rome, italy – chiostro del bramante


melbourne, australia – national gallery of victoria

solo exhibition

shanghai, china – leo xu projects

a tale of today

manila, philippines – museum of contemporary art and design

locomotion Read the text


atlanta, georgia, usa – high museum of art

solo exhibition

savannah, georgia, usa – savannah college of art and design museum of art



grenoble, france – 1 % artistique du lycée des eaux claires, conseil régional rhône-alpes

public commission

shanghai, china – aurora museum

the making of a museum

hong kong, china – art basel

eslite gallery

beijing, china – ullens center for contemporary art

m home : living in space


auckland, new-zealand – auckland art triennal

if you were to live here ...   Read the text

newquay, cornwall, united kingdom – grey black white gallery

solo show

new york, usa – anna-maria & stephen kellen gallery

cross strait relations

newport beach, california, usa – orange county museum of art

california-pacific triennial  

beijing, china – tang contemporary art

place libre   Read the text

shanghai, china – art 021



taipei, taiwan – eslite gallery


shanghai, china – rockbund art museum

model home   Read the text

salem, massachusetts, usa – peabody essex museum

free port (no :005) [read about]


vigo, spain – marco museo de arte contemporánea de vigo

hotel marco  

barcelona, spain – nogueras-blanchard gallery

between the lines  

towada, japan – towada art center



seoul, korea – leeum samsung museum of art

memories of the future

prato, italy – centro per l’arte contemporanea luigi pecci

the colour is bright the beauty is generous

vancouver, canada – vancouver art gallery

a modest veil  


basel, switzerland – art basel

eslite gallery

beppu, japan – beppu project

mixed bathing

taipei, taiwan – eslite gallery

I am the sun

fukuoka, japan – artium


fukuoka, japan – fukuoka asian art triennale

live and let live: creators of tomorrow  


bristol, united kingdom – arnolfini

far west trading

ghent, belgium – pierre de geyterstraat

public commission

taipei, taiwan – it park gallery

solo exhibition

towada, japan – towada art center

inaugural exhibition

beijing, china – ullens center for contemporary art

super fengshui

taichung, taiwan – national taiwan museum of fine arts


shanghai, china – the shanghai gallery of art

what a difference a day made


linz, austria – schaurausch, o.k. centrum

solo exhibition

beausoleil, france – 1% artistique de l’école des cigales

public art commission  

edinburgh, united kingdom – edinburgh international festival

jardins publics  

moscow, russia – II moscow biennale

through the 'painting'

tokyo, japan – museum of contemporary art tokyo

space for your future

barcelona, spain – nogueras-blanchard gallery

solo exhibition

linz, austria – o.k. centrum


stavanger, norway – rogaland school of art

permanent installation  


almere, netherlands – kunstlinie

public commission

beijing, china – beijing art fair

solo presentation - eslite gallery

taipei, taiwan – eslite gallery

island life

taipei, china – louis vuitton building


paris, france – palais de tokyo site de création contemporaine

notre histoire

beijing, china – tang contemporary art center

surplus value


barcelona, spain – nogueras-blanchard gallery

opening dinner party for solo exhibition

luxembourg, luxembourg – casino luxembourg


guangzhou, china – second guangzhou triennial


honolulu, hawaii, usa – the contemporary museum

o2 art 2

berlin, germany – haus der kulturen der welt

about beauty

lyon, france – lyon biennial

experience de la durée

montpellier, france – contemporary chinese art biennial


vienna, austria – kunsthalle wien

kunsthalle wien project space, 20.09-29.05.2005


saint louis, missouri, usa – contemporary art museum st. louis

solo exhibition

taipei, taiwan – eslite gallery

solo exhibition

kanazawa, japan – 21st century museum of contemporary art


long island city, new york, usa – ps1 contemporary art center

solo exhibition

san francisco, california, usa – asian art Museum

spaces within

shanghai, china – shanghai gallery of art



luzern, switzerland – galerie urs meile

solo exhibition

lisbon, portugal – culturgest

subversion and poetry

luzern, switzerland – kuntsmuseum luzern

bibliotherapy with remy markowitsch

lille, france – palais des beaux arts

flower power/lille 2004

milan, italy – salone del mobile di milano

moroso show room

cadiz, spain – fundación nmac


paris, france – palais de tokyo

solo show


the hague, netherlands – city hall


castellon, spain – espai d’art contemporani de castello


gwangju, korea – gwangju biennial hall

pause_gwangju biennial

paris, france – galerie ghislaine hussenot

solo exhibition

paris, france – palais de tokyo site de creation contemporaine

inauguration exhibition

brisbane, australia – queensland art gallery

asia-pacific triennial of contemporary art

munich, germany – galerie tanit

"liu ling (c.221-300 ad), upset people who came to see him by sitting naked in his room. when they complained he answered: 'i take the whole universe as my house and my own room as my clothing. why then do you enter into my trousers ?'"


esslingen, germany – villa merkel

bibliotherapy with remy markowitsch

venice, italy – 49th venice biennial

taiwan pavilion

helsinki, finland – kiasma museum

ars 01

istanbul, turkey – seventh istanbul biennial


ghent, belgium – stedelijk museum voor Actuele kunst ghent

casino 2001

taipei, taiwan – institute of contemporary art

the gravity of the immaterial


hong kong, china – tamar site

festival of vision/berlin in hong kong

taipei, taiwan – taipei biennial in the taipei fine arts museum

the sky is the limit


modinagar, india – khoj international artists’ association

artist workshop

taipei, taiwan – it park gallery

magnetic writing / marching ideas

fukuoka, japan – fukuoka asian art museum

fukuoka triennale

taipei, taiwan – it park gallery



taipei, taiwan – taipei fine art museum

tu parles / j'écoute

paris, france – la ferme du buisson

tu parles / j'écoute Read the text

taipei, taiwan – taipei fine arts museum

it park group exhibition

taipei, taiwan – bamboo curtain studio

back from home

taipei, taiwan – dimensions endowment of art

solo exhibition

Biography - CV

Michael Lin is an artist living and working in Taipei, Shanghai, and Brussels.

Lin turns away from painting as an object of contemplation toward one of painting as a bounded, physical space, one we can settle into and inhabit (Vivian Rehberg). Lin orchestrates monumental painting installations that re-conceptualize and reconfigure public spaces. Using patterns and designs appropriated from traditional Taiwanese textiles his works have been exhibited in major institutions and international Biennials around the world, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, 2007, UCCA, Beijing, 2008, The Lyon Biennial 2009, The Vancouver Art Gallery, 2010, and most recently at the Singapore Biennial and the Towada Art Center.

Transforming the institutional architecture of the public museum, his unconventional paintings invite visitors to reconsider their usual perception of those spaces, and to become an integral part of the work, giving meaning to its potential as an area for interaction, encounter, and re-creation.

Solo Exhibitions


  • National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia


  • Eslite Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan
  • Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, Manila, Philippines
  • Leo Xu Projects, Shanghai, China


  • High Museum, Atlanta, GA, USA
  • SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah, GA, USA


  • Frieze, Leo Xu project, London, UK


  • Project 1, Hong Kong, China
  • Tang Contemporary, Beijing, China Project 1, Hong Kong, China


  • PEM Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts, USA
  • Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai, China
  • Eslite Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan
  • Leo Xu Projects, Shanghai, China


  • Towada Art Centre, Aomori, Japan
  • NoguerasBlanchard, Barcelona, Spain
  • MARCO Museo de Arte Contemporánea de Vigo, Vigo, Spain


  • Vanvouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, Canada
  • The Colour Is Bright The Beauty Is Generous, Centro per l’Arte Contemporanea Luigi Pecci, Prato, Italy


  • Eslite Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan
  • Artium, Fukuoka, Japan


  • IT Park, Taipei, Taiwan
  • The Shanghai Gallery of Art, Shanghai


  • O.K. Centrum, Linz, Austria
  • NoguerasBlanchard Barcelona, Spain


  • Eslite Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan


  • O2 ART 2, The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA
  • Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna, Austria
  • NoguerasBlanchard, Barcelona, Spain


  • PS1 Contemporary Art Center, Long Island City, New York, USA
  • Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri, USA
  • Eslite gallery, Taipei, Taiwan
  • Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, USA


  • Moroso Showroom, Milan, Italy
  • Galerie Urs Meile, Luzern, Switzerland
  • Palais de Tokyo, Site de Creation Contemporaine, Paris, France


  • Galerie Ghislaine Hussenot, Paris, France
  • Galerie Tanit, Munich, Germany
  • Stroom, The Hague, Netherlands
  • Palais de Tokyo, Site de Creation Contemporaine, Paris, France


  • IT Park Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan


  • Dimensions Endowment of Art, Taipei, Taiwan


  • IT Park Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan

Group Exhibitions


  • Enjoy- Chiostro Del Bramante, Rome, Italy
  • Fantasy Access Code- Palazzo Reale, Milan, Italy


  • Testimony of food, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, Taiwan


  • Post Pop, Saatchi Gallery, London, UK
  • Encounters, Art Basel, Hong Kong, China
  • Silence, Balice Herting gallery, Paris, France
  • Topohilia, BANK, Shanghai, China
  • The Making of A Museum, Aurora Museum, Shanghai, China
  • M Home: Living in Space RedStar Macalline Art Project, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, China


  • Rolling, Seoul Art Museum, Seoul, Korea
  • California Pacific Triennial, Orange County Museum of Art, California, USA
  • If you where to live here, The 5th Auckland Triennal, New Zealand
  • El gabinete de un aficionado. Historia de una colección, Centre d’art la Panera, Lleida, Spain
  • Paint (erly), Bank, Shanghai, China
  • Cross Strait Relations, Anna-Maria & Stephen Kellen Gallery, New York, USA
  • Reading, Leo Xu Projects, Shanghai, China


  • Encounter: The Royal Academy In Asia, Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, LASALLE College of Arts, Singapore
  • Time Games, Taipei Fine Art Museum, Taipei, Taiwan


  • The Couple Show, Shanghai Gallery of Art, Shanghai, China
  • Open House, Singapore Biennial, Singapore


  • Popping Up, Hong Kong Arts Center, Hong Kong, China
  • Memories of the Future, Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul, Korea
  • Atelier Michael Lin, Centre Pompidou-Metz, Metz, France
  • The Burden of Representation, Osage Gallery, Hong Kong, China


  • Live and Let Live: Creators of Tomorrow, Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale, Japan
  • The Spectacle of the Everyday, Lyon Biennial, Lyon, France
  • The Tree, James Cohan Gallery, Shanghai, China
  • Mixed Bathing, Beppu Project, Beppu, Japan
  • Art Basel, Eslite gallery, Basel, Switzerland


  • Home, National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taichung, Taiwan
  • Artificial Nature, Museum of Contemporary Art, Shanghai, China
  • Far West Trading, Arnolfini, Bristol, UK
  • Super Fengshui, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, China
  • Inaugural Exhibition, Towada Art Center, Towada, Japan
  • Chanel Mobile Art, Hong Kong, China/Tokyo, Japan/New York, USA
  • Madrid Abierto (in collaboration with Alicia Framis), Madrid, Spain
  • Not for sale, Madrid Abierto, La Casa Encendida, Madrid, Spain (with Alicia Framis)


  • Space For Your Future, Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan
  • Jardins Publics, Edinburgh International Festival, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
  • Schaurausch, O.K. Centrum, Linz, Austria
  • Through The ‘Painting’, Special Projects, Second Moscow Biennale, Moscow, Russia


  • The Elegance Of Silence, Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan
  • About Beauty, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, Germany
  • Experience De La Duree, Lyon Biennial, Lyon, France
  • Asian Contemporary Art In Print, Asia Society, New York, USA
  • Once Upon A Time…Contemporary Fairytale, ARCOS Museo di Arte Contemporanea del Sannio, Benevento, Italy
  • New Space, Pinchuk Art Centre, Kiev, Ukraine
  • Surplus Value, Tang Contemporary Art Center, Beijing, China
  • Notre Histoire, Palais de Tokyo, Paris, France


  • Beyond, Second Guangzhou Triennial, Guangzhou, China
  • Joy, Casino Luxembourg, Luxembourg, Luxembourg


  • Floral Habitat, Bury St. Edmunds Art Gallery, Suffolk, United Kingdom
  • Odyssey, Shanghai Gallery of Art, Shanghai, China
  • Polyphony, 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, Japan


  • Bibliotherapy (With Remy Markowitsch), Kuntsmuseum Luzern, Luzern, Switzerland
  • Subversion and Poetry, Culturgest, Lisbon, Portugal
  • Art Unlimited, Art Basel, Basel, Switzerland
  • Crossed, Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain
  • Painting 4, Rose Art Museum, Waltham, Massachusetts, USA
  • The Fifth System: Public Art in the Age of ‘Post-Planning’, Shenzhen Art Museum, Shenzhen, China
  • Flower Power/Lille 2004, Palais des Beaux Art, Lille, France


  • International 2002, Liverpool Biennial, Liverpool, United Kingdom
  • Asian Art Triennial, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, Australia
  • How Big Is The World ?, O.K.Centrum, Linz, Austria
  • Pause_Gwangju Biennial, Gwangju Biennial Hall, Gwangju, Korea
  • Asianvibe », Espai d’Art Contemporani de Castello, Castellon, Spain
  • Urgent Painting, Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris, France


  • Bibliotherapy (With Remy Markowitsch), Villa Merkel, Esslingen, Germany
  • Casino 2001, Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst Ghent, Ghent, Belgium
  • ARS O1, Kiasma Museum, Helsinki, Finland
  • Seventh Istanbul Biennial, Istanbul, Turkey
  • 49th Venice Biennial, Taiwan Pavilion, Venice, Italy
  • Kaohsiung, Taiwan/ Total Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul, Korea
  • The Gravity of the Immaterial, Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei; Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts


  • Festival of Vision/Berlin in Hong Kong, Tamar Site, Hong Kong, China
  • Very Fun Park, Hong Kong Art Center, Hong Kong, China
  • Sister Space Project, Southern Exposure, San Francisco, California, USA
  • The Sky is the Limit, Taipei Biennial, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, Taiwan


  • KHOJ International Artists’ Association, Modinagar, India
  • Fukuoka Triennale, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Fukuoka, Japan
  • Magnetic Writing/Marching Ideas, IT Park Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan
  • Visions of Pluralism, National Art Museum of China, Beijing, China


  • Back from Home, Bamboo Curtain Studio, Taipei, Taiwan
  • Tu Parles / J’ Ecoute, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, Taiwan/La Ferme du Buisson, Paris, France


kit hammonds – forever and a day : on michael lin’s contemporaneity

New Paradise, an idyllic tropical beach edged by palm trees is a scene of tranquillity and beauty. Of course we are immediately aware that it is not real, or natural, but  the packaging of a brand of Taiwanese cigarettes. It tells us so in bold characters. But despite this it still pulls on romantic desires. A double nostalgia pervades, for the place and the product itself, both seeming out of time.

Lin’s New Paradise is one of a series that reproduce the packaging from carefully selected everyday commodities currently on the shelves of stores in China, all of which convey romantic landscapes as part of their brand. As with the other works in this exhibition, they continue an engagement with affective popular design that runs as a leitmotif throughout Michael Lin’s practice. But beneath the decorative surfaces that hark back to popular arts and traditions,  Lin’s works perform in ways that touch on more complex interplays between the present and the past. In this sense his work is deeply concerned with contemporaneity, that is “a reexamination of the basic ideas of modernism in light of the very contemporary cognizance that every detail of presentation and production is already contaminated by specific histories.”1

Lin is more cognizant than most of how this is pervasive, where the currents of the past and present intermesh by creating works where the imagination of different social spheres and their respective traditions interact, influence one another and coexist. Both within and outside the gallery, by employing the patterns of Taiwanese fabrics, he has staged the patterns of life that lie at the edges of, yet integral to the public sphere – cafes, libraries, even wedding ceremonies.

This exhibition reflects back on three substantial projects realised during his time living in Shanghai that continue this enquiry yet with a particular focus on the circulation of objects and values that bring to light how the “essential quality of contemporaneousness: its immediacy, its presentness” and the “direct experience of multiplicitous complexity over the singular simplicity of distanced reflection.”2


One day in 2008, Michael Lin bought out the entire contents of an everyday goods store in Shanghai – every plastic bucket, every wok, every broom and every bowl, plate and pot, relocating it to the Shanghai Gallery of Art as the installation What A Difference A Day Made.

In this act Lin performs a series of cultural transactions between the value of overlooked and the obsolete circulating through specific forms of display.

Reconstructed in the vitrine windows of the gallery, the shop’s interior is abject clutter at odds with what we might call a display. Like any self-assembled and contingent pile of stuff, the shop is a physical manifestation of the precarity of the business itself. Transplanted to the gallery, it becomes a diorama, or a curiosity cabinet, forms of display redolent of redundant histories in museums that, nevertheless, holds its own out-of-time charms.

Many of these goods are simulacra of traditional ceramics rendered in plastic sitting alongside the more unashamed plastic goods in gaudy colours. In its second phase, Lin acts almost as curator, selecting and displaying exemplars from this stock and re-presenting them in transport crates cum cabinets. These hybrid units place the objects between shipment, storage and exhibition. Lin places them in transit, simultaneously evoking the circulation of cheap home-wares worldwide, the transportation of personal effects under global migration, and the cultural up-cycling over time of the everyday wares into museum artefacts.

What A Difference A Day Made’s final stage takes these objects and makes them dance. Here the goods are literally in circulation around one another, looping through the air as a circus performer juggles them. Performed live or perpetually looped on four video screens, it brings the low-brow arts of circus or street performance into the gallery as a reminder of how arts once coexisted in the public square alongside the marketplace and political forum.

Lin is not just collecting and transplanting the goods, however, but also art history. Walking into a high-street store and buying a piece of hardware is already a century-long tradition that intermeshes the gears of day-to-day life with those of “high” culture. In 1914 Marcel Duchamp walked into the Bazar de Centre Ville department store in Paris and purchased the first of his true readymades – a bottle dryer. The following year in New York, he repeated the gesture, selecting and displaying a snow shovel instead. Duchamp brought an “anti-aesthetic” into the cultural domain by selecting his readymades through a « visual indifference with at the same time a total absence of good or bad taste. »3

The Duchampian tradition is packaged tightly in Lin’s works, translation and translocation, transportation and transmogrification, in an economic as well as aesthetic sense, with a wry sense of humour running through it. Up-scaled into the entire store, however, it accrues further meaning that reflect the socio-economic disparities in contemporary globalised cities such as Shanghai.


Lin’s most recent project, Shanghai Forever, follows a similar track, a nod to Duchamp’s readymades in the bicycle wheel, the transplanting of commercial products into the gallery and their resulting re-evaluation.

A full range of Forever brand bicycles from Shanghai stands in the gallery. The bicylces are for sale as they would be in the stores that the display mirrors. Surrounded by paintings derived from the company designs over the years, the walls seem to be infrathin here. What takes place inside and outside the  gallery seem to be “two forms cast in the same mould differ[ing] from each other by an infrathin separative amount.”4 Lin not only transplants the object, but the entire context in which they exist. As such it is far from the “aesthetic indifference” of Duchamp’s readymades, instead it trades, precisely, on the romantic imagination that these bicycles evoke.

Forever bicycles were founded in 1940 in Shanghai. As the name suggests, the idea was that they would last at least a lifetime, and quickly became one of the “Famous Four” bicycle manufacturers in Maoist China. Today, it thrives on this “brand narrative” that finds “It is a soft-spot in everyone’s mind. When you see a postman’s bike, you are not just looking at a bike, but a period of Chinese history. It’s part of an identity, part of people’s wish for a better life.”5

Terms like “retro” coupled with “identity” are well within the lexicon of value in our contemporary period that thrives on nostalgia. While the modernist ideologies from which the bicycles originate sought to build a better life in the future, our own time looks backwards with affection. Here we follow Giorgio Agamben, that “to be contemporary means in this sense to return to a present where we have never been.”6 And this sublimated nostalgia is played out in the second chapter of this work, a single Phoenix bicycle, both in name and its resurrection. Lin’s loving act of restoration is an original vintage bike returned to its former glory, if, in fact, made up of salvaged parts in order to make it whole again. In building this assemblage of a sort, Lin enacts “anamnesia” – not recollection but a conscious act of “resisting forgetting” involving quotation, imitation, borrowing and assimilation drawn from “the current situation of generalized circulation of culture, that is, contemporaneity as the coexistence and interspersing of a multiplicity of traditions in the same here and now.”7 Lin’s work, therefore has something of an anthropological eye, but one that engages with a globalised world of today, rather than those of traditional ethnographic subjects. Inevitably, those are most presently displayed in the common space of transaction, the marketplace. And so Lin draws into focus how today’s traditions and their totems are not just those of folk imagery and customs. They are equally redolent of modern ones, art included, which carry their own romanticism.


