by Manu SharmaAug 22, 2021
In a reflection of the year that has been so far, Red Brick Museum brings together the artworks of 15 artists in an exhibition titled 2020+. Here, Lin Tianmiao makes her presence known with The Proliferation of Thread Winding, an artwork she made in 1995. Tianmiao’s audiovisual installation brings its past sentiment in uncanny comparison with the ongoing crisis.
The artist says, “The core idea of the work stems from a long-term practice of examining and exploring various materials, looking at the impact of human intervention on the original states of the materials and how its physical properties are drastically changed, sometimes in the opposite direction. In this unprecedented year, where a global pandemic continues to spread, people have gained a deeper sense of reflection and curiosity in things that were previously ignored. There is a desire to gain an understanding of what we deem essential in our lives and how it impacts the world. For example, a seemingly small action by one of us could trigger huge changes in politics, the economy, culture, and society in our environment”.
Tianmiao continues, “As this work was made 25 years ago, it is impossible for me to retain a complete accuracy of my thought process at that time. Our memories tend to be incomplete, and possibly dilute the experiences of 25 years ago. Perhaps, the years have also continually increased my understanding and new thoughts and ideas have been added and become associated with the work. One method of comparison would be to look at how differently the work has been presented in exhibitions in 1995 and 2020, taking into account the changes in environment”.
While much of her career created significant space for her versatile use of textile, Tianmiao contemplates her relationship with the material, “In recent years, my relationship to textile as a material has become more distanced as I have become freer in selecting and using various materials—all materials do not have a fixed use for me. As long as it is suited for the works’ inherent concept, I will start to study and examine different materials, including glass, liquids, and even programming. I try my best to excavate and understand the limitations and plasticity of the material. I have been experimenting in this way for the past 25 years”.
“For example, in The Proliferation of Thread Winding, the 15-cm-long needles are typically used to produce sewing sacks - it is as sharp as a knife and has to be carefully handled. When 60,000 needles are densely packed with their points up on the bed, visually they look as soft as fur and lose that sense of danger and harm. As for the cotton thread balls, they appear soft and harmless, but when their numbers are exponentially multiplied, the potential for aggression also increases. The decision to include the video was also straightforward - hands are shown innocently and relentlessly at work in threading the cotton balls together, challenging the perseverance and patience of the viewer and adding a sense of life to the work,” concludes the artist, explaining her deconstruction and reconstruction of our notions of these particular materials.
The Proliferation of Thread Winding is an installation one would expect to withstand time and tide. Bringing together traditional materials, which are rooted in the structures of our civilisation with a video element, which although depicting a traditional act (threading), signifies the development of future civilisations. It exists in a state of timeless relatability in the way it brings forth comparisons and contemplations. Personally, for instance, it draws upon ideas based in yin-yang philosophy and the politics of textile. Although it springs conceptually eternal, the installation is constructed through the lens Tianmiao lends, borrowed from her lived experiences. While the narrative stands by itself, it is an artwork that challenges the onlooker to engage with it further through their own gaze.
In 2020, people are constantly undergoing an unprecedented sense of horror and experiencing a daily attack of shocking and extreme news. While we live and coexist with all kinds of fears, our instinctive rationality has awakened a sense of fear toward nature and the passage of life. This has encouraged us to enter a state of reflection to examine our previous ways of living, return to a state of deep thought and consideration, and remain alert to new changes. Furthermore, reminding ourselves not to lose sight of the meaning of existence over time, so that we will not undergo an ‘awakening' again when faced with a similar situation of suffering.
At the same time, I am trying to broaden my thinking pattern and allow myself a time of quiet contemplation. On one hand, I am reflecting on the concept(s) of the artwork(s) that I made 20 years ago and comparing the concepts of artworks in the present time. On the other hand, I am planning some new works and trying to consolidate my thought process”.
The Proliferation of Thread Winding is on display at Red Brick Art Museum, Beijing, China, together with numerous artists, including Olafur Eliasson’s recent Earth Perspectives. The exhibition is on view till February 28, 2021.
*The answers in this interview have been translated from Mandarin to English.