine in addition to regular reviews for ARTPULSE. She holds an M.A. from Columbia University and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in art theory and philosophy at the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts.

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