These strands are equally present in the final staging post of this exhibition. A picture gallery of sublime landscape paintings in different genres continue the series from which New Paradise is drawn. Each is taken from carefully selected packaging from supermarket staples – milk, rice, mineral water, tea – that leans heavily on the image of nature and art alike to deny its industrial reality. Among them is a single cow standing in front of a mountain range that is distinctly reminiscent of Casper David Friedrich’s lone figures in the landscape, a pastiche of European Romanticism so displaced through cultural circulation that it comes to stand for an Asian milk industry.

At first these scenes seem at odds with the steel framed modern structure that acts as a viewing platform in the middle of the gallery. Its debranded, rotating sign at its pinnacle places it as a non-place of a roadside gasoline station, while its interlocking, eccentric rings have something of Tatlin’s unbuilt tower about them.

Point appears like two distinct modernist utopias – consumerist and socialist – endlessly colliding in the present.

In this room time is in a suspend present, art built of fragments of the past. The paintings and Point track through a cycle of key moments utopian modernism from Romanticism to Conceptualism via Constructivism, the readymade and pop-art. In their own times each of these phases of modernity seemed like radical breaks from tradition, but have now fallen into being traditions of their own. What “began with utopia” Svetlana Boym puts it “ended with nostalgia. Optimistic belief in the future became outmoded, while nostalgia, for better or worse, never went out of fashion, remaining uncannily contemporary.”8

Of all these forms of modernism, Romanticism stands out as at odds with the others.  Its emphasis on sublime nature as a rebuttal of the industrialised world and its emphasis on the inner, emotional world of the individual place it at odds. However, in defining the core of contemporary art, Peter Osbourne makes a persuasive claim that its threads resurface most strongly in its antonym Conceptual art. He claims that, at their core, Romantics considered art works as fragments of an infinite totality, a project that could never be completed. Sol Lewitt’s 12th Sentence on Contemporary Art best illustrates how this finds itself replicated in his own time: “For each work of art that becomes physical there are many variations that do not.” Here is the point at which modernity folds back on itself, Conceptual art the end-game that was begun by the Romantics.

As Raphael Samuels suggests any supposedly “timeless form of ‘tradition’ is progressively altered from generation to generation. It bears the impress of experience… [and] is shaped with the ruling passions of its time.”9 And that tradition in art is aptly framed here as the emancipatory spirit that runs through modernism, revised with each generation according to its own conditions. Those conditions today are a globalised world in which cultural circulation creates a sense of groundlessness caught between the perpetual displacement of the present by a connection to a lost past, be it real or imaginary.

Nostalgia itself is not just a longing for the past, but specifically a morbid longing for home. It is a syndrome that is specifically attuned to contemporaneity as “the temporality of globalization: a new kind of totalizing but immanently fractured constellation of temporal relations.”10

And so beneath Lin’s recurrent engagement with nostalgia and tradition can be seen as multivalent discourse with displacement that appears in searching for place while all things – peoples, objects, ideas, and art alike – are caught up in a constant flux of circulation.

As Terry Smith eloquently describes,  the contemporary is a series of “radical disjunctures of perception, mismatching ways of seeing and valuing the same world, in the actual coincidence of asynchronous temporalities, in the jostling contingency of various cultural and social multiplicities, all thrown together in ways that highlight the fast-growing inequalities within and between them.”11 It would be easy to see nostalgia as merely a sentimental escape into the past, and indeed is frequently capitalised on for this potential. However, what makes Lin’s practice so contemporary is that it confronts these incongruities that emerge with a reflexive nostalgia that is “enamored of distance, not of the referent itself” and “aware of the gap between identity and resemblance; the home is in ruins or, on the contrary, has just been renovated and gentrified beyond recognition.”12 In this light, nostalgia and tradition become leitmotifs that run through his practice as means to stage a series of deft cultural transactions between the many currents of today. A new paradise, a utopia, might be a lost dream, but Lin’s work keeps it in circulation at least.

1 Diedrich Diederichsen, “Formulismus”, Artforum 29, 2005. p. 23

2 Terry Smith, What is Contemporary Art?, University of Chicago Press, 2009. p.703

3 Marcel Duchamp, “Apropos of ‘Readymade’”, 1961

4 Marcel Duchamp quoted in Jay D Russell, “Marcel Duchamp’s Readymades: Walking on Infrathin Ice” in www.dadacompanion.com

5 Quote taken from an interview on CNN.com

6 Giorgio Agamben, “What is the Contemporary?”in “What is an Apparatus?” and Other  Essays, Stanford Press, 2009. p.51

7 Marc Augê, An Anthropology for Contemporaneous Worlds, Stanford Press, 1999. p.23

8 Svetlana Boym, “Nostalgia and its Discontents”,  The Hedgehog Review, Summer 07. p.7

9 Raphael Samuels, Theatre of Memory, Verso, 1996. Pxxiii

10 Peter Osbourne, Anywhere or Not at All – Philosophy of Contemporary Art, Verso 2013. p.25

11 Terry Smith, What is Contemporary Art?, University of Chicago Press, 2009. p.703

12 ibid. p.12-16



joselina cruz – locomotion

For Michael Lin: Locomotion, the artist transforms MCAD’s space to the extent that entering it equates stepping into a painting. The commissioned work begins from its barely legible initial sketches on the white wall, flowing into a print study across glass windows, towards experimentation with scale, then colour, to its final form and design. Interested in involving pedicab drivers with his project in Manila, Lin met with the local community through their barangay representatives and suggested a swap. In exchange for their old pedicab hoods and tarps —some personalized over the years with motifs and emblems of ownership, many tattered and on their last legs—a new one with his printed design on it, upholstered on to their pedicab frame as they saw fit. For Lin, the exchange is not simply symbolic, but a sustained participation with the community, one that went far beyond the axis of the museum and the college, and even the dates of the exhibition. While Model Home in Rockbund engaged construction workers who worked within the museum to produce the work, Lin, for Locomotion, cedes ownership of his artwork to the pedicab drivers who get to create the patchwork design for their side car’s frame; each pedicab will have a different pattern.


Fifteen pedicabs, now art objects decked with Lin’s prints, become geographical indices pedaling through the interstices of the city, tracing a line of art along the streets of Manila. Once a day, they enter the museum to pick up a passenger or two, and for that moment while inside the museum, their pedicab tarps hone in on the central image found within before it rides out back to the streets. Another work in the exhibition, Untitled: Gathering, (2016), a painting cut to create 240 little stools, on the other hand is a passive receptacle for social gatherings, a place where one can sit and rest, listen talk and be still. Locomotion is, unless parked, moving, taking people from point to point. With the pedicab, maps are thwarted, and enters areas unknown to art and vise versa. The wall patterns that travel from interior wall to exterior geography are like a slice of the art world moving through streets. Michel de Certeau writes that maps organize cities to establish power, a guide to ‘read’ the city, and in this way, own it: as far as the eye can see. This ‘reading’ loses efficacy once on the ground, the city becomes opaque needing someone to weave across its terrain for places to open up again.




bruce grenville – a modest veil

Michael Lin has produced a remarkable range of paintings and installations since the early nineteen-nineties. While his art is highly recognizable and often described as utilizing enlarged painted images based on traditional Taiwanese fabrics, this familiar and easy description seems to fall away whenever any attempt is made to apply a categorical description to his works. They are paintings, but it would be difficult to say that they meet the conventional criteria of contemporary painting. They are instead produced in a workshoplike environment, usually involving the collaboration of a small team of painters who utilize templates and work on discrete sections that are later joined to create the whole.

The designs that Lin uses are invariably described as being derived from traditional Taiwanese textiles, a description that seems meaningful when compared to conventional Western fabric designs. However, Lin often takes pains to acknowledge that while the fabrics may be specific to Taiwan, they also reflect the complex nature of modern Taiwanese history: one can recognize the use of traditional Chinese motifs such as peonies and phoenixes, but also of Japanese cherry blossoms and a color palette derived from kimono fabrics. One might imagine that Lin’s choice of source imagery is significant as a result of his own personal history and the nature of his development as an artist, and thus constitutes an act of expressing his Taiwanese heritage, but Lin’s use of and alterations to the patterns suggest that his conception of difference is not based on a simple repetition of traditional notions of nationalism and identity.

Lin’s works are often monumental in scale and involve a rigorously conceived relationship to the architectural spaces they occupy, but they are nonetheless surprisingly anti-monumental, and they decisively counterpoise the surfaces on which they are displayed. In these and many other ways, we are consistently brought face-to-face with the critical contradictions of Lin’s art. It is this paradox, formed through dialogue and offered as an expression, that lies at the heart of Lin’s projects. I want to return to these ideas later, but now I would like to take this opportunity to shift to a focused discussion of a small group of projects that reveals the focused and meaningful relationship which exists between Lin’s paintings and their architectural contexts.

Our 2010 Vancouver Art Gallery exhibition represents an exemplary instance of Lin’s oeuvre, for his broader artistic project, especially with regard to the notion of architecture and its critique, is evident in it. The initial discussion of the exhibition began several years ago when the original plan to produce an work for the interior of the Vancouver Art Gallery’s lobby were considered and then rejected after a site visit confirmed that the lobby space was not well suited to a monumental installation. Several alternative sites were subsequently considered but discarded until a final proposal was made to produce a large-scale work for the Gallery’s façade. To understand the significance of Lin’s choice, it is necessary to consider briefly the Gallery’s architecture and history. The Vancouver Art Gallery occupies a Neoclassical building constructed in 1905 and originally used to house British Columbia’s provincial courts of law. In 1979 the courts moved to an adjacent site, and the building was retrofitted to house the Gallery and its collection. While minor changes to the building’s exterior are visible—for example, in the area of the café and stairs at the back of the building— the structure has remained largely untouched and its Neoclassical narrative continues to be strongly communicated.

The building is bounded by a large square and fountain at the front and a small public square at the rear. Significantly, the architect who retrofitted the Gallery spaces decided not to utilize the grand public entrance at the front of the building, instead building a new one placed obliquely at the back. The building is located at the municipal heart of the city and utilized regularly as a site for public gatherings of all kinds—festivals, ad hoc civic celebrations, commemorative events, vigils, protests, etc., frequently take place in the square in front of the Gallery—and throughout the year the square and steps are home to resting shoppers, school kids, buskers, junkies, businessmen, homeless people, tourists, bike couriers taking a break, and many others.

However, while the space outside the building is a much used site for public assembly, it is also one on which the judicial authority of the provincial government was exercised for more than seventy years. While much of the structure’s historical legacy is defined by the standard judicial decisions of a Western democratic society, there remains to this day a strong ambivalence toward the building and its role in the enforcement of national and provincial laws that were widely regarded as being unjust and detrimental to members of the First Nations communities in British Columbia.

Built in 1905 by the architect Francis Rattenbury, the building was given a Neoclassical design similar to many of the public structures erected in Canada from the early nineteenth century onward. The use of that style in Vancouver in the early twentieth century was a confirmation of the conservative and colonial identity of the newly formed community, which was seeking to express its place within the British Empire and the model of authority it imposed on Canada as a western outpost.1

Lin’s proposal to produce a mural for the Gallery’s façade was in keeping with several of his other large-scale projects from the last decade. While these projects share many of the same goals and characteristics with the one in Vancouver, some subtle variations in the latter raise interesting questions about the nature of Lin’s artistic practice and its development.

The 1998 installation House is one of the earliest large-scale works by Lin for which a massive painted mural (measuring approximately nine by five meters) covered one of the interiors walls of the Bamboo Curtain Studio outside Taipei. The decisive and dramatic transformation of the space—a former chicken farm converted into a gallery and art production facility—through the introduction of a monumental, vibrant patterned surface was a radical intervention in the aesthetics of the space and its uses. Entitled Back from Home, the installation reproposed the domestic allusion of the title of the work while introducing the notion of migration. This ambiguous play with the exhibition space and its perception is common to much of Lin’s work in this period, when he was wrestling with his own notions of home and homeland after returning to Taiwan in the mid-nineties.

In this work, the hand-painted surface is determined and bounded by the architectural form of the building in such a way that it is integrated with the building’s architecture yet simultaneously threatens to explode it with a riot of color. The pattern features a massive peony embedded within a design that repeats and echoes across the wall. The dominant hue is a vibrant red, which is offset with spots of blue and strong, linear white elements. This is a variation on a popular Taiwanese design that became very fashionable in the sixties and seventies and was frequently used on a variety of household items, including quilts, cushion covers, curtains, and clothing. The color invariably used with this pattern is a red identified so strongly with the fabric design that the Taiwanese government’s Council for Cultural Affairs promoted it as “Taiwan red” in 2005. Lin’s use of the pattern in this context and on this scale is clearly intended to provoke a dialogue about cultural identity; rather than functioning as a simple affirmation of Taiwanese nationalistic sentiment, it questions the complex nature of the concepts of home and homeland in Taiwan during the nineties.

In 2002 Lin was invited to create a work for a building that houses the city hall and library in The Hague. Entitled Atrium Stadhuis Den Haag, 12.07–08.09.2002, the resulting painting was made for the floor of an atrium in a building designed by Richard Meier. The mural is composed of 380 wooden panels and extends over 1,100 square meters. It is a massive intervention into the space of the building, one that seems to dwarf the visitors who use the library and offices. Lin was invited to carry out this project as part of an official exchange between the Netherlands and Taiwan.2 In this context, Lin chose to utilize a design employing a tulip motif rather than the Taiwanese peony, although he described the work as a “Made in Taiwan” floor. If the earlier work for the Bamboo Curtain Studio revolved, in part, around the question of an emergent dialogue regarding the nature of Taiwanese identity in a changing political climate, then one might argue that Lin’s project for The Hague revolved around those same questions but in a more global context.

Lin’s description of the floor as being “Made in Taiwan” raises questions regarding the importance of global trade and the identities that are based upon the origin and circulation of goods on a global scale. The rise in awareness of Taiwanese manufacturing that occurred in the eighties was a result of the global circulation of textiles and toys produced in Taiwan, and then in the nineties Taiwan’s domination of the production of laptops and computer chips came to the fore. The question of what constitutes the Taiwanese identity is complex and extends beyond evolving relations between the Chinese and Taiwanese governments to encompass the identities formed through the global circulation of goods and cultural exchange. Lin’s decision to present his work in this context keeps that narrative subtext active in his practice. A second narrative current involves the relationship between the painting and the architecture of the city hall building in The Hague. Constructed in the mid-nineties and designed by Richard Meier, the building displays many of the notable traits of Meier’s style. The thoroughly modernist white-on-white palette emphasizes the building’s gridlike organization and unifies its interior and exterior spaces to create a monolithic presence. Lin’s painting on the floor of the atrium is thus nothing short of a rupture in the building’s modernist logic that threatens to overwhelm the structure completely in a riot of vibrant colors and sinuous, organic forms.

It would be wrong to describe Lin’s work as being driven by an iconoclastic response to modernist architecture. In fact, it is important to realize that time and time again it enters into a fundamental and meaningful relationship with the architecture of the space that hosts it. The nature of that relationship is difficult to characterize, but Lin has certainly been consistently careful to avoid the kind of traditional one that usually exists between painting and the gallery space. In a discussion regarding his 1999 work Untitled CigaretteBreak, Lin described the importance of redefining the relationship between the art and the architecture, of shifting the divisions between art, design, and architecture and rethinking their relationship to the body: “For Untitled Cigarette Break I was thinking . . . about the relationship of ornamentation to modernism. For me, the LC2 chair of Le Corbusier reflected perfectly the white cube of the gallery space I was showing in. The chairs became a scale model of the room. The paintings on the wall were scaled somewhere between the chairs and the room. I thought of smoking as a more conscious way of breathing. Smoke describing breath. Chairs describing the room. Walls becoming a shirt for our ody.”3

The configuration Lin describes here is one that prioritizes relations between things, and between people and things. The architecture of the gallery is described by the chair, the paintings are conceived in relation to the chairs and the room, and smoking, performed by a body in the space, activates the whole, thereby creating a process so encompassing that the body and the walls of the room become one. It is a rather theatrical description, but it unquestionably alters our perception of the work and the space. Instead of being two autonomous entities—the artwork and the gallery—bound in a relationship in which the existence of one is predicated on negating that of the other, they are joined in a relationship based on repetition, mimesis, and symbiosis.

Lin’s 2005 installation in the Kunsthalle Wien project space brings the question of the relationship between architecture and his work to the foreground. Constructed in 2002, the project space is a unique building. Despite its recent conception, it has the form and character of a Mies van der Rohe design from the sixties such as the pavilion of the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, where transparency, uniformity, and clarity are the architecture’s defining principles. Being a “project space,” the Kunsthalle Wien building is appropriately reduced in scale, with a gallery measuring only seven by thirty-two meters on one side, and a café and events hall on the other. Lin’s project for this space involved the production of translucent monochrome stencils that were used to cover the panes of the gallery’s glass curtain wall. Two thirds of the panes were covered with a translucent green floral motif, and the remaining third in an ornamental, magenta-hued linear design. Depending on the time of day and your location in relation to the glass, you either see the outside world through a marvelously tinted lens or you gaze inward at a magical box lit from within. While it is tempting to describe Lin’s installation as a calculated intervention into the abstract and universalizing space of modernist architecture, it may be more accurate to perceive it as being engaged in a companionable dialogue with the building. Architect Adolf Krischanitz’s design for the Kunsthalle Wien project space was intentionally conceived as a quotation of modernist architecture. Seizing on the modernist principle of transparency, Krischanitz designed a space that is quite literally a project(ion) space: a space dedicated to the launching of art and ideas into the public sphere. Moreover, it is a space that brings the art, the viewer, and the museum into a convivial relationship, with a high priority being given to spaces for dialogue, presentation, and social exchange. Lin’s decision to produce a work that would emphasize these characteristics brings him into a relationship with the architecture that is more complex than one based on a reductive critique of modernism. Given the building’s location across the street from that of the venerable Vienna Secession, it is tempting to take this line of reasoning further and to imagine that Lin’s intervention allows the building and its inhabitants to project outward and engage the Secession in this dialogue.

Like the Secessionists, Lin proposes that art must not be constrained by an academic couriers, shoppers, junkies, school kids, buskers, businessmen, homeless people, and tourists that pause there during the day. The fundamental importance Lin attaches to the public use of his temporary spaces is clearly iterated in his own statements regarding the work and its purposes: “I am less interested in the formalized space in the institutions for presenting art. These spaces on the margins of the institutional space, the events and social interactions, are much more important for me. I am much more interested in the everyday, the general culture. It is in these places where art is not so clearly defined that questions of the function of art come to light.”5

By way of conclusion I want to return to the question of the contradiction in Lin’s art and point out that his underlying decision to utilize mass-produced, traditional fabric designs as a basic element of his art raises engaging questions regarding the significance of repetition and difference in his work. While Lin’s adoption of the fabric patterns seems almost casual, a found object that is easily at hand, such a reductive interpretation produces a premature closure of the work. In this context we are left to consider the relative veracity of his identification with that identity, and we are largely limited to a discourse that revolves around the notions of the real and simulacra.

The significance of Lin’s repetition of traditional fabric designs is not to be found in the mechanical repeating of a found design, for he actively changes the originals, altering their scale, displacing them from their domestic setting, and formalizing their colors and patterns. Instead, its significance is to be found in a strategy of repetition that brings difference to the center of the discourse and moves away from questions about representation, identity, symmetry, equality, and originality toward ones concerning variability, dissemblance, multiplicity, and actuality. Lin’s notion of difference is most effectively realized in his engagement with architecture, painting, and design, whereby he consistently decenters those practices in order to insert not his own identity, but an idea, a space of discourse, an expression of the possibility of a public space—a place in which interactions can be expressed.

At times he appears to be passive; he is a house painter, he says, a maker of pedestrian and unremarkable places of respite. But this supposed passivity might be more accurately described as a means of resisting a reductive, oppositional stance that ceaselessly pits one concept against another—that of one architecture, one identity, one nation, one history.

Set of rules that confine and determine its tools and potential for meaning. While Lin stops short of calling for an all-embracing, universal art form, or gesamtkunstwerk, it is tempting to use this opportunity to assert once again that his practice is expansive and relational rather than discrete and autonomous.

Preliminary discussions regarding a project for the Vancouver Art Gallery began shortly after Lin had completed his installation for the Kunsthalle Wien. Lin’s decision to produce a mural that would be mounted in front of the Gallery’s principal façade provides a revealing evolution of his work. In a manner similar to that of the design and placement of the painting in The Hague, the Vancouver project may be seen as a critical intervention in the logic of the building’s design. The three mural panels are strategically placed so as to block the windows and mask one of the building’s most dramatic features, its Ionic columns. In the Neoclassical tradition, the Iconic order was often used for judicial buildings and libraries as an emblem of a learned and civilized culture. While Lin has worked variously with designs for murals that match the contours and surface of the building (as at the ICA in Taipei in 2001 and La Sucrière in Lyon in 2005), provide a carpetlike covering for the floor (as in the atrium of the city hall in The Hague in 2002 and the Palais de Tokyo in Paris in 2002), or take the form of inserts that plug into windows (as in 2004 at the Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis and in 2005 in the Kunsthalle Wien project space), for the Vancouver project, he designed three panels that are installed in front of the architecture.

