Anyone who thinks that contemporary Chinese art is just a canon of male oil painters should experience the work of Lin Tianmiao. Not quite a feminist but certainly concerned with issues of gender, the body and domestic skills, Lin has been producing labor-intensive installations since 1994. This exhibition, billed as a retrospective, barely covers her wide variety of approaches to making art. Instead, it concentrates on her more disturbing, Cronenbergesque three-dimensional environments, conveying a dystopic future with just a trace of Chinese characteristics
An early work, The Proliferation of Thread Winding (1995), presents a bed pierced by thousands of long needles, each with a thread attached, cascading to the floor and ending with a Ping-Pong-size ball of floss. Building forms out of winding thread is one of Lin’s signatures, seen again in Here? or There?, a 2002 multimedia installation created in collaboration with her husband, video artist Wang Gongxin. Here, nine mannequins wearing dysmorphic costumes haunt a space surrounded by oval screens showing black-and-white views of old neighborhoods in Beijing. These scenes, in turn, are intermittently interrupted by color footage of the city’s new apartment developments shot from a high-speed train.
In works like these, along with the more recent installation Mothers!!! (2008), Lin Tianmiao offers corporeal visions that are anything but beautiful. Yet her execution is so precise and delicate, that the overall experience is intriguing and enchanting. With an evident debt to craftsmanship as well as a very personal view of women’s experience in China, this artist’s singular voice transcends the usual associations with the label “contemporary Chinese artist.”—Barbara Pollack