Here there is no attempt to integrate or mimic the building’s form; instead, the panels block or obstruct the architecture, a gesture that is intended to obscure the signifying elements of the architecture by closing off the symbolic entryway and hiding the columns and capitals that give the building its gravitas. His purpose in veiling the Gallery’s façade is made evident in an ancillary project for the exhibition, a T-shirt worn by some of the frontline Gallery staff. The shirt bears a simple image on the breast, a fragment from the pages of an Asterix comic that shows a brightly colored curtain decorated with a lively floral pattern. The curtain is slightly parted, and emerging from the gap we see signs of crashing and banging that indicate that some sort of aggressive activity is taking place behind it. A neatly scripted phrase penned by the narrator tells us that the curtain has been intentionally placed there to screen our eyes from a scene of excessive violence: “Let us cast a modest veil over this deplorable and most unusual scene of violence . . .”4 Lin’s mural for the Gallery façade undoubtedly has a similar purpose: it is a “modest veil” that screens a building which once had a mandate to exercise the authority of colonial, national, and provincial rule, but now is an art museum with the mandate of imposing its own history and ideology upon the public. Once again, however, Lin’s mural must be read as a double gesture: it is both a screen that blocks and one that projects, for with this work the artist has also created a vibrant and engaging context for the many social and cultural activities that take place in front of the Gallery building—it provides a backdrop for the public festivals, celebrations, commemorations, vigils, protests, etc., that occur in the square and a home of sorts for the bike

1 When construction of the Courthouse was near completion in 1911, the population of Vancouver was 100,000, but fewer than twenty-five years earlier the population had been under 1,000.

2 The exchange involved Lin, who traveled to The Hague, and a Dutch poet named Erik Lindner, who traveled to Taipei.

3 “The Body as a Site of Culture: Michael Lin in Conversation with Gerald Matt,” in Michael Lin: Kunsthalle Wien project space, 20.4–29.5.2005, ed. Sabine Folie, exh. cat. Vienna, Kunsthalle Wien project space (Vienna, 2005), p. 62.

4 The original French text reads, “Jetons un voile pudique sur une scène d’une rare violence que nous reprouvons . . .”

5 “The Body as a Site of Culture” (see note 3), p. 64.

martina koppel-yang – stage 2

“THREE ON THE BUND 29.09-15.11.04”

2004, emulsion, skaters, wood, 1500X359X400cm

Odyssey(s) 2004-Shanghai Gallery of Art

Courtesy Shanghai Gallery of Art-Shanghai, China

Stage 2

Michael Lin proposes a large half pipe in the atrium of the gallery as the next stage in the Odyssey. The half pipe is painted with folkloric motifs appropriated from a blanket that was purchased at the fabric market in Shanghai. For the opening local skate boarders will perform, riding back and forth in between the walls of the atrium. This project is the perfect realization of Lin’s concept of architecture as a social space, of the interaction between architecture and public. The implication of a performance other than the spontaneous and arbitrary involvement of the public is a recent element in his works that makes his concept move from social interaction to social intervention. Lin thus describes the skaters as “a kind of urban guerrilla, parasitic on the urban landscape but drawing very distinct lines in the architectural forms of the city.” Social interaction, movement, and space here form a whole that generates a strong aesthetic experience. Exaggeration and visual exuberance characterize the artist’s practice. This time movement is added underlining the aspect of adventure and exploration common to every journey. In the process of exploring the individual constantly redefines his limits and thus his identity.

“In my work I use patterns which are specific to Taiwan but I think it is also just as important that they are ornamental, pre-modern, and are conceived in relationship to architecture as a social space. (…) I think it is more interesting to think about how I redefine my identity than how I define it. I am not interested in consolidation an identity for myself. I come from here and I want to go everywhere. I want to site a passage of Joseph Conrad’s “Hearth of Darkness”; ‘He was a seaman, but he was a wanderer, too, while most seamen lead, if one may so express it, a sedentary life. Their minds are of the stay-at-home order, and their home is always with them-the ship’ and so is their country-the sea. One ship is very much like the another, and the sea is always the same.’

An excerpt from the catalogue Odyssey(s) 2004 Curated by Martina Koppel-Yang

“Architecture, ornamentation, function, and domesticity. A movement of color and flow.

My proposal for the exhibition is a half pipe. A half pipe is a skateboard ramp that skaters use to ride on, banking back and forth between the two ramps on each end in a constant flow. My interest here stems from my previous experience as a skater while growing up in Southern California, the birthplace of skate boarding. This half pipe will be constructed in collaboration with a local architect in Shanghai, I would also like to seek the collaboration of a local skateboard team to consult on the project and at the end to perform during the opening of the exhibition.”

Michael Lin, May 4, 2004

mathieu borysevicz – parking lots

“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”

Joni Mitchell[1]


Joni Mitchell’s popular song “Big Yellow Taxi” (1970) marked the beginning of environmental awareness in the United States by invoking the parking lot as the ultimate dystopian metaphor. This expansive flood of tar, laid over fertile ground, decimating nature for the sake of a hard, textured pedestal on which to temporarily plant one’s fossil-fuel-guzzling hunk of metal, signals modern consumer society’s pinnacle of irresponsibility to the great outdoors. “You don’t know what you got till its gone,” Mitchell sings—but what exactly are we left with, after “they took all the trees, and put them in a tree museum”?[2]


The parking lot is a nonspace in the strictest Augéian sense—a graphic embossment upon the flat landscape that, upon entering, immediately conflates one’s identity both with his/her mode of transportation and the need to momentarily abandon it. It is the ultimate destination, the end game of any drive, the terminus of every road, highway, and backstreet. While the car embodies mobility and speed, the parking lot embodies its antithesis. In fact most cars spend 90 percent of their lives parked,[3] leading to the phenomenon of what writer Marlaine Glicksman observes is the parking lot re-visioned as habitat: the trailer park—whether as poorer man’s abode or (upwardly) mobile vacation home, both emphasize transience over permanence. As the automobile’s leisure den, the parking lot becomes synonymous with excess: of land, sky, natural resources, labor, cars, and capital. It is a tract of ground inextricable from society’s “dictatorship of the automobile,”[4] which, in tandem with strip malls, fast food, and drive-ins (and churches, restaurants, movie theaters, motels . . . ) have so concisely defined the aspirations of post–WWII America. The ubiquitous parking lot serves as a literal reminder of the space that the automobile has taken up in public consciousness and in the economy of the modern landscape.


Ed Ruscha was the first artist to introduce the parking lot to the art world’s attention, with his limited-edition books that employed photographic data as an extension of Duchamp’s Readymade tradition. Twenty Six Gasoline Stations (1963), the first of these, depicted exactly what the title purported—a document of 26 gas stations that peppered Route 66 from L.A. to the artist’s hometown, Oklahoma City. These everyday edifices and spaces conveyed, through Ruscha’s deadpan approach, nothing more than their factuality. The images were simply a presentation of the artist’s untempered observations, leaving the viewer to fill in the subject’s relevance—sociopolitical, artistic, or otherwise—a testimony to mankind’s impotence against the import of his über-practical, characterless creations.


For his fifth book, Thirty Four Parking Lots in Los Angeles, Ruscha intentionally chose Sunday morning, when the lots would be empty, to photograph these rectangular expanses in their naked form. From a helicopter above, they take on the look of modern-day Mayan earthworks—an extra-large example of the grid’s ubiquity and continued imprint upon civilization. Yet Ruscha was not interested in the historical significance of these lines. “Those patterns and their abstract design quality mean nothing to me. . . . I’ll tell you what is more interesting: the oil droppings on the ground.”[5] For Ruscha, the matter of which spaces garnered the most use, or the parking lot as a site of sociological behavior, took precedence over its physical construct.


Ruscha’s deadpan typology of L.A.’s urban lots undeniably set the tone for contemporary art and architecture’s intrigue with the highway and the parking lot as a venue for artistic exploration. It is an infatuation that is arguably rooted in the spatial sensibilities of West Coast America. Learning from Las Vegas, by the iconic instigators of postmodern architecture Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour, opens with the chapter “A Significance for A&P Parking Lots, or Learning from Las Vegas,” in which the authors equate the modern supermarket parking lot with the gardens of Versailles and the Roman piazza:


To move through a piazza is to move between high, enclosing forms. To move through this landscape is to move over vast expansive texture: the megatexture of the commercial landscape. The parking lot is the parterre of the asphalt landscape. [6]


California-based artists John Baldessarri (The Backs of All the Trucks Passed While Driving from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara, California, Sunday, 20 January, 1963) and Chris Burden (Trans-fixed, 1974); the art collective Survival Research Laboratories’s many volatile performances in unsolicited Bay Area parking lots; and the Center for Land Use Interpretation, whose long-term research on the micro- and macro-manifestation of the parking lot resulted in their 2007 exhibition Pavement Paradise: American Parking Space, all testify to this West Coast fascination with the road and lot.




China’s miraculous economic accomplishments, like those of the U.S., are also manifest in its roadways. In fact, China accounts for half of the billion-plus cars in the world today.[7] Just as the country’s GDP has increased 40 times between 1980 and 2005, car ownership in the People’s Republic has followed suit, increasing 18-fold. The amount of registered cars in Beijing alone has quadrupled over the past 12 years, including a two million increase from 2008, for a total of 5.2 million cars in 2012.[8] As the number of cars and drivers (7.48 million) skyrockets, with no end in sight, Beijing city planners scramble behind to provide adequate road and parking space.[9]

Artist Michael Lin, born in Tokyo, spent most of his childhood and young adult years in Los Angeles, before returning to his ancestral home of Taiwan and then moving to Paris. He now shuttles between studios in Shanghai and Brussels, and while his identity and work are defined by a sense of cultural nomadism, he is still very much a California boy at heart. The amount of time he has spent in Beijing has been quite limited, but having grown up in L.A., the city with the most road congestion in the U.S.,[10] he is sensitive to traffic issues. In fact Beijing’s likeness to L.A. was one of the initial observations Lin made when first visiting the city. Even though Beijing’s overall concentric design is quite ordered, any visitor can experience an overwhelming sense of disorientation with its recent rapid expansion. The seemingly infinite waves of roadways that emanate in virtually all compass directions from the Forbidden City, in the center, outward past its seven—and still counting—ring roads, like a swirling black hole, leave little sense of direction to the unacquainted visitor.


For Lin, this disorientation seriously thwarted his ability to identify a “sense of place,” or what geographer Yi-Fu Tuan calls “topophilia”: the affective bond between people and setting. Beijing’s distinction is its congestion, anarchic sprawl, density, and directionlessness. “There is no there there” is how Gertrude Stein described Oakland, California, in 1937. [11] This might also reflect Lin’s sentiment of Beijing, as would Lewis Mumford’s “formless masses of urban residues,” which described metropolitan expansion at the beginning of the twentieth century. Of these formless masses was the stifled roadway, collapsing into a state of atrophy with the clogging of cars, reminding us that automobile transport is ultimately monotechnic—technology only for its own sake, that not only oppresses other forms of transport but humanity, as well.[12] And so it was on the spiraling ring roads that Michael Lin, stuck in traffic, contemplated Beijing.


Taking cues directly from his life, Lin’s oeuvre has to some extent always grappled with the notion of place. Building upon equal parts relational aesthetics, multiculturalism, and California’s Cool School, Lin’s art often takes the form of an open invitation. He carefully sets the parameters and conditions for the work but leaves it up to its participants—be they collaborators, fabricators, or visitors— to activate it. Guggenheim Museum curator Alexandra Monroe discusses his work in terms of “network paradigm,” or its multidisciplinary collaborative nature, which reflects the logic of online social media.[13]


The situations or environments that Lin produces always encompass forms of social interaction that are positioned in relation to their larger sociocultural contexts or place. In What a Difference a Day Made (2008), the artist purchased an entire store’s contents of cheap odds and ends, then repurposed them as museumified objects and props for an acrobatic performance that was held in one of Shanghai’s most opulent galleries. The work spoke of both artifact and the diversity of experiences in relation to Shanghai’s schizophrenic, urban-economic transformation. The sales transactions with the store owners commenced the artwork, which continued to be experienced through its collaboration with the acrobats and visitors to the gallery.


While Lin’s work is highly conceptual in nature, it often takes the form of painting: painting as appropriation, as installation, as labor, as ambience, as monument. . . . Therefore it is fitting then that Lin’s November 2013 Place Libre at Tang Contemporary in Beijing began with painting:


Thirteen lines are painted, two on the wall and 11 on the floor. A yellow line and a gray line are painted on the wall, respectively 80cm and 150cm in height. The 11 lines on the floor are white, each 10cm in width.[14]


The artist’s instructions for a simple graphic to be rendered in a closed space would seem more likely to produce a minimal pattern of aligned lines than the vivid floral paintings that Lin is known for. Though the grid of Place Libre was a departure from his most representative works, which recontextualized found folk patterns as painted environments, it is useful to review them. These earlier painted works borrowed freely from the vernacular of local visual cultures– foremost the traditional floral fabric patterns of Taiwan– and acted as signifiers of culture as well as the convolution of culture in today’s world. The impetus for Lin’s using the flower motif was a gesture to unite, by way of a common denominator, what had become a politically polarized society in Taiwan during the mid-1990s. Lin debuted the flower paintings in Interior (1996), an exhibition held at ITPark in Taipei; since then manifold museum galleries and facades, tennis courts, public shopping centers, and public parks have been graced by his monumental floral patterns. However, in each manifestation the emphasis is not on the “painting” but instead on the work’s contingency as process and its transformative effect upon determinate architectural spaces. As critic Vivian Rehberg notes, “Lin considers these fabricated places as integrated stages whose uses and meanings are determined only by the visitors that pass through and dwell in them for a time.”[15] From researching and sourcing the patterns to employing groups of volunteers or paid workers to the resulting social engagement that ultimately fulfills these projects (skateboarding, children playing, weddings, eating/drinking, lounging, a tennis match . . . ), Lin’s work is aimed at the ecology of transformation, action, and inclusion. It is no coincidence that Place Libre is loosely translated as “liberated place”—a place that has been freed from its prescriptive function.


Both the design and context of Place Libre can be seen as a continuation of Lin’s solo exhibition Model Home at the Rockbund Art Museum in Shanghai in 2012. In this work, a gridlike pattern is reconstructed from its component lines on the walls of the museum, fully forming as one moves from the lobby upward through the building’s four floors to the top. In Model Home, the pattern comes from a construction worker’s bedspread; in Place Libre, the design is derived directly from an actual parking lot in which the use of color is aimed at delineating space to keep cars from driving into the wall. Superficially, both works share this similar gridlike graphic, but whereas Model Home was an engagement with the dense architectural terrain of Shanghai (including its construction labor, improvisational spaces, and scholarship of urban issues), Place Libre engages the transport infrastructure and spatial economy of Beijing. Just as Ed Ruscha went intuitively from photographing buildings to parking lots, Lin, too, moves linearly across China’s constructed environment.


A large opening, 230cm high by 330cm wide, is made in the wall of the gallery to allow for the entrance of automobiles. With the exception of the 13 painted lines, the main gallery is left empty. Music is aired from a local radio station that is randomly changed according to the whims of the gallery staff. Visitors and neighbors are invited to use the main gallery space to park their automobiles during gallery hours.[16]


The Chinese capital only has enough parking spaces for every second vehicle, leaving 2.5-million cars with nowhere to park.[17] Within the confines of Tang Contemporary, Lin’s 10 additional spaces were a miniscule gesture, not meant to remedy the parking crisis but perhaps to articulate this dilemma as an aesthetic form. Within minutes of opening the gallery door, drivers had lined up, anxious to get in. Many were unaware that the space their car was to occupy was an “artwork”; instead, having followed signs posted at the entrance of the compound, they were relieved at having found a spot, and a free one to boot. Perhaps the exhibition title, Place Libre, which shares the same acronym as “parking lot,” was to be translated as “free place.”


Like early postmodern artistic forays into simulacrum, especially in the “transformational and situational installation” work of Guillaume Bijl, in which the artist converted art venues into spaces of everyday life (a mattress store, trailer-home showroom, casino, hair salon . . . ), Lin seamlessly presented an indoor parking lot in one of 798 Art Zone’s major galleries. However, Place Libre was not a facile reproduction concerned with thwarting the white, fictional space of the gallery but instead a functional, practical, and— being free of charge—most welcomed parking lot. People would engage in the space both/either as an exhibition and/or as a place to park their automobile. There was confusion and not. People’s identities in the space (audience/car parker) were contingent upon their intentionality. Lin simply overturned his authority as artist in favor of “dynamic and unscripted participation.”[18] His role simply was to delineate the parameters of engagement.


The 10 parking spaces are on a first-come, first-served basis. . . . With the limited capacity of 10 cars at one time, the daily rotation of cars during the gallery hours is left to necessity, willingness of the visitors to participate, and routine.[19]


In Complementary (1998), an earlier exhibition of Lin’s pattern paintings, the artist placed a daybed upholstered in the same design as his paintings at the center of the space so that visitors could sit and relax while viewing them. The parking garage shares a similar sense of social reciprocity. Complementary became an excuse for pulling people together, sitting them down to share thoughts, space, and time; Place Libre offered both audience and driver the quotidian modern spectacle/necessity of car parking. Critic Pauline Yao’s commentary on Complementary can also be said to apply equally to Place Libre­—both works “demonstrate a major precept of today’s contemporary art: Art is not simply something to be looked at, it is to be experienced in real time.”[20]


Early on, Lin became aware of the exhibition not only as a spatial construct but as a temporal one, as well. Writer Bronwyn Mahoney notes that the titles of many of Lin’s exhibitions simply indicate their venue and installation dates: Taipei Fine Arts Museum: Sept. 9, 2000–Jan. 7, 2001; Atrium Stadhuis Den Haag 12 Juli t/m 8 September 2002; Palais de Tokyo, 21-01-2002/21-12-2002; and I.C.A. 2001.5.27–8.26. The dates function as parentheses, bracketing the event, and the acts within it.[21]


For Place Libre, the parking lot became an improvisational movement piece, performed by unsuspecting cars to the subtle tunes of a fuzzy FM station. It is a routine that is perfectly normal, happening across the world in countless variety everyday, yet, when framed, becomes sublime—a reminder of the Cageian maxim “Music is everywhere, you just have to have the ears to hear it.”[22] Like time, music, incidentally, has also performed an important role in Lin’s work from the outset (Interior, 1996), serving as a way to create ambience, intimacy, and loosen the solemnity of the exhibition space, but in Place Libre the radio station acted as another demarcation of time and place.


Geographically, China spans five time zones, which were in full use during the Republican era. Since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, however, there has been only one single standard time: Beijing Time. “Beijing Time” is issued like a command that radiates from the capital across the 5,000-kilometer breadth of the country, reminding citizens that Beijing Time is their time, no matter where the sun is. Modern social order is premised on a shared concept of and obedience to a set of defined temporal systems. Time is therefore a powerful tool with which to layer, classify, and police the nature of social order. This is no more evident than in China’s capital city. For Lin, the radio announcement of “Beijing Time,” every hour on the hour, turned the project into a chronometer, further emphasizing and punctuating the transitory aspect of movement in the space. Not only were the working hours of the gallery and duration of the exhibition contrived as the work’s temporal limitations, but the radio acted as a way to drive home how Beijing’s overwhelming “sense of place” is invariably linked to its jurisdiction of time. Additionally, the dire state of traffic in the city has obligated most Beijing radio stations to report on road conditions. This regular update helped forge another nexus between the interior gallery space and the reality of Beijing outside.


What began simply as colored lines painted on the hard surface of a three dimensional space opened up as a multidimensional experience. As a way to capture this work in its entirety, not only as an installation but also as a durational affair, the artist carefully documented it through the photographs presented here. Lin gave simple instructions to the photography studio: “Take two photographs per day at whatever time your schedule permits from two predetermined angles. Record the time of your shoot.”


Employing the photography studio presented another variable in the equation of local economy and time. The photographers were licensed to come at their own convenience—an indeterminate moment within the confines of the gallery’s working hours—but were instructed to record that time with their delivered images. The resulting photographs documented the transitory and contingent nature of the work in all its terms: photographers’ schedules, occupancy rates, types of cars, and daylight shifts. This photographic documentation of Place Libre is where the link to Ed Ruscha’s Thirty-Four Parking Lots in Los Angeles is strongest. Like Ruscha, Lin is interested in parking as social behavior. In these photos we not only see which spots were the most popular, at what time of day, but the demographic of Beijing’s 798 Gallery District via the drivers’ car models. Like Ruscha’s, Lin’s information is presented as factual—not only as documentary but as anthropological evidence.


In 2006, Brooklyn-based artist Hermann Zschiegner retraced Ruscha’s 1967 Sunday-morning helicopter ride, this time online. The result is an homage to Ruscha in the form of Thirtyfour Parking Lots (on Google Earth). With the number of cars worldwide expected to reach 2.5 billion by 2050,[23] the parking lot in contemporary art is expected to make more and more appearances. For now, Lin has decisively presented his “megatexture of the commercial landscape”[24] within the spatio-temporal amphitheater of twenty-first century Beijing. Unfortunately the city is once again 10 parking spaces short. . . .

Mathieu Borysevicz

Kenting, Taiwan 12.2013

[1] Joni Mitchell, “Big Yellow Taxi,” Ladies of the Canyon, Warner Bros./Wea, 1970.

[2] Joni Mitchell, “Big Yellow Taxi,” Song Lyrics, http://jonimitchell.com/music/song.cfm?id=208.

[3] Zack Klapman. “Captain Obvious Says, ‘Cars Spend Most of Their Time Parked,’ ” June, 27, 2012, http://www.thesmokingtire.com/2012/wednesday-rage-captain-obvious-says-cars-spend-most-of-their-time-parked.


[4] Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (New York: Zone Books [English Translation], 1994).

[5] Sylvia Wolf, “A Decade Kissed by Angels,” Ed Ruscha and Photography, Sylvia Wolf and Ed Ruscha (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 2004), 111.


[6] Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour, Learning From Las Vegas (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1972).

[7] Daniel Tencer, “Number of Cars Worldwide Surpasses 1 Billion; Can the World Handle This Many Wheels?,” August 23, 2011, http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/08/23/car-population_n_934291.html.

[8] “Beijing Parking? Chinese Puzzle,” Wheels24, 2012-06-08 09:27, http://www.wheels24.co.za/News/General_News/Beijing-parking-Chinese-puzzle-20120607.

[9] Beijing Municipal Traffic Management Bureau, 北京市公安局公安交通管理局, bjjtgl.gov.cn.

[10] “Stats Show Los Angeles Is Most Congested City in U.S. and Canada,” April 8, 2013, http://www.automotive-fleet.com/news/story/2013/04/stats-shows-los-angeles-is-most-congested-city-in-north-america.aspx?prestitial=1.

[11] Gertrude Stein, Everybody’s Autobiography (New York: Random House, 1937), 289.

[12] Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Company, 1934).

[13] Alexandra Munroe, “Take Away My Authority,” Model Home: A Proposition by Michael Lin, ed. Ella Liao (Shanghai: Rockbund Art Museum, 2012).

[14] Michael Lin, artist’s statement, Place Libre (unpublished, Tang Contemporary Art, Beijing, 2013).


[15] Vivian Rehberg, “On the Place of Painting in the Work of Michael Lin,” Michael Lin, ed. Ivy Cooper (Hatje Cantz and the Vancouver Art Gallery, 2010).


[16] Michael Lin, artist’s statement, Place Libre.

[17] “Beijing Parking? Chinese Puzzle,” 2012-06-08 09:27.

[18] Vivian Rehberg, “On the Place of Painting in the Work of Michael Lin,” Michael Lin.

[19] Michael Lin, artist’s statement, Place Libre.

[20] Pauline J. Yao, “Michael Lin: The Difference of the Same,” April 2009, http://paulinejyao.blogspot.com.

[21] Bronwyn Mahoney, « Pillows and Other Lounging Apparatus Will Be Provided—the Work of Michael Lin,” Art Asia Pacific, No. 41, Summer 2004, 48–53.

[22] John Cage, “Anarchic Harmony,” http://www.sterneck.net/john-cage/anarchic-harmony.

[23] OECD’s International Transport Forum Forecast, http://www.ipsnews.net/2011/06/bike-vs-car-on-a-hot-planet.

[24] Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour, Learning From Las Vegas.


frances stark – the architect & the housewife

In Los Angeles, in the spring, at a table, on the beach, Michael Lin told me about his last project, Interior, and showed me his plans for Complementary. We spoke of his interests in pursuing a dialogue between the public space of the exhibition and the private space of the domestic interior. He told me the project, Complementary, was to culminate in book form. If I wanted, I could contribute some text. Then and there I had a heading in me head, a heading in my head not altogether uncomplimentary in and of itself, under which a textual exploration of Complementary might fall. In Taipei, in summer, at a table, under some air, conditioning, the heading that was in my head is going from my head now to the paper, towards that aforementioned book, which I have to assume you are now holding, in which case you are also about to encounter below the heading mentioned above, beneath which you will not find an analysis or interpretation of Michael Lin’s Complementary.

Instead you’ll find my monologue, my contribution to the dialogue. But briefly, before I begin, I’m just going to pull a quote from a book I found lying on Michael Lin’s desk. The book is by Oscar Wilde and it’s called The Critic as Artist. I opened it up because on the cover, in addition to the title, it said: with some remarks on the importance of doing nothing and discussing everything, and my eyes landed on the following sentence: ”If you wish to understand others you must intensify your own individualism.”

The Architect &The Housewife

I have had complaints about my couch, which bisects my living Room diagonally, orienting the viewer towards a rather delightful view overlooking the city and its backdrop of hills, behind which the sun can be seen disappearing nightly. Although not lacking a handful of admirers, the couch seems to provide inadequate comfort to most visitors, either they say so directly, or more often express their discomfort silently by choosing to make themselves comfortable at the kitchen table in the adjoining room, from which you only have a view of purple and pink flowers. The couch is a Danish Modern design, smaller than your average couch, with quite thin square cushions extremely

attractive actually. However, I don’t think the design is the problem. The problem, rather, lies in the fact that directly behind the couch, meaning directly behind the head of anyone sitting on couch, is my desk. It’s technically just a table, a long one, slightly longer than the couch and only an inch or so taller than the top of the couch. The large rectangular surface of the desk is covered in that dark chocolaty brown, fake wood veneer. Its edges are curved, lined with dark brown plastic trim about an inch thick. Its base, collapsible if necessary, is made of thin cheap metal, painted, of course, dark brown. Usually the entire surface of the desk is covered—my computer, loose papers, books and stacks of this and that. So, not only is it just a desk behind the seated person’s head, but an unruly mess made up of stacks of loose papers that can and does easily stray from the boundary of the table-desk toward the head and shoulders of a seated guest. It’s a mess because it lacks any of the simple and ingenious design conveniences which might usually be incorporated into a well-made desk in order to keep papers and various other desk-dwelling items under control. I failed to mention that the table-desk lies flush with the back of the couch diagonally bisecting my living room in order to leave all possible wall space open. I use the desk for writing and the walls for making drawings, which I may as well tell you, are Made up of writing. So you see this curious arrangement (of my couch and my desk, not my writing and my writing-drawing) is predicated on the fact that not only is my living room my living room but my living room also serves as my studio. The dilemma of having a couch in my studio is perhaps an Interesting one. If I can’t get sufficiently engaged in a book, or making a drawing I might end up staring into space. You can’t  stare into space forever, so I might start to look around and begin thinking to myself, this house is too messy or not nice looking enough or those drawers should be cleaned out or perhaps if I got a different piece of furniture for over there I could rearrange this here and my life would run more smoothly. I am sparing you the details of my toil, which aspires to productivity, suffice it to say it is not hard not to experience, on a regular basis, the loneliness, the anxiety, the nagging urge to “redecorate”, I imagine a housewife might feel. The possibility of becoming an active consumer can drive me out of the house— once entering Ikea, or even Office Depot—wherever—the world opens up in terms of what me and my home, office, studio can become. On two separate occasions I bought a pillow from a chain store called The Pottery Barn. Both times I resented the homogeny of the store, but both times I thought to myself “My head deserves the luxury this pillow has to offer.” The first pillow purchase actually can be broken down into two parts. Part one is I simply bought a pillow without a case at Ikea, the first throw pillow I ever bought in my life, by the way. In the do-it-yourself spirit of Ikea1, I planned to sew my own case out of something special. I don’t really sew, but it seemed simple enough. Several weeks passed without me sewing a case. One day my father and baby brother drove into

Possibly traceable back to the Larsson’s, a big influence in Swedish design movements. See “The Ideal Swedish Home: Carl Larsson’s Lilla Hyttnas” by Michelle Facos in Not at Home: The suppression of Domesticity in Modern Art and Architecture, edited by Chirstopher Reed. (Thames & Hudson, London, 1996).

We planned to drive to the museum where one of my drawings happened to be hanging in an exhibition. We got in the car to go there but first we needed to eat. In our search for a meal we could all agree on we got completely off track and far from the museum. By the time we finished eating it was quite late and we were running out of time, and because adult things are harder to do with a six year old in tow, we ended up at the mall across the street instead of the museum. That is where the first shop that sucked me in spit me back out again with a baby blue angora pillow case. That was part two of pillow purchase number one. Pillow purchase number tow is like this. I was feeling heartbroken and unable to work. My friend Laura, a painter, learned of my useless condition and decided I needed escape. She drove me to a heavily populated shopping area.

We walked into a series of stores that sold house wares and took turns interpreting the merchandise. We ended up at The Pottery Barn and she bought a variety of blue floral pillows in Different sizes whereas I selected a large summery two-tone Green silk. But this second trip to The Pottery Barn, with Another woman artist instead of my father, coincided with the Moment at which I recognized there was n novice homemaker-cum-consumer in me that was eager to get out and find a rug, an inoffensively scented candle, or a pillow at precisely the time I should be sitting at the chocolaty, fake wood table pushing through a difficult piece of work. The kind of anxiety associated with working alone in a domestic environment is precisely what brought the housewife to mind. I have sometimes found myself envying a male friend, here or there, who happened to be engaged in large-scale art projects, out in the open air, or inside institutions with many people running around to ensure an imminent production. Was I not.


Michael’s pillows were tossed underneath the heading “Women’s lives” in one local newspaper. Unlike a housewife, toiling within the confines of my home andserving as both hostess  and docent of my tiny quarters? Were these men not unlike architects in that they were constantly carrying out plans—giving instructions, making constructions? The impetus behind these categorizations had a little bit to do with the idea of couples. I knew of some couples in the art world where the female part of the couple happened to be engaged in works that were more studio oriented, in that they were either paintings or some other type of practice which typically has to be carried out alone in the studio, whereas their partners were involved in projects that were sculpture-oriented, employing many more people in their realization. I thought about the studio works and how their viewing demanded a certain kind of intimacy and physical proximity to the viewer and how the men were making work that—although in some cases dealing explicitly with issues of domesticity—surrounded a viewer, was public, or involved some kind of environment or activity that accommodated more people at one time than could stand in front of a painting or read a tiny text in a drawing on the wall. It wasn’t that the females weren’t getting enough attention as the men, it was just a difference which made me consider whether or not I was somehow involved in an extremely conservative, not to mention lonely, practice. The painter Laura and I decided to pursue this extreme binary of the architect and the housewife as a way of reflecting on and examining current art practices around us. This construction, as simplistic and reductive as it might sound, started to prove effective. In fact more than just elucidating differences in interior versus exterior sites of production, we began to consider whether “interiority” and “exteriority” were types of meaning-production as well, interiority evoking more of a Romantic tradition and exteriority Being perhaps more in line with the avant-garde. Maybe, maybe not. I can imagine The Architect and the Housewife as a heading over almost any discussion regarding post-studio art practices which focus on decorative and design issues, whether in a public or private space. I can imagine its applicability to those works which seek to examine or at least evoke modernism’s failures or successes, its utopian designs-for- living, or to those works which rely heavily on a public setting or large quantities of institutional commerce to bring the final product, object, and/or site into being, and last but not least those practices which seemingly overlook their complex reliance on the  architecture and structure of the “art world”, still insisting that the hand-made portable object is capable of producing meaning within its limited frame. But first, back to basics. I presume a housewife is someone Who will stay and maintain the home, decorate, arrange, re-arrange, prepare, wash, put things away, bring them out again—the house not being a site of accumulating production but a site of series of simultaneous productions which bear no evidence of productivity—save for the fact that the home isn’t falling apart.

A supposedly good housewife maintains a busy environment which should appear as if nothing has ever happened. Nothing is being built per se. The architect, on the other hand, solves problems the public doesn’t think about but which affect their consciousness of the environment, from things as essential as material, lighting and scale to more socially articulated needs like safety, cost, codes, et cetera. The exteriority I have so far mentally ascribed to “the architect” has to do with elaborate extensions, disruptions and transformations into and of material reality. And, by extension, The act of writing, with a special emphasis on fiction, seems to demand very little in terms of outside space—no commerce, a budget of mostly just living expenses, minimal materials—not much of a production. The production doesn’t extend into or employ much of the exterior environment. Publication and distribution are different matters entirely since the formal completion of the work of fiction does not depend on the realization of either. However in the case of this writing here I wanted to break out of the confines of a personal interior and experience Taiwan. Flying halfway around the world to look at an exhibition and make a short piece of writing, for which I would receive a small payment, is a way for me, personally, to upset my imaginary position in my binary configuration.

Recall the famous piece of writing by Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own. This text, written in 1928, was meant to address the slippery topic of women and fiction. In it she writes: “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” Isn’t she suggesting that a main prerequisite to productivity is privacy? A woman, if she is occupying and/or upkeeping everyone else’s rooms is going to have a difficult time getting any work done. Sure, she can enjoy many other “rooms”, consuming culture with the best of men, but when it comes to producing culture, it might not only be a question of where she will do it but also a question of where you will consume it.

Think of literature as an interior event, the mind or imagination Being the place where the text unfolds. And consider the interior of the head—the particular bodily limits of your own perception and yet the seeming limitlessness of thought. Now think of the interior of a home, to which a housewife has historically been expected to attend. Traditionally it is meant to provide her partner with a restorative and pleasant atmosphere so that he can continue his hard work in the public sector. Here I am talking about European bourgeois society around the turn of the century at which time something called “Neurasthenia” was a common form of nervous exhaustion thought to be brought about by excessive use of the brain2. Businessmen were advised to temper their neurasthenia by going home to a completely soothing environment. Patterns found in decorative art objects which adorned the home were meant to offer repose in the domestic setting.

The function of décor is not to arouse particular emotions, but to give the milieu a character in accord with the man who must live there, without compelling his thoughts to focus on the image of a concrete reality, without forcing him to be objective when the hour of subjective refuge awaits him. (From an article entitled “The Interior” from the journal, L’Art decoratif, 1901.)

Consider now the boundaries of the studio—not a home and Not just a room. I came across a particularly striking phrase of Daniel Buren’s in an essay he had written for October magazine in 1971 called “The Function of the Studio.” Here is Buren’s phrase, his heading: ”the unspeakable compromise of the portable work of art.” The compromise Buren finds unacceptable is that if a work is produced in a studio it is automatically wedded to that space, it somehow lives perfectly in that space, yet its portability is some kind of breach in integrity, meaning that it compromises itself by having to leave its home and go to a supposedly neutral gallery or museum space. This is at once declaring that a work should completel

This and the following quote come from the essay “Hi Honey, I’m Home: Weary (Neurasthenic) Businessmen and the Formulation of a Serenely Modern Aesthetic” by Joyce Henri Robinson. This essay can be found in Not at Home.

Take into account that the museum or gallery space is nowhere near neutral and that somehow if one denies the works relation to its space, one is on some level choosing to ignore the values the museum/gallery architecture are ascribing to the work and the work itself is simply a piece of merchandise that shuttles easily from the studio into the marketplace. By the time I came across this I had already been ruminating on Michael’s pillow.

It is interesting how the paintings of the pillows conjure up both the portability of painting as a practice, as well as the portability of the pillows themselves, a major contribution to their use value. Also Complementary exhibits a self-consciousness of its status as exhibition. Not only does its intervention into the architecture offer a better view of outside to its viewers, it allows for more natural light to be shed onto the work, and that view is made available to you now seeing as how the show documented itself. OK, so I have just put the ideology of institutional critique into a convenient nutshell but lets put scholarship aside for the sake of letting Buren’s “unspeakable compromise” resonate poetically under my compromising heading—granted it’s an extremely subtle poetic. There are a few ways to read the word compromise, one being more drastic than the other. The drastic way, which is surely what he meant, is “to make liable to suspicion, danger or disrepute.” But I also think of a compromise as simply a settling of differences—for instance, something a couple must do to stay a couple. I have learned that the fabric used and reproduced in Complementary is a fabric associated with the wedding night. So, as it turns out, there are couples all over the place here and with a title of a show that means “offsetting mutual lacks” you can bet there’s no way to have a hermetically sealed art discussion, there have to be men, women, unhappiness, happiness, weddings, divorces, and sex. I mean I won’t explicitly discuss these things I just don’t want you to forget about the fact that a home is usually designed for a family which starts with a couple, which is usually made up of two people who at some time in their compromising and complementary relationship have rolled around naked together on some pillows or some equivalent thereof. That reminds me of something. Adolf Loos, the

Austrian architect, famous for his manifesto against décor, once wrote “All art is erotic.” He didn’t mean it as a compliment. Sure this is seriously taken out of context, but wait. The architect, R.M. Schindler, also Austrian, designed his own residence in Los Angeles to be occupied by two couples. He seemed to be aspiring to a different kind of domesticity. Each couple would have their own bedroom and places in the house in which they did their work and studies, with several common indoor/outdoor living areas. The house is too complicated to describe here in detail but the pertinent part for our story is that the two couples did not end up occupying the place harmoniously and it ended up just being the home of Schindler and his wife, Pauline. Finally that couple, too, disintegrated They divided the house and lived there, separately, together. His wife began to hang wallpaper and install carpeting, decorating her part of the house exactly the way she wanted, and here I might add that pink was her favorite color. Her husband would draft her letters which went something along the lines of “I am sure you are familiar with the reasoning for my choice of materials and that what you have done is completely incongruent with my design and destroys the integrity of the structure,” something along those lines, “signed, R.M. Schindler, Architect.” So much for compromise.

Famous architects throughout history have also been known to design chairs. Adolf Loos, Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Eero Saarinen, Frank Gehry and so on, even Schindler. The specificity of the challenge lies in the intimacy with which a body is to interact with a chair, an intimacy far greater and literally more pressing than between a body and a building. Here there is a direct correlation with contemporary artists’ desire to address private individual comfort from the standpoint of an extremely public and social oriented tradition. Domesticity, interior design, and private vs. public space surface as issues in the works of many young contemporary, internationally renowned artists (which might be squeezed into the “architect” category), artists whose practices are in line with Daniel Buren’s oppositional ideology. In a lot of instances the work directly involves seating: the upholstering of chairs, a pier on which to venture out, buy a pack of cigarettes, smoke and enjoy the view, a private island, the transformation of a public Donald Judd sculpture into a bench at which to sit with friends, drink alcohol and listen to music, a building turned into a lamp with a rug laid out in front of it. Some of these projects were taken from The Sculpture Projects in Munster, 1997, which culminated in a five- hundred and forty page catalogue of the exhibition.

Interestingly enough, Daniel Buren not only participated in the project but contributed a manifesto-like text to the catalogue. I was reclining on a rug under a lamp next to a stack of art catalogues at Michael’s house leafing through this gigantic catalogue thinking about how despite the fact that Buren’s critique of the portable object is now pretty much the dominant ideology, there surely is no shortage of the most portable object of all time, the book, and here I refer specifically to the art catalogue, which ensures that a work—no matter how problematic or ephemeral, no matter how casual or whimsical—remains a work of art, and a portable one at that.

Another book I happened to find at Michael’s house, aside from the Oscar Wilde one, is The sense of Order: A Study in the Psychology of Decorative Art by E.H.Gombrich. This book is so great I’m sad to have to go back to L.A. without it. Several days after picking up Wilde’s The Artist as Critic (which sort of gave me the go-ahead to be myself, so to speak) I started reading the Gombrich book. I couldn’t believe its pertinence. Just that day I had come so close to buying a different book by Gombrich, my first one by the way, as with the Ikea throw pillow, but I decided, it’ll be cheaper in the States. And now here was Gombrich again, this time tempting me to just copy half of his book by hand and put it in the catalogue instead of my own writing. And not only that. Right at a critical point where designers were considering themselves equals with painters, he quotes The Critic as Artist. 

The art that is frankly decorative is the art to live with. It is, for all visible arts, the one art that creates in us both mood and temperament. Mere colour, unspoiled by meaning, and unallied with definite form, can speak to the soul in a thousand different ways. The harmony that resides in the delicate proportions of lines and masses becomes mirrored in the mind. The repetitions of patterns give us rest. Now bear with me, I am about to put that Loos business about all art being erotic into context for you. According to Gombrich “the emancipation of pattern design into a dependent art with growing pretensions foreshadowed the divorce between decoration and functional fitness.” He quotes Loos, who vehemently requests the divorce, from his 1908 essay Ornament und Verbrechen. But before that he briefly points out that as early as 1892 the American architect, Louis Sullivan, had written: “it would be greatly for our aesthetic good if we should refrain entirely from the use of ornament for a period of years in order that our thoughts might concentrate acutely upon the production of buildings well formed and comely in the nude.”

Here it sounds like Sullivan is only calling for a friendly separation instead of a divorce. And I know with Sullivan they get back together, and I know this because I know Sullivan was obsessed with decoration until his very old age because in fact I happen to have a tattoo of one of the drawings he made after he had stopped making buildings. So, you can imagine my excitement when I first read those few sentences heretofore left out from in front of “All art is erotic.” “The man of this century who tattoos himself is a criminal or a degenerate…

The urge to ornament one’s face and everything within reach is the very origin of the visual arts. It is the babbling ofpainting.”3

And speaking of babbling, I have babbled on long enough but I’d like to bring this full circle if I can, and bring your attention now to an image of a perfect couple, a perfect marriage, where the gesture of placing a pillow in just the right spot has made history.

“[Drawing reproduced here] shows three pillow of the same size placed on top of each other, on a rug, on the floor, offering contrasts in color and tone. At other times, more pillows were used and the grouping was placed slightly differently on the rug and in relation to the other objects. On the Sofa Compact in the late 1960s and for much of the 1970s, two patchwork pillows complemented each other and contrasted with a larger striped one.”4


  1. According to Gombrich abstraction in painting didn’t occur until after this complicated and

competitive intermingling of decorative art with high art.

  1. Pat Kirkham, Charles and Ray Eames: Designers of the Twentieth Century. Massachusetts

Institute of Technology, 1995, pp. 188-189

cécile bourne – tu parles / j’écoute

This project is an attempt to deal with the fundamental idea of the museum and its function as a space for exhibition. The project took the Taipei Fine Art Museum and this particular group exhibition as its subject matter and tried to explore the structural parameters of this event, beginning with the artist and his work then the curator and then the museum. By doubling each of the positions mentioned above the project tried to expose the structure of the exhibition and at the same time bring about the questioning of that structure with the goal of proposing a different dynamic within these relations.

The lighting of art works, one of the most fundamental necessities of an exhibition, was taken on as a vehicle for this project. Due to the nature of this medium, acting only as a complement to the other projects, it necessarily established a collaboration with all the other artists, the curator, and the museum staff and facilities.

The Lighting of the exhibition was not only discussed in terms of an ideal light which would best illuminate the works but also discussed in terms of the flow and whole with some works at times in complete darkness and varying degrees of dimness.

The project sought not only to understand and explore the parameters of the artist and curator, through interviews and discussions about the importance of lighting, but also sought to deal with the museum as a work frame within which the art is viewed. The closing announcements, the only utterance that the museum emits, was also appropriated and used as an area for intervention. The three minute announcement that takes place each day at 17:50, indicating the end of viewing time in the museum, was re-mixed and overdubbed in collaboration with a local radio dise jockey.

The idea of the project was not to introduce any objects but to establish a forum for the discussion of the works in the exhibition; first how each artist envisioned the reception of their works, second, how the curator envision the exhibition as a construction of meaning, and third, how the exhibition as an event can be staged and how the positioning of the artist within this event can take on new forms.

Michael Ming-Hong Lin chose to relate his piece directly to his peers in the show. He asked all other artists to describe ideal lighting conditions for their allotted space. He exhibited the resulting sketches and proposals at TFAM on a long roll of tracing paper stretched over a light box, thereby literally giving them the limelight while challenging the notion of authorship within his own contribution. His concern was to account for the visitors’ progression across various degrees of illumination, from semi-darkness to light, across museum spaces. Simultaneously, he played a remixed, [overlapping] sampling of multilingual museum opening and closing announcements. Thus his contribution also emphasized the place of the artists, curator and museum staff in shaping a collective exhibition. Through these displacements of familiar sound and light contexts he engaged us to take critical distance from our position as spectators, to view the museum as a framework for the construction of meanings and nonsense.

At TCRC he chose a spot under a loudspeaker out of work to install a mysterious shot of the TFAM building at night as an echo of his museum installation. With its inherent sharpness and lightness, Michael Ming-Hong Lin’s self-effacing contribution explored uncharted territory where singular experiences of personal reflection and meditation merge into a shared field of collective memory and imagination.




yuko hasegawa – a lived house

Michael Lin’s latest project, « Model Home, » could be described as a site-specific work that incorporates all the elements of his artwork to date. It is possible to point out two major elements in this work. The first is the question of decoration and abstraction, and of the creation of social space using decoration. The second is the verification of the assumption that critical practice and art-making that involve picking out elements from society and highlighting social structures and psychologies in a situationist-like manner have a bearing on society in the form of production, including collaboration. The object of this essay is to consider Lin from a broad perspective as an artist concerned with transforming space.

Chapter 1: Political statements embodied in patterns as collective memory

On his return to Taiwan, Lin, who was born in Tokyo, raised in Taiwan until the age of nine, and educated in the United States, identified as one of the cultural identities of his native country the traditional ethnic floral patterns used on bedding. These decorative patterns, which take the form of two-dimensional graphics, were rediscovered by way of modernism in Western culture, where hitherto the focus had been on naturalistic realism. The father of modern design, William Morris, recognized the value of decoration, believing that the richness of the quality of one’s life or lifestyle could be measured based on whether or not they incorporated strong decorative elements. Morris designed wallpaper in which decorativeness was emphasized, and by purchasing it the bourgeoisie of the time gained access to living space on a completely different level to that to which they were accustomed.

Painting conceded to photography the function of representing things as they really are, and instead took on the role of exploring the colors that envelop surfaces and the nature of forms. Patterns in the form decoration were occasionally referenced under the pretext of the autonomy of art, but they never became part of the mainstream of modern art.

When, under the pretext of abstract painting, Lin began to focus on the floral patterns commonly used in the homes and so on of ethnic minorities in Taiwan as examples of fading cultural memories, altering their scale and applying them to walls, floors, and other spaces, they became not patterns in the sense of appropriations but appropriations that encompassed their status as decoration.

According to Mayumi Tsuruoka, an expert in the history of patterns, « the ‘power of decoration’ that proliferates across the surfaces of things/existence lies in its ability to support the evolution of human life by speaking to us not of ‘perfection’ nor the ‘conclusion’ of a ‘process’ but of a manner of ‘suggestion.' » The floral patterns that were used on bedding were engrained in people’s memory on account of this intimate relationship. Lin appealed to people’s sense of nostalgia in bringing about a renewed appreciation of the environment formed by these everyday items that surrounded people.

Unlike symbols or signs, patterns undermine fixed, one-to-one semantic correspondence, instead leaving meaning perpetually pending, as if their role were to allude to the mysteries of the world that cannot be represented by symbols or signs. Lin’s artwork tended to be dismissed in the context of Western contemporary art, partly because it was misunderstood as populist design appealing to the masses on account of its widespread appeal and the gorgeousness of its colors and floral patterns. Occasionally Lin would select patterns from everyday life at sites in Europe or the United States where he undertook projects, but it is the patterns he discovered in Taiwan that he has deployed repeatedly in public spaces. With this in mind, the intentions of Lin as someone who hails from Taiwan, a place in an extremely complex geopolitical position, in deploying these patterns as if leaving a trace of its cultural identity in various locations should be clear. Patterns leave meaning pending and have a visual and physical impact that cannot be represented by symbols or signs. In this respect they are suggestive of the origins of the « graphic » act. For humans, the original « graphic » act involved the individual being the first to make a mark (leave a trace) on a surface provided to them.

Because they need not fit inside a frame and can proliferate in any manner, unlike art that tends to overemphasize meaning and content, patterns spread across surfaces through a process of repeated self-segmentation. Due to this unrestricted spreading, it could be said that patterns tend to express not the beauty of the form of complete things, but the sense of vitality of things that are in the process of becoming. Patterns metamorphose depending on their location, and like living things coming together, floral patterns, arabesque patterns, geometric lattice patterns, and so on also change over time. The more one thinks about them, the more one realizes patterns are ubiquitous and capable of spreading vigorously anywhere, and those who experience them in the context of Lin’s artistic space, where they exist as traces of the fragrance of his native Taiwan and of its collective memories, unconsciously superimpose personal memories of their own culture over the reflections of the artist’s cultural memories.

The contrast between the almost invisible mural drawn in pencil over the white walls of the MOT gallery and the colorful canvas work that appears in the middle of one of the walls as an extension of this mural suggests that the pattern in the process of coming into existence on the wall would stand on its own as a separate, self-supporting artwork were it framed as a painting, and is thought-provoking in a variety of senses. The near-invisibility of the pattern is a metaphor for the visual memories that permeate unnoticeably our unconscious and suggests that the painting connected to the pattern on the wall, while a tableau, is connected to the collective memory of the pattern.

Lin taxes his ingenuity in terms of the use of space and scale to ensure that the interaction and sympathy between artwork and audience are used to good effect. The scale of the patterns varies considerably between small gallery spaces and large public spaces. Rather than simply enlarging the patterns to match the scale of the space, he gives careful consideration to how people can experience the forms and colors of the patterns as environments and, in the case of floral patterns, how they can form a symbolic relationship with them. The behavior of people within the work itself becomes a kind of installation imbued with temporality.

When it reaches the scale of his work for the City Hall Atrium in The Hague, his political message of celebrating social space becomes apparent. There, the intention was for the appearance of people to be a social sculpture, and by extension a social landscape.

In « Model Home, » a lattice pattern said to derive from one of the patterns often seen on the bedding commonly used by workers in Shanghai is used. Lin has covered the interior walls of the museum from the first floor to the fifth floor in this cheerful, simple pattern in which lines in multiple colors including pink, gray, and yellow intersect. Starting with just a single color on the first floor, Lin has added an additional color on each floor, with five colors appearing on the uppermost floor. The result is a symbolic manifestation of the nature of patterns as a process or something in the midst of becoming.

Each floor is devoted to a different program or exhibit, but visitors who climb from the bottom to the top, understand this meaning at some point in this process.

Chapter 2: A feminine situationist

The direction Lin has taken in creating social spaces in urban settings by means of environmental paintings featuring enlarged patterns has seen his work increasingly charged with social statements.

In this latest project he is collaborating with Atelier Bow-Wow, one of the many activist-like architecture firms appearing in the last ten years that have put forward proposals and proactively intervened in urban space through projects and other examples of architectural practice in the broad sense of the term.

In the work of these architects one can detect a continuation of the situationist-like approach of the 1970s, especially in their proposals for changes to conditions in our cities in an effort to restore the wholeness of everyday life. Through « dérive » and « détournement, » they seek to dislocate things from their original location and create new value. Dérive, or drifting, is a mode of experimental behavior that involves roaming through urban landscapes leaving everything to chance. Dérive enables people to gain a real appreciation of the city, and has been adopted by these and other young architects along with détournement, a method that enables them to effectively recycle things already present in the city.

In one of their publications, Behaviorology, Atelier Bow-Wow explain how behavior gives rise to architectural space.

As a part of this project they designed a temporary shed with painted walls designed to house workers. Each shed sleeps three people. A triple bunk bed is installed with each of the beds oriented differently and a window set in the wall above the head (pillow end) of each bed. The sheds are arranged in a pair, with the empty space between them serving as a social space with the addition of a small table and chairs. Naturally, the bedding features the same pattern as the walls, from which the audience gains an understanding of the cycle of the project. Another project Atelier Bow-Wow are involved in is « Made in Shanghai, » which they are pursuing together with Shanghai-based architects. This is the Shanghai version of their « Made in Tokyo » project, and involves investigating and presenting examples of the vernacular in architecture, including architecture designed to fill gaps, parasitical architecture, and the kind of hybrid architecture combining peculiar functions, shapes, and so on that would be beyond the scope of any existing architectural program. According to one of the firm’s founders, Momoyo Kaijima, the results of their inquiry will be put to use in the recycling of the city, such as in the recycling of gaps through « Pet Architecture, » the term Atelier Bow-Wow use to describe the small buildings squeezed into leftover urban spaces.

Such a practice involves « carefully nurturing into architecture fragments of detail that comprise parts of small spaces » and « architecture that resembles a combination of humans and buildings, » and networks of this architecture will gradually change the city. In the sense that it is collective memory and anonymously designed, such architecture corresponds to Lin’s concept. In combining his own projects with the work of Atelier Wow-Wow, he is making its context clear.

Installed outside at ground level next to the museum, the sheds, which had been used as accommodation, were raised to the fifth floor using a crane and placed inside the exhibition space. This clearly demonstrates Lin’s approach to the cycle of production and the conferring of value. With regard to production, there is a single flow: from situation, condition, production, postproduction, and the subsequent circulation of production. Lin has shown the situation and condition in each project, presenting the accommodation shed in its actual condition before presenting it as an exhibit, or in other words as production. The meaning of production in society is ultimately given back to society, and through this circuit of exchange, it impacts on the situation. One could say that among all the artists currently involved in art practice, Lin is one of the more self-aware of this cycle.

A video was made of the entire production process in which the shed dangling beneath the crane appears like some living being. As well, a composer copied the pattern on the wall and used it to make music.

All this indicates not so much a collaboration but rather an underlying model whereby a single project gives rise to multiple productions. Not so much work-sharing as project-sharing. Lin has shared the core of the project, the creators, as a team, and in the process revealed the relationship between work and production.

The title « Model Home » is also an indicator of Lin’s intentions as an artist, which are not to put forward an actual proposal for a prototype house but to offer a particular concept as a model. At the Centro per l’arte contemporanea Luigi Pecci in Prato he created a series of rooms with various functions like a single house as part of an exhibition designed in collaboration with Atelier Bow-Wow. There his paintings were transformed into various shapes and arranged as wall and floor coverings as well as furniture and small platforms.

For What a Difference a Day Made (2008), which inquires into the distribution, consumption, and relationship with lifestyle of the everyday items that surround us in the form of products, Lin purchased all the items sold at a hardware store and arranged them in crates so that they could be moved around easily. Together with the videos of jugglers juggling the items, the crates and items in the installation make us recognize anew the influence and bearing the design of anonymous objects and their very existence have on our consciousness in our everyday lives.

If one were to be bold enough to summarize Lin’s work in the context of that of the situationists, one could say that what he goes out looking for when he embarks on his own particular « dérive » are anonymous patterns loaded with collective memories. By « détourning » them he is able to apply them to various parts of the social landscape and of interiors. However, this process is gorgeous and gentle. As an artist dedicated to preserving everyday cultural memories, to redirecting our consciousness to where it ought to be, and to provoking a positive outlook focused on the here and now, Lin is a feminine, intelligent, 21st century situationist.

The word « ornament » derives from the Latin ornare (« adorn »). It is also related to the Greek kosmos (« world, » « order »). This project by Lin seems to have been woven together like a pattern to which the roles of those involved, including the various creators and workers, bestow order.

pauline j. yao – no longer can anything exist in isolation

In the face of the realities of Chinese culture as a whole, the greatest responsibility of China’s intellectuals and artists is to exert every effort at any cost to help the people of China to shed the past and transform into a society of free and creative spirits. This will be the true measure of China’s ‘modernization.’

The world is watching closely the future of Chinese art! [1]

In this spirited manifesto, drafted in 1985 by the New York based Overseas United Chinese Artists, Ai Weiwei and his compatriots outline a series of points pertaining to the future development of Chinese art. Filled with enthusiasm for art’s potential to bring transformative change, the rallying cries it contains are at once naïve and prophetic. The words grab at a collective spirit and group identity that equates creative output with grand narratives of progress and modernization. It would be hard to ignore certain parallels this has to an earlier moment in art history, namely the Russian constructivist agenda of the early 1910s and its west European counterpart of the 1920s. This was a period captivated by the sense that art, like society, could be utterly transformed in the here and now. The creative act in art became synonymous with the mental and spiritual work needed to perfect the substance of material and spiritual life and the creative mind of “Man” was equated with the construction of the whole of our culture. The period bred politically engaged artists who considered it their duty to build a better society, and who, in applying their artistic skills towards industrial production, took the conscious path towards developing « new things for the new life. » It was not a time for picturing social form per se, nor struggling with realms of representation, but instead engaging with social life itself as a form of production and medium of expression. In so doing, the dream of redemption, of creating an imagined community to counteract endless alienation could take its form in the avant-garde banner – “art into life!”

For the Overseas United Chinese Artists, as for other artists working inside China during the 1980s, massive changes within societal structures were already underway. Intersplicing art into the praxis of life and common society was but one way to reinvigorate the existing institutions and to encourage radical ways of thinking about China’s future path to change. But if earlier eras in China have been dominated by calls to ‘modernization’ then this one is more steadily fixated upon notions of ‘production’. In a constant state of regeneration, rebuilding and renewal, the specter of production looms large in contemporary Chinese society, and its logic embeds itself in material production—manufacturing, assembly, and industry, as well as to its immaterial forms—namely, the social production of a new society. This rhetoric has led many contemporary artists in China over recent years to overtly comment upon production in their work, be it through appropriating assembly line manufacturing (Liu Ding’s Products, 2005), engaging with the space of the factory floor (Cao Fei’s Whose Utopia, 2006-2007) or re-situating the space of making and industrial production within the gallery space (Zheng Guogu’s Processing Factory, 2008; Zhang Peili’s Mute, 2009). These visual references are matched by artists who make use of semi-industrial methods in the creation of their own art, through practices of hiring unskilled workers to assist in the making process, such as artists Zhang Huan, Ai Weiwei, Liu Wei and Yan Lei among others.

And yet, the questions of doing, making, being, seeing and saying that encircle issues of production in art are enmeshed with those of labor, and where labor is involved, politics are never far behind. China’s frequent moniker as “the world’s factory” derives from an essential fact: by global standards, labor in China is relatively cheap and plentiful. By the mid-1990s, surveys estimated that the number of internal migrant laborers ranged from fifty to seventy million nationwide, a number that ballooned to over 130 million by 2006.[2] These numbers are prerequisite to China’s exponential growth, which has been averaging 10 to 12 percent for the last few years, finally earning its place as the world’s second-largest economy. Few would agree that such growth is without serious risks—surges in labor unrest, widening income gaps, rampant corruption and pollution to name just a few. But with these numbers also comes higher awareness and changing attitudes towards this growing service population: from migrant worker museums in Beijing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen to more slight shifts in vocabulary. In a rather short time, the term ‘migrant worker’ or mingong has grown less frequent, replaced by the more general term of dagong, which means ‘working for the boss’ or, more accurately ‘selling labor’. Connotations in the latter to commodification and a capitalist exchange of labor for wages are readily apparent. It is worth noting that both of these contrast with the term gongren or urban worker, which carries a certain status in Maoist socialist rhetoric. The new term dagong diverts strongly from earlier heroic representations of workers endless toiling away collectively towards in the name of socialist ideals and instead rather pointedly suggests a hired hand or wage worker—a mere (powerless) cog within the wheels of the capitalist system.

Even though terminology used by authorities or media to define today’s workers has shifted, one can say that their official status has not. Most wage laborers carry rural household registration but their social status and class identities remain ambiguous at best. Even though they are permitted to go out from their homeplace to work, they are not granted rights to urban permanent residence permits. Maintenance of the distinction between permanent and temporary residents through the household registration system enables the state, at all levels, to sidestep obligations to provide housing, job security, and welfare to rural migrant workers. As a result, most live in either factory-provided collective dormitories, in substandard migrant villages in the outskirts of the city, or in temporary housing set up on a construction site. Despite obvious downturns in the economy that have slowed productivity and annual growth projections to a modest yet robust 7.5 percent, the impetus placed upon manufacturing and producing in art is contained by the counterpoint of unseen labor that brings it all to life.

Enter Michael Lin’s current project Model Home, a total work of art that, in Brechtian terms, looks at production not solely in terms of what is being presented on the stage, but in terms of the entire apparatus. The walls of each floor function as one extended canvas, a continuous surface that binds public and private, commencement and completion. Lin makes use of the walls in the foyer entrance in the same manner as those of the galleries above, and the hierarchies of space usually found in museums are thus realigned and redsitributed. Evolving from the ground floor to the top, lines of Lin’s chosen pattern wrap the interior in a crescendo of completion that reaches its apotheosis only at the uppermost level. The painting thus stands in for the process of construction itself: it is representative of a process-based practice whereby the act of making is indistinguishable from the finished product. As such it disrupts traditional perceptions art as a single event or object authored beforehand and subsequently presented to an audience. Such a meta-construct is also enacted through collaborative gestures whereby Lin cedes authorial control to other parties further dissuades traditional renderings of singularity and individual expression. For if art is understood as an expression of autonomy and unity (above all the unity of the authorial intention), then any concession to contingency, spontaneity and multiplicity will be perceived as a transgression. Additionally, most art inhabits two registers of labor—one involving the symbolic value of the work itself, the act of creation and making, and the other involving the hermeneutic labor of the audience when asked to engage and confront the work.[3] Lin’s work has traditionally gone further, not only because the scale of production requires a modest consumption of labor, but because in his practice semantic and symbolic labor converge—there is a willful collapse between stage and audience, between aesthetic and social realms. As Walter Gropius stated, “No longer can anything exist in isolation. We perceive every form as the embodiment of an idea, every piece of work as a manifestation of our innermost selves.[4]

This inward turn gives us cause to consider another crucial aspect in relation to Model Home and Lin’s practice in general, namely: what is art’s relationship to the social? One answer might be found in the recent shift towards social practice in contemporary art, the so-called ‘social-turn’ trend that got its start in the 1990s. The theoretical horizon of relational aesthetics, or relational art, as outlined by Bourriaud, takes “the realm of human interactions and its social context, rather than the assertion of an independent and private symbolic space.”[5]  If pre-modern art examined the relationship between humankind and the non-human transcendental (the deity), and modern art explored the relationship between humankind and the external world (the object), relational art marks a shift to a new paradigm: art that examines humankind’s relationship to itself. Such an assessment is contingent upon seeing the realm of the social as generative and capable of producing new notions of community and collectivity. Among other things, relational art is credited with the creation of “convivial aesthetics” that is, works that emphasize interpersonal relationships, a communal space for sharing and soliciting interaction between individuals. The defining trait of these works becomes interactivity and participation. They become collaborative by virtue of the fact that the interaction of the viewer is required to create meaning, and seeks to undermine the sovereignty of the author in order to empower the viewer.

However, all of the concentration on creating spaces of ambiguous human relations and providing a means of open participation and interaction belies the role of the artist as sole instigator or creator of such social spaces and the behind the scenes director of the labor that generates them. As critics have pointed out, relational art and participatory art hardly signals the death of the author, rather some believe it reinforces it since more and more authors are needed to help newly empowered readers/viewers catalyze their own agency. Additionally, the actual work required to create these environments in the first place is often overlooked. In other words, there would be no meals shared with Rirkrit Tiravanija if Tiravanija was not laboring and working to prepare the meal; no benches on which to have conversations if they were not meticulously fabricated by a team of workers, no silver-wrapped candies to take away if there was not someone to wrap such candies let alone move them and set up according to the artist’s instructions. The forms of labor associated with art production in visual art have taken on new meaning in art’s social turn, a turn whereby art, in becoming a situation or a process, cannot shed its ties to a collective and material being. “A work is now a club, a bar, a meal, a cinema, a hang-out, a dance floor, a game of football or a piece of furniture” as Lars Bang Larsen recently claimed, and “the sole author and the contemplative beholder were atomized in works that called for togetherness and were often created by collectives or self-organized entities.”[6]

Michael Lin’s interest in creating spaces of conviviality owes much to this dialogue. He has become known for large-scale paintings of textile patterns that transform non-descript, transitional architectural spaces into ‘situations’ that introduced a dimension of social interaction and shared conviviality to the typically solitary art viewing experience. The social component of Lin’s practice starts with his production process. Over the years, Lin has employed countless assistants and art students around the world—a community in its own right—to assist with the production of his work. By rough calculations, over the last ten years Lin has hired in the realm of four to five hundred assistants, some of which work for a period of time lasting six to eight weeks. In the same way that Lin’s practice works to create a space of inter-personal relations; it simultaneously inhabits that same space through concentrated work and production, sometimes for a period of time equal to the period of exhibition. His mode of working relies primarily upon skilled labor—usually art students or recent art graduates skilled in the craft of painting. The replicability of craft practice is crucial to Lin’s method and is essential to the social operation of the workshop. Craft knowledge is discursive and transmissible; comprised of skills that can be taught and passed on, thereby providing a platform for shared labor that can be used to mobilize new relationships. In its ideal form, the workspace hierarchies evaporate and each painter becomes an equal participant in the development of the work. Model Home suggests a change occurring not just in the working process and enlisting collaborators and co-authors to the finished result but signals a deeper change within the artist himself: for the first time Lin foregoes his usual practice of hiring copious students and skilled painters and has chosen to instead with a limited number of contracted laborers. These workers have no special skills in painting or art background—and will perform their tasks with limited direction from Lin. Additionally they will live and work on-site within the space of the museum. Such a process has in part been designed to allow for imperfections and to disrupt notions of authorial control.

Lin’s work and career has long embraced different but closely related features of a central concept: generosity. Giving away beer and cigarettes, treating the audience to a comfortable place to rest or listen to music—these gestures of magnanimity are designed also to foster a sense of togetherness and communality. In the social contract that is the art experience, the audience member, or viewer, is a recipient of what the artist makes…but what happens when the artist is not the maker? Or when there are multiple makers? Acts of generosity within Lin’s practice are extended further for Model Home as the artist invites others to participate in the creative process, resulting in a dislocation of the authorial voice. The call to participation that surrounds much international contemporary art practice today is part of a larger dialogue centered on the social dimension of collaborative, participatory, or collectively produced art that arguably situates itself within a history of avant-garde and dematerialized art forms.[7] For Lin, soliciting viewer participation and encouraging a common spirit is part of a larger task of transforming the conventions of how modern art functions—namely, the radical separation of art and its public. By association, this would include the distinction between individually authored art object and the author him or herself. As Enwezor states, “Collective work complicates further modernism’s idealization of the artwork as the unique object of individual creativity. In collective work we witness the simultaneous aporia of artwork and artist.”[8] Tellingly, the subtitle for Model Home is not “A Work by Michael Lin” but rather “A Proposition by Michael Lin”. The phrasing suggests the hypothetical space of a proposal rather than a finished work, an experiment in collectivism rather than a steadfastly solo-oriented gesture. What Lin is proposing is a collaborative process imbued with a multiplicity of voices and disciplines, and which actively transcends feelings of modern-day alienation and distanciation through more meaningful encounters with the self. Model Home represents collectivism’s primordial appeal, that is, the desire to experience oneself as an encompassing being of a nation or state or public; part of an imagined community where ideals cohere and boundaries of difference are transgressed, even temporarily.

As the words in the manifesto of the Overseas United Chinese Artists attest, the collective social form is always first and foremost a fetish—a part that substitutes for the whole. The fetish we are experiencing now in visual art is the redemptive dream of collectivism, evident throughout today’s infatuations with socially engaged art, community-based art, and participatory or relational art—all of which stress the process and space of inter-subjectivity and communality over the concrete production of an art object. The questions scholars, critics and artists have put to art over the years concerning an artwork’s relationship to other artworks, to itself, and to larger society, in fact have less to do with the actual process of production than of the individual artist’s relationship to society and the stake of human relations and everyday social reality. As Lin proposes, such practices do not supercede questions of material production and the consumption of labor but they do offer new ways of thinking about collective authorship and collapsing distances between producer and consumer, artist and audience. Enfolding the act of making into Model Home, and collaborating with architects, designers and sound artists in the process, Lin’s continual goal of imagining a truly free and open space finds its ground. It is also on this ground where a fruitful and lively engagement between art and life begins.


[1] Manifesto of Overseas United Chinese Artists, 1985, New York, private collection of Joan Lebold Cohen, accessible online: http://www.iconophilia.net/ai-weiweis-1985-manifesto/

[2] See “Patterns of Temporary Labor Migration of Rural Women from Anhui and Sichuan”, The China Journal, July 2004, Roberts, Kenneth; Connelly, Rachel; Xie, Zhenming; Zheng, Zhenzhen and also China State Council Research Office Team (2006) Research Report on China’s Migrant Workers [in Chinese]. Beijing: Zhongguo Yanshi Publishing House.

[3] See Grant Kester, The One and The Many: Contemporary Collaborative Art in a Global Context (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011): 100-106

[4] Walter Gropius, “The Theory and Organization of the Bauhaus” published in Art in Theory 1900-2000 An Anthology of Changing Ideas, ed Charles Harrison and Paul Wood (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2003): 310.

[5] See Nicholas Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics, p.??

[6] see Lars Bang Larsen, “The Long Nineties”, Frieze, Issue 144 (January-February), 2012.

[7] See Participation (Documents on Contemporary Art), ed. Claire Bishop (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006): 10-17.

[8] Okwui Enwezor, “The Production of Social Space as Artwork”, published in Collectivism After Modernism: The Art of Social Imagination After 1945, ed. Blake Stimson and Gregory Sholette (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007): 223-224.

hou hanrou – model home for A new common

Rockbund Project by Michael Lin and his alliances

Trans-disciplinary collaboration between various creative activities is increasingly crucial and critical for contemporary art’s evolution today, in the age when all traditional concepts and models of practices in real life – economic, cultural, social and political – are rapidly deconstructed and collapsing due to the accelerated development and proliferation of new technologies and circulation of information and ideas, hence the expansion of intellectual and imaginative horizons across the world. This tendency, as a part of the process of intense renegotiation and redefinition of frontiers between territories of the urban and the rural, the public and the private, the individual and the collective, the everyday and the imaginative, the productive and the creative… and ultimately, between established social systems and alternative organisations, reveals a new opportunity for us to envision an upcoming world in which creativity will play a key role in the making of a new society. Certainly, artists, architects, filmmakers, musicians, writers, curators and other cultural workers will be the main actors in this process… And, let’s not forget the common workers, builders and street vendors, etc. whose contributions are not only physical but to a large extend, intelligent and even intellectual, rooted in popular wisdoms… In other words, this need of trans-disciplinary collaboration to achieve Total Art works embodies the core change in the field of artistic and cultural creation in our age of globalisation and restructuring of local conditions. Michael Lin, along with a whole group of alliances proposes to realise the project Model Home for Rockbund Art Museum. The focus of the project is exactly this model of collaboration. The artists state that the proposal “takes the premise of the Bauhaus’ idea of ‘a total work of art’ as a departure point and attempts to explore its implications and contradictions within the context of the contemporary Shanghai and an exhibition at the Rockbund Museum”[1]. In fact, because of the project’s strong and immediate connection to the everyday life of a rapidly changing urban society, it reaches far beyond the scope claimed by the classic concept of Gesamtkunstwerk, or Total Art Work…

The creation of Rockbund Art Museum is certainly a highlight of the urban renovation of Shanghai, a star global metropolis. It is here that the most critical questions and challenges of urbanisation and globalisation are posed. Or in other words, it provides an ideal laboratory for us to examine and test innovative possibilities and propositions to tackle those topics… Michael Lin’s project for his exhibition is revealed to be an exemplary action to lead the experiment.

The project developed by Michael Lin, along with Atelier Bow-Wow, in association with a whole group of creators – curators Lai Hsiangling and Alexandra Munroe, project manager Hsieh Feng Rong (Ramen), architecture researcher Li Xiangning, video artist Huang Ran, gallery owner Leo Xu, sound artists Lou Nanli and Wang Changhcun, as well as Feng Di Furniture Company, etc. – is greatly timely and pertinent in this context.

Michael Lin’s work has always been looking into creating an integrate environment through interventions of painterly languages and appropriations of ready-made folkloric textile patterns. His efforts to merge the worlds of the applied and the artistic prove to be singular in terms of formal inventions. He also proclaims a provocative aesthetic and ethic stance. His works generate accentuated public spheres within the context of privatisation and gentrification of urban spaces while consistently subverting the order of things by breaking down the boundaries between the high and the low, the elitist and the popular. And this stance is much needed today when the society is search for real relevance and significance of artistic production both within and beyond the dominant market and institutional systems.

Atelier Bow-Wow, a Japanese architecture practice consisting of Yoshiharu Tsukamoto and Momoyo Kaijima is famous for their smart and efficient designs for urban structures deeply inspired by their researches on the popular wisdom of spatial production in the cities of extremely high density like Tokyo and Shanghai. What is also noteworthy is that they have always been open to direct and organic collaborations with artists to intervene in the context of contemporary art. This further brings them to embrace more trans-disciplinary experiments.

Referring to the Japanese tradition of ceramic making named Raku which has decisive influences on tea culture and its societal structure, Michael Lin and Atelier Bow-Wow come together to conceive the project of Model Home for migrant workers from an early stage. This leads to further collaborations with other abovementioned creators covering diverse creative domains such as curating, filmmaking, music and sound work, etc. the result is impressive: not only a series of Model Homes (referring and yet contrasting historical modernist examples such as Matti Suuronen’s Futuro House and Richard Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion House, etc.) designed to host migrant workers has been fabricated and installed outside and inside the museum. The prototype-like houses are designed and fabricated with maximum economic, material and spatial efficiency while basic comforts are equipped to provide the dwellers decent living conditions. The migrant workers help produce and install the art works in the exhibition are invited to live in these houses during the preparation period. Then, the houses are moved into the museum to become useful structures for the performers and visitors after the opening. In the meantime, folk patterns extracted from blankets used by the workers are blown up and reproduced on the walls to become the omnipresent “decoration” of the building while a worker’s club with furniture of street restaurant style are installed. Other performative activities including lectures, workshops, concerts and so on also unfold to turn the exhibition, hence the museum, into a veritable machine of habitat with real time social life. Here the most experimental art practices are present and unfolding. What is even more exciting is that they are brought into an completely unlikely contact where a whole living world of the working class – the most populous, but largely overlooked, social class – is implanted into this elitist edifice, the renovated Art Deco building of high culture…

Apparently, in this project, a series of crucial questions related to the social, economic, cultural and political impacts of urban development and modernisation over the everyday life and social values, as well as the collective and individual imaginations are posed… One of the major outcomes of urban development and modernisation is the emergence of new social division between the rich and the poor, between the “upper class” (business, political and cultural elites) and the “lower class” (workers, small business people, low-income employees, etc.). Intense migration movements further prompt this tendency. More and more world-class business travellers are hopping across metropolitan cities. At the same time, fluxes of farmers are flooding the cities to become migrant workers to provide manpower for construction, service and other labour-intensive jobs. This is stimulating a profound change of urban culture and social structure. Obviously, these tides of migration are a part of the globalisation process. And the economic, cultural and social changes resulted from the process can be seen as an internal globalisation to introduce further openings and complications within the society.

Michael Lin himself is also an perpetual migrant between Asia, Europe and America. He has been regularly living in Shanghai for the last few years. Here he has developed deep interests in investigating the evolution of the everyday life of the “lower classes”. He has been strongly inspired by what he has discovered as wonders hidden behind the seemingly banal life of the common “mass”. In 2008, he purchased the daily products from the housewares store and reinstalled them as a kind of treasury in Shanghai’s most luxurious and trendy building of “3 On the Bund” to demonstrate the unexpected beauty of the “popular taste” and the living world of the “bottom society”. And, inspired by a globally popular song, he called it “What a Difference a Day Made”[2]. It was a serious and committed engagement with the struggle to render this invisible mass and their imaginary visible. The decision to turn his exhibition in Rockbund Art Museum into a microcosm of the migrant workers is a more audacious step-forward of this engagement.

Collaboration is now a key element, or a norm, in contemporary art practice, especially when it comes to the question of the relationship between artistic production and public space. However, in the context of the rapid marketization and institutionalisation of “experimental art”, the absolute majority of collaborations happen within the circle of the elites, namely artists and intelligentsia. Direct collaboration with the workers and farmers remains a rare option. Michael Lin, while working with architects, artists and musicians, also emphasizes the importance of direct involvements of the construction workers coming from the countryside. It is here that Michael Lin’s decision to give up the decision making power to the workers during the realisation of the project appears to be extraordinary. He designed the conceptual framework of the project. The choices of the patterns, furniture, materials and other aesthetic and physical elements are essentially derived from popular products found in low-price markets frequented by low-income classes including the migrant workers. The final realisation of the project almost entirely relies on the interpretation of the workers. Hence, they obtain the maximum freedom to express their imagination and capacity. The workers have never received any artistic training. The artist also avoids giving them any technical instructions. The execution of the design is essentially turned into the workers’ active reinterpretations that often go beyond the control of the artist. Their interpretations are improvisational, imprecise and imperfect. Instead of fulfilling conventional canons of beauty and elegancy, they tend to be out of control, much more vivid, vigorous, dynamic and full of wild energy. Incidental, unexpected but interestingly “invented” elements are allowed to come into the design and secretly but effectively disturb and even deconstruct it. Forms and tastes rooted in the bottom of the society, or popular culture mixing with urban and rural “folkloric-ness” are brought in to deconstruct the norms and canons of the high culture. This further suggests a subversion of the much pursued goal of turning contemporary art and its institution into elitist system of production of “good taste”, often understood as equating luxuriousness.

Certainly, this is not simply a question of taste. One should understand it as an attempt to resist to the logic of hegemony of a rising social class empowered by their economic and political “successes”. This logic is leading to an enforcement of social control founded upon a stabilisation of the new class hierarchy and division. The design of Model House for the migrant workers by Michael Lin and Atelier Bow-Wow and the practice of involving the workers’ active collaborations open a door for new possibility of production of social space. This process starts with the direct incorporation of the bodies, the bodies of the workers. They not only produce the structure but also inhabit it. This act of dwelling not only brings a dimension of time through corporal integration with the materials and structures. What’s more important is that this act, by introducing the bodies of another social class who carry with them subjectivities and values different from the “art and culture class”, a space in which the muffled voices of an exploited social class can start to be heard by a public who often ignore their existence. Of course, how much this voice is really heard and understood remains an open question. But this attempt is clearly a brave but timely experiment.

The fact that this project has been conceived for and realised in Rockbund Art Museum is highly significant and symbolic. The museum itself, as a part of a large scale real estate development that automatically implies gentrification of the city and favours for the powerful ones, is a fruit of the efforts of a rising business and cultural elite to embrace a new-born social consciousness to share their achievements with the society itself using their economic, social and even political privilege. In the meantime, it’s also a way to exhibit and boast their own successes. Obviously, this also helps forming a new elite circle in the bourgeoning urban society. In the meantime, the establishment of the art community in both the political system and public opinions, including mainstream media and alternative, bottom-up social media, also opens up a new platform for the debates of the role, meaning and value of artistic and cultural productions in the society at large, which are far from reaching any consensus. Contemporary art and its institutions as well as “creative or cultural industry” as a whole are hence utilised in a highly ambivalent manner and brought to respond to various, overlapping but ethically contradictory demands. It is in this highly controversial and challenging context that the project of Michael Lin and company appears to be provocative. Not only it invites us to understand it as an exemplary experiment of collaboration in art and the importance of collective and trans-disciplinary intelligence in the making of truly contemporary art and a new typology of Total Art. It also proactively propose us look into the impacts of such a collaborative model in terms of the making of new cultural institutions through demonstrating the possibility of involving various social strata in the process, with an emphasis on the role of the grass-root and bottom-up forces. What is even more meaningful – and somehow ironic – is that the project’s conception and realisation have been mainly resorting to the resource and production system of the dominant economic system, namely neo-liberalism. At the same time, by putting forward the importance of the lower class and the interests of the general public in order to claim for equality between all social classes and individuals in front of creativity, what it aims to achieve is a subversion of the class order defined and defended by this system itself. Fundamentally, the logic of development propagated by globalised neo-liberal capitalism and its alliance – “socialism à la chinoise” – is somehow suspended and reversed for a moment…

It is here that, through a labour-intense endeavour, more questions and debates on the role of artistic production, cultural institution and the tension between artistic expression and public interests, between privatisation of urban space and the claims of public sphere, etc. are brought back to the front-stage of intellectual and social dialogue.

Since the founding of the Rockbund Art Museum in 2009, the question of the institutions public role and influences in the city has been put in the centre of its curatorial agenda and has continuously been explored and debated.[3] With the introduction of a project like “Model Home” by combining and confusing “good design” and “bad design”, “high art” and “low art”, and especially, by encouraging the encounter and merging of divided social classes, a new phase of the construction of the institution in a fresh and somehow unknown perspective is being opened. Institutional critique is now an integral part of making of the institution itself.

A Model Home by definition is a utopian project to provide better efficiency and more comfortable conditions for life according to certain idealist rationales. In the specific case of Michael Lin/Atelier Bow-Wow’s Model Home, exploration of the best possible solution for the life of migrant workers within the economic and social constraints in today’s Chinese urbanisation is the central concern. The key here is that, in spite of the parasite position and status of the structures – they are built in the narrow lane next to the museum building as a kind of additional and quasi-illegal shelter, the designers try to provide the best conditions in terms of materials, spatial efficiency, light, air and equipment so the workers can enjoy the maximum comforts during their work in the museum. What is even more interesting is that, after finishing the realisation of the project in the building, the Model Home, with the housewares used by the workers, is moved into the highest floor of the museum and becomes a potential public housing space within the museum itself. Another identical structure is also installed on the terrace on the top of the museum to form a kind of “high rise parasite”. In the process of urban gentrification, a museum like Rockbund Art Museum can easily be seen as an accomplice of capitalist invasion of the city. However, there is also a utopian dimension to it when it attempts to endow itself with a mission of developing the public presentation of artistic production and embracing the task of public pedagogy and even “the sharing of the sensible” (le partage du sensible) in Jacques Rancière’s sense[4]. This suggests to open up a space of aesthetics and politics for the new social common while respecting the singularity and uniqueness of individuals and collective. With all the ambivalences, the museum can still be seen as a laboratory for constructing a contemporary public space, a site for experimentations of the realisation of the new common. Michael Lin/Atelier Bow-Wow’s Model House focuses on both the betterment of the migrant workers and mobilisation of public sensibility vis-à-vis the condition of the working class and their role in the making of the new urban life. Here, there is a certain convergence of two opposing utopian ideas, or an encounter and even a clash of two distinct utopias. This is exactly what renders this project particularly dynamic and energetic, as well as relevant, in the context of Chinese urbanisation today where social division and conflict are becoming increasingly serious and violent. It shows that, at least at an experimental level, there is a possible conciliation …

This utopian ideal and attempt are enforced by the artist’s choice to set up a Worker’s Club in the heart of the museum, inspired by Alexander Rodchenko’s famous Worker’s Club (1925) that searches to propose a prototype of an ideal social space for avant-garde society based on avant-garde political, ideological and aesthetic projects, namely the Soviet Communism. The artist collaborates with the local Feng Di Furniture Company to redesign the furniture in order to render the design more “Chinese” and grass-rooted, along with the stools and tables purchased from street markets. Drawings, plans and diagrams reflecting the research and design process of the project are presented here while videos documenting the process of the realisation of the project are projected in the space… Obviously, this is not only a technical addition to demonstrate further the conceptual dimension of the ambitious project. It’s also a completely concrete and tangible devise to allow the public to experience physically the eventuality of sharing a public space in which one can mingle and exchange with the others, no matter which social class one belongs to… Here, we are all workers and belong, instantly, to the same Club, the same common.

Therefore, the whole museum now is turned into a machine to generate utopian ideals for dwelling, working and sharing. Here, one can learn how to live with the each other, with those who have been too often mutually overlooked. It’s here that we can imagine the making of a new social common – a Soviet in the real sense – so much needed for our time.

And this is our home…

San Francisco, 25 March 2012


[1] Michael Lin’s proposal for Model Home.

[2] Michael Lin, What a Difference a Day Made, one person exhibition at Shanghai Gallery of Art (滬申畫廊), 2008.

[3] For example, in the project “By Day, By Night, Some (Special) Things A Museum Can Do” curated by myself in 2010 has turned the museum spaces into on-going event spaces for lectures, workshops, film screenings, public forums, etc., a major space of dialogue with the public, during the exhibition under the banner of “Night Life”. This has been continued by the museum team as a regular program of the museum.

[4] Ref. Rancière Jacques, Le Partage du sensible. Esthétique et politique, Paris, La Fabrique, 2000

alexandra munroe – model home

Take Away My Authority

The aim of this show is to take away my authority and to bring in as many other people as possible….A lot of things are being left open, not because of lack of time but because the material of the process is the subject. [1]

– Michael Lin

In this kind of space, science turns into poetics. Architecture becomes the framework in which this can occur.[2]

-Yoshihara Tsukamoto

In 1971, the Italian artist Alghiero e Boetti travelled to Afghanistan and set up an embroidery workshop at a hotel in Kabul. Working with local antiquities dealers, he gathered a group of craftswomen to produce a hand-embroidered map of the world. Following the artist’s directives, the Afghan embroiderers represented each country’s territory by the patterns and colors of its national flag. This relationship, subverting divisions between artist and maker and giving concept, method and process equal significance in the final work of art, engaged Boetti until his death in 1994 and resulted in his best-known series, Mappa. At first, Boetti was meticulous in laying out each new map, selecting the color thread for each diagram and checking errors as work progressed over months or years. But as the series continued, he became interested in the chance mistakes the anonymous, commonly illiterate Afghan women made, particularly in their choice of color for the ocean, whose nature they had never seen: the blue morphed into green, purple, and even pink. National flags changed, too, as new territorial divisions and political identities came into being in the wake of wars, revolutions and regime changes. Inscriptions in Farsi drafted by Boetti’s coordinators make up the borders of each Mappa, usually recounting the circumstances of the local production, quoting Sufi poetry, and dating works according to the Islamic Afghan calendar. After the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 by Russian troops, Boetti’s production moved to Peshawar in Pakistan, where the group of Afghans had taken refuge.

According to Boetti, his embroidery works are not a form of collaboration in the contemporary sense. Rather, they are “visualizations of different, anonymous realities – nameless yet with his or her own name.” Beauty lay in the co-existence of other realities and his reality.[3] These singular but co-existing realities include the worlds of ancient handicraft and avant-garde art, decoration and script, women’s work and men’s work, the secular and religious. They also include the jarring differences between capitalist Europe and war-ravaged Central Asia of the late Cold War era. Boetti’s work questions the inevitability of authorship and authority by ceding individual subjectivity and creativity – modernism’s central truths – to a collection of people working across great distances in radically diverse fields and socio-political realties. Ultimately, the meaning of Mappa resides in the very dislocation of meaning.

The politics and poetry of Boetti’s long-term project working with Afghan craftswomen 3000 miles away from his Rome studio resonates with Model Home: A Proposition by Michael Lin. This project operates as a workplace inhabited by disparate sets of co-workers. By willfully ceding his artistic control through a range of partnerships, associations, and cooperative contracts, from urban theorists in Tokyo to migrant laborers in Shanghai. Michael Lin demonstrates the latest in what I call the “network paradigm” in contemporary global art practice. This term describes a recent phenomena that goes beyond Public Art and Relational Aesthetics popular in the 1990s. While grounded in similar ideas about art as a platform or laboratory for social interaction and political engagement, the “network paradigm” points to a form of art expressly committed to working with people in fields and among realities far outside the arts. It is an open workplace in real and online space, alive with errant discussions and unpredictable group dynamics, and committed to creative research on the state of our planet. It simulates the Internet model of blogs as infinitely variable social media networks, rather than defined containers, of content: Users can freely access, consume and forward content in any direction. Projects arising from this model won’t add up to make sense about any one subject; rather, they challenge our codes of cognition and incite new ones through unexpected interactions and connections. Drawing on people and ideas that cross disciplines, media, historical periods, cultural discourses, economic class and national borders, the rural and the urban, the “network paradigm” overturns the authority of the artist in favor of dynamic and unscripted participation — a spectacular subversion of power. Michael Lin’s call to “take away my authority” is a desire to engage with this emerging social intelligence.

A Space to Occupy

Like Boetti, the basic element of Michael Lin’s art is the appropriation and reconfiguration of ornament and craft to serve a conceptual-art idiom. In Lin’s case, he takes the bold, brilliantly-hued floral patterns of mass-produced Taiwanese fabric typically used in domestic settings for bedding and pillows and blows them up to cover canvases, gallery furniture, and entire walls, inside and out, of public institutions.   The style of his peonies, iris, cosmos, and sprays of fringed pinks set against bright single color backgrounds are a hybrid of Chinese decorative-arts imagery, Japanese colonial culture (which introduced the futon bedding cover) and Taiwanese mixed desire for East Asian branding. Unlike a found object or readymade in the Dadaist and Pop Art sense, Lin’s commonplace decorative patterns link to premodern, feminine and domestic ideals, and blur the lines between the vernacular, popular and intimate. By bringing these motifs of Taiwanese material culture into the modernist halls of high culture, displacing them from their domestic origins, he opens a space to display all kinds of “difference.” Their temporary nature is also unsettling: Monumental in their altered scale, they are meticulously hand-painted by teams of assistants on plywood panels and then destroyed at the end of each installation.

As critic and curator Hou Hanru has written, Lin’s “essential concern…is not so much about painting as it is about the public space and the role of the contemporary artist in the public sphere.”[4] Rather than make paintings to stand in front of, Lin makes paintings to walk through, lie on, play in. They are more like a medium than a thing. As early as 2002, Lin acknowledged that he was “more interested in creating a painting as a space to occupy.”[5]   By turning architectural spaces into “situations” that are interactive and provisional, Lin invites the visitor to take an active role in the work’s production of meaning.[6]

Over the last decade, Lin’s site-specific installations have become increasingly architectural and participatory. He covered the whole Palais de Tokyo lobby floor with pattern and pillows for the public to use (2002), organized a wedding by lottery in a room he covered at Contemporary Art Gallery St. Louis (2004), and created a huge spiral ramp for kids to run around at the Jardin Public at the Edinburgh International Festival (2007). While working within the institutional frame, he incited social activities normally outside that frame to happen.

Model Home takes a more radical turn. Feeling his painting had become like a “brand” and people were becoming “blind to the actual work and its social impetus”, Lin approached the Rockbund Art Museum commission as a way to “to open myself up, to blur, to subvert my own product.”[7]

Lin’s first concept was to hire Chinese construction workers to make his branded blown-up floral patterns on the walls of the museum and to have them live onsite during the process. In the past, he used art students. This time, Lin would specifically chose strangers who are unskilled in painting and indifferent to his art.   This co-existence of realities would be housed in worker dwellings designed by Lin’s friends and former project collaborators, Yoshihara Tsukamoto and Momoyo Kaijima of Atelier, Tokyo. According to Tsukamoto, Lin wanted “to integrate what is happening in China now into his museum space.”[8] By bringing in laborers (gongren), they could address China’s huge social problem of workers living like squatters on their construction sites thousands of miles away from their homes. In a tiny way, they could interface with the 170 million migrants scattered across China’s largest cities who have built the fastest urban sprawl in history – the defining agent of contemporary Chinese life. “I was interested that by working with architects I can be in touch with the real,” Lin mused. “That’s because architecture is implicated more directly with the social.”[9]

Creative Ecologies

Founded in 1992, Atelier Bow-Wow is at the forefront of contemporary urban theory and building design dealing with the uses and production of “social space.” Eschewing form as the sole criteria of architectural meaning, Tsukamoto and Kaijima look instead at how micro, add-on and spill-over buildings making up the urban fabric of Tokyo recast architecture as an interplay of contingencies between situation, environment and human use. The commingling of ordinary human activity, natural elements like rain, humidity and light, and built form resulting from continuous trial and error make up an “ecosystem of behavior.” Within this reality, Tsukamoto writes,

architecture becomes the central node, capably synthesizing and facilitating these disparate behaviors. Architecture makes it possible for daily spatial practice to be properly situated in a much broader context. That which is usually solely the realm of social relationships is expanded to include nature and the whole cosmos, resulting in a liberation of the human imagination.[10]

Bow-Wow’s concepts of “social space” and “spatial practice” are drawn from Marxist sociologist Henri Lefebvre. In his book, The Production of Space (1974), Lefebvre argues that urban space is a social product, a construction of thought shaped by multiple, conflicting and ultimately political processes. His research shifts the understanding of space from what architectural form generates to what social processes generate, and sets up a dialectic between lived and ideational spaces. The social production of urban space, characterized by everydayness, is for Lefebrve the process by which capitalism itself is reproduced in society. For Bow-Wow, the concept of spatial practice, meaning space as reproduced in everyday life, allows them to map typologies of urban space that are entirely non-descript and self-generating. But they interpret Lefebvre through their own creative and remarkably Japanese lens. Where the French philosopher saw alienation, Bow-Wow sees compassion, humility, generosity and the animation of inanimate things. For Tsukamoto and Kaijima, there is no difference between form and phenomena, between architect, city planner and user. The practice they call “behaviorology “ is a science of studying human beings in relationship to their natural habitat, however clumsy, cheap or chaotic. Critic Meruro Washida observes:

Atelier Bow-Wow’s understanding of the relationship between people and social spaces is inverted: in their formulation, it is not people who create social spaces, but social spaces that use people to bring themselves into being. When this occurs, designers and users alike are used by these spaces, and in the process, the distinction between designers and users is eliminated. [11]

Atelier Bow-Wow has a long history of collaborating with artists and curators and intervening in exhibitions. The Rockbund Art Museum project held particular appeal because they could finally realize work in China, whose rapid urbanization fascinates them. Like Lin, they are interested in the daily habits of people and use their work to study the “in-between characteristics of society” – not the individual, not the mass, but just the flux of people living and doing their ordinary business in their urban environments. Charged with designing sheds for the twelve workers who would live onsite for three to four weeks while they paint the third-floor gallery mural, Tsukamoto and Kaijima visited the dormitories of local construction companies and interviewed workers about their living spaces. In keeping with their design philosophy, they wanted to create new kinds of spaces that could provoke new kinds of behavior. So, their sleeping units made of standard shipping containers each hold three rather the usual four beds, with each one facing away to allow for greater privacy. Loggias invite the men to gather, smoke and play cards. And “attic spaces” in each unit hold a place for one to retreat and be alone. In this way, Bow-Wow stimulates an “ecosystem of behavior” that allows “an overlapping of different rhythms” through the agency of space itself.

With the sheds underway, Lin and Bow-Wow brainstormed other ways to connect the workers residency and Shanghai itself to the viewers’ experience of the show, expanding its conceptual purview to provide other kinds of content on other kinds of platforms. They commissioned the young filmmaker Cheng Ran to make an art work about the Chinese workers living and working onsite, which would then be shown during the show. Sound art by Lou Nanli (AKA B6), whose work overlays concrete sounds of the cityscape and landscape with orchestral and contemporary-music tracks, would create ambient sound for the duration of the installation. Finally, the urban theorist and architecture critic Xiangning Li would conduct a field survey with his students of Tongji University College of Architecture and Urban Planning in order to compile Made in Shanghai, photographs and isometric drawings cataloguing new categories of urban structure based on Atelier Bow-Wow’s radical prototype, Made in Tokyo. Bow-Wow’s catalogue, begun in 1991 and now a book and popular website, examines nothing buildings embedded in urban space like parking garages, driving schools, shopping arcades outfitted inside elevated train tracks, and other B-grade facilities normally overlooked by professional architects. But seen with compassion, these “no-good” buildings become a way to understand the off-hand synergies that mutually enliven humans and their built environment.

Finally, in a nod to Constructivism, utopianism and the Bauhaus, Lin would reimagine and reenact the Russian Constructivist Aleksandr Rodchenko’s Workers’ Club on the second floor gallery. This model room was shown as a Soviet exhibit at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes at the Grand Palais, Paris in 1925. Rodchenko’s design expressed revolutionary ideology through a spare and rational economy of form and function. Amidst the chess table, bookcases and photographs of fellow artists, architects, writers and critics who made up Constructivism’s interdisciplinary group enterprise was a memorial to Lenin, paying tribute to his Bolshevik goals for the proletariat’s full participation in social and political life. In the Rockbund incarnation, a collection of Scandinavian-inspired log furniture, the Workers Club displays the findings of Professor Li’s field survey, Made in Shanghai.

Michael Lin’s reference to Bauhaus is a strategic critique. In his 1919 program for the new school in Weimar, Germany, Bauhaus director Walter Gropius decried how the arts had become “isolated” in the modern age and envisioned a “new unity” of mediums culminating in architecture. Vassily Kandinsky expanded on this vision, imagining an “experimental laboratory in which all the resources of architecture, painting, sculpture, music, dance, and poetry would be deployed simultaneously to create ‘a monumental abstract art’ both multisensory and immersive.”[12] Wary of the seductive powers of the global contemporary art establishment, and recommitted through his collaboration with Atelier Bow-Wow to the local as site for the social function of art, Lin’s Model Home demonstrates what the title says: It is a proposition. A hundred years after Bauhaus, in the thick of Shanghai, Lin finds himself at a new frontier of science beyond art. The “network paradigm” is today’s Gesamtkunstwerk. “Our goal, “ wrote the Bauhaus artist László Moholgy-Nagy to Rodchenko, “is to give a summary of all that is contemporary.”[13].


[1] Michael Lin, Skype interview with the author, January 20, 2012

[2] Yoshihara Tsukamoto, trans. Steven Chodorisky, “Architectural Behaviorology” in Yoshiharu Tsukamoto and Momoyo Kaijima, behaviorology (New York: Rizzoli, 2010), p. 11.

[3] Alighiero e Boetti (1982) cited in Nicola Müllerschön, “Versatile Collaborations: Narratives of Alighiero Boetti’s Afghan Embroideries” in Hans Belting et al, Editors, Global Studies: Mapping Contemporary Art and Culture (Osfîldern, Germany: Hatje Cantz, 2011), p. 49.

[4] Hou Hanru, “Michael Lin, Public Artist” in Nicolas Borriaud, Bruce Grenville et al, Michael Lin (Vancouver and Osfîldern, Germany: Vancouver Art Gallery and Hatje Cantz, 2009), p. 27.

[5] Michael Lin (2002) cited in Ibid., p. 27.

[6] According to Nicolas Bourriaud, this aspect links Lin’s art to artists like Rirkrit Tiravanija and the movement known as Relational Aesthetics. See “Michael Lin and the Concept of Ambience” by Nicolas Bourriaud in Ibid., p. 11.

[7] Lin, Skype interview with the author, January 20, 2012.

[8] Yoshiharu Tsukamoto, Skype interview with the author, January 19, 2012

[9] Lin, Skype interview with the author, January 20, 2012.

[10] Tsukamoto, “Architectural Behaviorology”, p. 11.

[11] “Atelier Bow-Wow as Artists: Changes in Art and the Potential of New Social Space” by Meruro Washida, trans. Nathan Elchert in behaviorology, p. 251.

[12] See Leah Dickerman, “Bauhaus Fundaments” in Barry Bergdoll and Leah Dickerman, Bauhaus: Workshops for Modernity, 1919-1933 (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2009), p. 27-28.

[13] László Moholgy-Nagy (1923), cited in Ibid., p. 29.

annette tietenberg – it’s all over now, baby blue

Michael Lin is at home everywhere and nowhere. In the last few years, a nomadic existence—now the red flag of world experience in the contemporary art scene—has become the only conceivable life for him. Born in Tokyo, he grew up in Taipei, was educated in Los Angeles, and now shuttles back and forth between Paris, Taipei, Shanghai, and all the other places where his art materializes temporarily. However, in contrast to the techno-nomads sitting at their desks, content with the degree of mobility granted them by cell phones and the Internet, Lin physically and mentally traverses territorial, linguistic, and cultural regions of the most diverse kinds. It is not the drive to be off, nor the being underway that writers have described as a journey to the self, nor adventurousness, nor the lure of the imaginary that impels him. Rather, it is frequenting the unfamiliar, or a shifting from one “furnished room to another,”1 that has become second nature to him. Is he a nomad, then, who pitches his tents, as Deleuze writes, in the shadow of the despot in opposition to imperialism and administration?2 Or is he an aimless wanderer who, to paraphrase Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, tries to convert the nomadic existence into a cultural practice by carrying its subversive potential to every part of the world, a world that contains no “where” that lies outside globalization?3 Or is he a herald of that nomadic thinking which, according to Sylvère Lotringer, rests on a synthesis of intuition, unpredictability, and multiplicity?

In his earlier work Lin seemed to be a wanderer between worlds whose intent was to temporarily transform art spaces into paradisiacal gardens. He transformed the Taipei Fine Art Museum, P.S.1. in New York, and the Kunsthalle Wien project space—all neutral, largely undecorated environments—by covering them with stylized lotus flowers, cherry blossoms, and peonies in order to test our perceptions and make us reflect on art. Like the Cosmati, stonemasons who traveled from place to place in medieval Latium, Tuscany, and Umbria to furnish the floors, choir stalls, and piers of churches with mosaics, Michael Lin has committed himself to spreading patterns. And also like the Cosmati, he reaches back to found objects.

While the former sawed antique columns into fine slices in order to put together clearly structured yet bewildering patterns from the fragments of the old Roman empire, Lin salvages unfinished things from the quarries of history by drawing on the materials of his childhood. The patterns he employs, which were traditionally used in Taiwan to adorn things like pillowcases, bedspreads, and door curtains, have both meaning and function.

“The textiles from which I appropriate my patterns are used in Taiwan as duvet covers that are given as part of the dowry to the groom from the bride’s family . . . . They are mostly used as the cover of the wedding-night bed.”5 These textiles, therefore, are presents which are passed on from one generation to the next so that life’s flow is not interrupted. With their regularly recurring motifs of blossoms and tendrils—fruitful, opulent, and self-reproducing, just like nature—these patterns are said to have magical powers that unfold as they are used in the home. They are meant to reinforce the principles of abundance they embody, especially within the sanction of marriage. “Happiness, a long life, and many sons” is the name of one of the blue-patterned Chinese fabrics described in a book about such materials published in the nineteen-fifties.6 The décor is not mere aesthetic flippancy. It also signals wishes and values, is embedded in customs, testifies to constellations of power and sexuality, and portrays an economic principle derived from nature and captured in words like excess, expenditure, and waste.

Lin takes this economic principle, admired for centuries in rarified private circles, and displays its effects on the public stage in the designated spaces of art. Those who act like this need a social grouping similar to a family, even in the business of art. And that is why Lin—like the Cosmati, but also in a manner similar to the practice of Sol LeWitt, who separated concept from realization—works not on his own, but with the support of a range of teams.

What can be experienced in the exhibition space, at least, is the result of a collective act which revives in the present what someone else had invented in the past. Since Lin did not “invent” the collection of patterns he uses, but, like many twentieth-century artists, has found and selected them as ready-mades, he is passing on something that does not belong to him. Does this not constitute a paradox? Is it possible to make a gift out of something one does not own? The answer is yes, one can and one should. This is the state of generosity that Derrida longed for. Derrida illustrated his perspective on gifts by citing a letter sent by Madame de Maintenon, mistress of Louis XIV, to Madame Brinon that imparts the following: “The King takes all my time; I give the rest to Saint-Cyr, to which I would like to give [it] all.”7

If we are to believe her, then Madame de Maintenon transfers everything to the king—all her time, the whole amount. And yet she is determined to reserve a remainder, which logically should no longer exist, to set up and furnish a foundation called Saint-Cyr, an educational establishment for the daughters of impoverished aristocrats. In doing this, she is giving something she does not actually have to give, and she is glad to give it, on her initiative and of her own volition. In this way, Madame de Maintenon defies the dominant economy and logic, which dictate that exchange is all that counts, a mutual giving and taking. She, however, promises a residual gift, “a remainder that is nothing but that there is since she gives it.”8

Giving something that is not one’s own, and letting others share something that should not even exist according to the prevailing logic: this is precisely what Lin seems to manage to achieve time and time again when he sets out to realize an exhibition. It is the artist’s prerogative not to distinguish between free time and work, between private and public. And so when Lin decides to give something, he gives all his time. He is on site for weeks; he immerses himself in foreign spaces and cultures; he concentrates his attention on the curators and collaborators involved in the installation in question; he selects motifs; he determines the conditions of scale and light. And he gives, like Madame de Maintenon, more than everything; he lets others share their knowledge and powers of imagination and participate in the process of reproducing the patterns of his childhood.

Lin’s divergence from the economy of distribution and the idea of exchange as being limited to the circulation of goods, products, and wares is not without precedents in art. However, the method of dissipating and expending that Georges Bataille once advocated so eloquently seems to have been largely forgotten in recent years as the prices for contemporary art have soared to dizzying heights. Instead, we see what Bataille describes in a chapter entitled “The Insufficiency of the Principle of Classical Utility” as the sad triumph of a different attitude, one which signals that “conscious humanity has remained a minor; humanity recognizes the right to acquire, to conserve, and to consume rationally, but it excludes in principle non-productive expenditure.9

At the very least, Bataille the writer and Lin the artist seem to agree that “human activity is not entirely reducible to processes of production and conservation.”10 However, their thoughts and actions based on this insight are very different. Bataille advocates that we destabilize established authority by abandoning ourselves to the fascination of loss and by celebrating what we commonly avoid in the interests of utility and purpose. In addition, Bataille aligns himself with Marcel Mauss in seeking his salvation in “the archaic form of exchange . . . identified by Mauss under the name potlatch, borrowed from the Northwestern American Indians, who provided such a remarkable example of it.”11 Bataille regards this version of exchange, which excludes any haggling, as an alternative to the mercantile model of the accumulation of wealth in the Western version. Yet the potlatch is not free from mutually determined giving and taking, because “in general,” according to Bataille, “it is constituted by a considerable gift of riches, offered openly and with the goal of humiliating, defying, and obligating a rival. The exchange value of the gift results from the fact that the donee, in order to efface the humiliation and respond to the challenge, must satisfy the obligation (incurred by him at the time of acceptance) to respond later with a more valuable gift, in other words, to return with interest.”12

The gift Derrida speaks of comes far closer to what Lin might have in mind. Derrida presents a different model of economies, one without the notion of expenditure as something that must come back in a transformed mode as income, whether in the form of money, acknowledgement, or social prestige. As he understands it, a gift relates to economies yet has the potential of being “that which interrupts economy.”13 By not countenancing exchange, the gift breaks the cycle of circulation, thereby suspending economic reckoning. The act of giving leaves no room for speculation about reciprocation; in the best case, the idea of reciprocation does not even arise. Any payment, any manifestation of gratitude, or even the symbolic clearing of a debt would annul this act: “It must not circulate, it must not be exchanged, it must not be exhausted, as a gift, by the process of exchange, by the movement of circulation of the circle in the form of return to the point of departure.”14

The gift, according to Derrida, is something utterly impossible. Yet it is conceivable; it could figure in the restricted “gap between the impossible and the unthinkable.”15 Lin sees just such a narrow gap in the exhibition space. So an artist like Lin, committed to work which is inherently critical of the institution in which it is shown, is keeping faith with his artistic practice by exhibiting there, because he is giving something that cannot be reciprocated since it defies the very notion of that institution. Lin feels a kinship with Daniel Buren, Dan Graham, and Franz West, and there is no doubt that his seas of flowers on walls, ceilings, or floors do transform a room’s dimensions. What materializes out of the decorative patterns, the assertive colors, and the functional elements (such as a skating rink, for instance) painfully disturbs the model character of the gallery space as a “free-floating white cell.” It interrupts the “spectacular striptease” of art, the way art has increasingly bared itself within the white cell “until its ultimate formalistic state was reached or a few quotations were left over for the outside world.”16

With Untitled Cigarette Break (1999), Lin had already demonstrated how much patterns and their immanent principle of expenditure run contrary to an “ultimate formalistic state” as an expression of a twentieth-century Protestant work ethic, one that left its mark on both the inner space of the human soul and the interiors in which people worked and lived. The use of patterns as an instinctual, feminine, and inferior stratagem devalued the modern, because it threatened to undermine cultural evolution and the industrial revolution’s productivity and achievements.17 The return of patterns and their attachment to, of all things, that incunabulum of the modern, Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand’s LC2 armchair, was a judicious artistic move. As they come leaping across, the flower motifs (at a distance reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s “Flowers”) seem to have detached from the picture on the wall and shed their colors over the leather-and-steel armchair. In this way art reclaims interior furnishings, a field which had initially been its own but which since the beginning of the twentieth century has seemed to be exclusively the province of design. Pattern, which promises eternal recurrence, enters into an embrace with the classical modern, which has long stood for the striving ever onwards of progress. So much for “less is more”; here the surviving motto is “more is more.” The title itself, Untitled Cigarette Break, can also be read as subtle commentary. On one hand, it suggests that despite all disciplinary measures, addictions cannot be eradicated; they have their place in the symbolic order of the ascetic life. The lure of smoking, the sheer pleasure of it, is stronger than the fear of illness and death. On the other hand, the title signals that the modern, although it claims to be a second classical antiquity, has, when seen from an elevated position, attained some validity—at least for the time it takes to smoke a cigarette. There is something more that generally gets excluded from the exhibition space but with patterns manages to find a temporary niche there: usage. Lin not only offers patterns he has acquired, but also creates his own constructions out of them, ones which are there to be used. For instance, his sunbathing lawns of patterns and flowers invite us to abandon the distanced perspective of an observer and, in a relaxed moment, to see ourselves as part of a space, a social constellation, and an inherited cultural code. In this way the directed attention and focused senses that art usually demands give way to a sort of “dreaminess,” which Roland Barthes maintains we know best from the cinema.18 By leading his exhibition visitors into this sort of “pre-hypnotic” state, Lin is acting beyond the usually accepted limits of art that is critical of institutions. Not only does he reintroduce the body to the freezing rooms of functionality, but he also brings into question the predominance of the intellect. The floral pattern obviates the usual task of either decoding symbols or—in the sense of the iconic turn—reflecting critically on the relationship between language and image. What is allowed, indeed desired, on the part of the viewer is receptivity. As Adorno describes the tendency of genres to converge as art frays at the edges, we could describe the effect of Lin’s work as the fraying edges of the “I.” If Lin is concerned with transforming the exhibition space into a space of passage that permits the viewer to experience the extension of the “I” in a moment of hybridization, then why does he draw upon and employ standard patterns? Why does he not seek salvation, as so many others have, in the moving images of film and video projection, given how closely akin to dreams these media are? Why does he value the process of painting so highly that he transforms five-meter-high and nine-meter-long walls into monumental screens when wallpaper and fabric are so easily available? Why does he persist in doing it all by hand when reproductive machinery would be capable of achieving more efficient results? And why does he insist on transposing the structure of immutability, which is immanent in patterns, into actions? If we understand patterns as creations that owe their existence to anonymous production, that are not the invention of an individual but the result of a conglomeration of historical, economic, and technological factors, routine practices, and collective aesthetic preferences, then Lin appears more conveyer than artist-subject.

He takes and gives simultaneously. And his specific contribution consists in producing situations that make it possible for us to recognize what is given as being precisely that and to accept it. Lin can only succeed in this through an act of conscious acquisition, whereby patterns are internalized through the meditative technique of repeating what is given and simultaneously externalized by applying them to walls or floors in exhibition spaces. This way of working reveals that Lin is an alternative to the figure of the egocentric artist who, though repeatedly criticized since the sixties, has continuously dominated art until today. Lin, however, foregoes the gesture of the avant-garde artist, that of conquering new territory. And he no longer promises to rescue the autonomy of the subject from a world of alienated labor and to enable the subject to lead a life according to his or her own lights. Instead, he focuses on the multiplicity of what is given by deliberately choosing a stereotypical representation of nature. Divested of their roots, these climbing tendrils bearing leaves and blossoms, copies of traditional Chinese images, have woven themselves into everyday Taiwanese life as decoration, not as anything of particular cultural interest. It is only in the exhibition space that they become part of a narrative of origins, inclinations, and expenditure to which people give their undivided attention. According to Derrida’s logic, it is certainly Lin’s place, as the nomad that he is, to give what he does not have: tradition, local connections, and offers of a permanent place to live. Lin has all of this flow into a space in which it can be experienced and which, as is appropriate for an exhibition, disappears again after a while. Until then, however, the presence Lin creates offers his gifts in an ideal manner.

1 Gilles Deleuze, “Nomadic Thought,” in idem, Desert Islands and Other Texts (1953–1974),

ed. David Lapoujade, trans. Michael Taormina (New York and Los Angeles, 2004), p. 259.

This work can be consulted online at www.scribd.com/doc/2051322/Gilles-Deleuze-Desert-

Islands-and-Other-Texts-19531974 (last accessed November 6, 2009).

2 Ibid.

3 See Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Frankfurt am Main, 2003).

4 Sylvère Lotringer, “Nomadische Notizen,” in idem, Platz machen (Berlin, 1991).

5 “The Body as a Site of Culture: Michael Lin in Conversation with Gerald Matt,” in Michael Lin:

Kunsthalle Wien project space, 20.4–29.5.2005, ed. Sabine Folie, exh. cat. Vienna, Kunsthalle

Wien project space (Vienna, 2005), p. 57.

6 Chinesische Blaumusterstoffe: Zusammengestellt von Tschai Fi, Hsü Tschen-peng, Tscheng

Schang-jen und Wu Schu-scheng [Chinese Blue-Patterned Fabrics: Collected by Tshai Fi, Hsue

Chen-Peng, Cheng Shang-jen, and Wu Shu-sheng] (Beijing, 1956).

7 Quoted from Jacques Derrida, Given Time: I. Counterfeit Money, trans. Peggy Kamuf

(Chicago, 1992), p. 1.

8 Ibid., p. 3.

9 Georges Bataille, “The Notion of Expenditure,” in idem, Visions of Excess:

Selected Writings, 1927–1939, ed. and trans. Allan Soekl (Minneapolis, 1985), p. 117.

10 Ibid., p. 118.

11 Ibid., p. 121.

12 Ibid.

13 Derrida 1992 (see note 7), p. 7.

14 Ibid.

15 Ibid., p. 10.

16 Brian O’Doherty, Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space (Berkeley and

Los Angeles, 2000), p. 89.

17 See Adolf Loos, “Ornament and Crime,” in idem, Ornament and Crime: Selected Essays

(Studies in Austrian Literature, Culture, and Thought Translation Series), ed. Adolf Opel,

trans. Michael Mitchell (Riverside [CA], 1998).

18 Roland Barthes, “On Leaving the Movie Theater,” in idem, The Rustle of Language,

trans. Richard Howard (Berkeley, 1986), p. 349.

vivian rehberg – on the place of painting in the work of michael lin

When asked to define his stance with respect to painting in 2005, Michael Lin’s deceptively simplistic response was: “I refer to myself as a painter because I use paint. I am a house painter and perhaps we can say that is my position in painting.”1 Lin’s self-positioning is simultaneously tongue-in-cheek and materially accurate. Over the past decade, during which painting has played a constant role in his work, Lin has at the same time eschewed the canonical place painting occupies, asserting instead that “some of the most important works of art are the ones that we live with and that affect our daily lives, such as architecture, furniture, and fashion, which can be said to even shape our bodies and our minds.”2

Throughout its history, painting has been burdened with incessant inquiries into its nature, its parameters, and its place. Artists have struggled to overcome painting’s artistic and historical stronghold by asserting that they are nonpainters and by calling their work nonpainting. Especially since the click of a camera shutter released painting’s hold on truth in representation, painting has died and been revived, both symbolically and as a market commodity, countless times. But in spite of its shifting status as fashionable or outmoded, dead or alive, painting has remained an inescapable benchmark for understanding key issues raised by contemporary art practice.

Lin’s engagement with painting has also shifted over time, and is less stable and more ambiguous than it initially appears. Still, much of his work acknowledges and then diverges from a set of traditions and discourses that have governed our understanding of painting in the West. His use of the medium urges us to reconsider how we interact with painting as embodied spectators.

Lin made his first large-scale painting based on ornamental Taiwanese textile patterns from his own domestic environment and entitled it House (1998). Executed with emulsion paint (ordinary house paint), House marked a crucial departure from the monochrome paintings on steel he had been showing previously, remnants of his artistic training in southern California. This change was inextricably linked to Lin’s return to Taiwan in 1993 from the U.S., where he had immigrated with his family twenty years earlier. His decision to paint adaptations of these patterns was part of “a conscious struggle to search out and define a vocabulary based on its own cultural parameters.” As Lin puts it: “I posed very fundamental questions [about things] such as the relationship between my practice and [its] specific contexts . . . which later led to questions about my practice’s relationship to the audience.”3

In House, his transposition of the red, pink, and violet floral textile pattern onto the warehouse wall is site-specific, but it is more literally referential and less strictly ornamental than it would become in later works. His painting turned what had been just a wall into the representation of a home, with both the title and site of the work emphasizing this visual association.

Lin’s work very quickly took a subtle and decisive turn away from the concept of painting as an object of contemplation toward that of painting as a bounded, physical space, one we can settle into and inhabit. This detour allowed the spectator to evade the optical, frontal, face-to-face encounter that has long determined our physical relationship to paintings, and, eventually, to enter into a corporeal one involving touch, physical movement, and stasis, a moment of suspension that resembles a resting point. This shift in Lin’s work also signaled his recognition that an idea of the public, rather than that of an individual spectator, is intrinsic to painting, or rather, that painting has a public context that is structurally integral to it.

Lin’s early work expanded the vocabulary of painting in several different ways: by bringing attention to the public mediating role that painting can play, by overturning aesthetic hierarchies, and by its refusal of permanence. His insistent and repetitive use of decorative patterns refutes a lingering modernist hierarchy of values that favors individual creativity and expression, demotes decoration and design to a substandard category, and disparages ornamentation in architecture as either primitive or feminine.4 His choice to use the motifs of ready-made Taiwanese textiles brings prosaic material culture into the hallowed halls of high art and highlights issues of cultural as well as gender difference. And while his painting is irrevocably anchored to particular sites, the transient status of the majority of his commissions, including the one he has undertaken for the Vancouver Art Gallery, privileges the contextualization of specific times and places over artistic permanence and stability.

With a few exceptions, these three aspects of Lin’s method are built into his site-determined works. The interior and exterior spaces the artist selects may vary, but they are inevitably social ones—cafés and exhibition halls, lobbies, meeting rooms, stairwells, and passageways. His painted patterned surfaces flow out like swaths of fabric over a wide range of geographic and architectural sites: a gigantic rectangular floor in a government building in The Hague (Atrium Stadhuis Den Haag, 12.07–08.09.2002, 2002); a wall and rocking chairs in an art space in Kanazawa, Japan (People’s Gallery, 09.10.2004–21.03. 2005, 2004); lounging areas in group exhibitions and biennials all over the world (Untitled, 2002, and Kiasma Daybed, 2001); and a biomorphic bench encircling a majestic tree in Edinburgh, Scotland (Untitled, 2006).

The monumentality of the works and their exuberantly hued surfaces are not meant to be the focus of each site, but instead designed to fade into the background of experience. It is in this sense that Lin calls his works “unremarkable,”5 for they are meant to function as integrated stages whose uses and meanings are determined only by the visitors that pass through and dwell in them for a time. Thus the lifespan of each work/place, as emphasized by Lin’s novel titling system, is measured according to its dates of presentation, and its temporary nature is reinforced by his choice of materials. The common emulsion paint his teams of assistants fastidiously apply onto plywood panels by hand, for example, becomes nicked and weathered over time, and the panels are eventually destroyed.

The spatial dimensions and decorative spray of patterns used in Lin’s large-scale installations have received  onsiderable attention, and they insistently vie for that attention. Because of this, more subtle aspects of their conceptualization can easily be overlooked. In Sickness and in Health (2004), a work he did in St. Louis, foregrounds a temporal complexity at the heart of Lin’s approach that goes beyond the unregulated, spontaneous interaction we usually associate with his work. The installation leads us to ask “When is the work?” instead of “Where is the work?”

For In Sickness and in Health, Lin created a space in which a young couple could marry by painting it with the traditional Taiwanese textile patterns used to decorate the fabrics and bedcovers that are frequently included in dowries. The museum advertised a random draw to find a St. Louis couple who wished to hold their wedding in Lin’s space. Once they were chosen, only two photographs, which were later displayed in the space, remained to bear witness to the private ceremony held the day before the exhibition’s opening. The photograph shows the bride and groom on a painted ruby carpet of vibrant posies with rows guests standing beside coral-colored plastic chairs. Above, a painted frieze of windows resembles gleaming, translucent stained glass. The following day, the then vacant makeshift wedding chapel was modified, but the memory of the private wedding ritual lingered on in the public space of the museum.

So does the work occur during the wedding or does it exist beyond that event? Does Lin’s work only occur during the exhibition’s opening hours? Does it need to be activated or reactivated? For the first time in his practice, Lin’s photographic record of the temporally bound performance that took place on the custom-made stage he had created seems less like straightforward documentation for his archives and more like an integral part of the project, a deliberately time-disrupting strategy. Something has been experienced in its past which we cannot access—except through another representation, the photograph on display—and which can be likened to strategies historically used by conceptual artists to capture the ungrounded, immaterial nature of their works.

That Lin is as concerned with time as he is with place is also evident in his more recent project for the Mixed Bathing World component of the 2009 Beppu Contemporary Art Festival. The artist Jun’ya Yamaide conceived Mixed Bathing World for the formerly flourishing spa city of Beppu (Kyushu, Japan), which is still renowned for its hot springs but is no longer a popular tourist destination. To revitalize the city, Yamaide invited eight international artists to choose sites in which to intervene. Lin chose the local ferry station and a dilapidated Japanese house.

His expansive wall painting for the ferry station, Beppu, 04.11–06.14.09 (2009; fig. 9), is composed of the logo of the Sunflower Ferry that lands in this port and a pattern of curved blue slopes outlined in white, which evoke schematic waves or receding hills. Like cloisonné, this background is overlain with gigantic pink flowers and smaller white and yellow blossoms whose clustered trumpets and petals twist lithely across the surface. The ferry station, formerly a massive transit area but now a stop for just one round-trip voyage per day, appealed to Lin’s penchant for liminal or transitional spaces that can act as hinges between other ones. He noted that several hundred people traverse the main hall twice a day: once for fifteen minutes around the ferry’s morning arrival, and then for another fifteen at the time of the evening departure. This scheduled, everyday use of an otherwise empty site determines the possible interaction of potential viewers with Lin’s work. Again, the painting as a painting is not the focal point; instead, it serves as a visual accompaniment, one that is easily overlooked as it becomes familiar to passersby.

Although he used the same painted pattern at both sites, Lin’s intervention in the ferry station contrasts with his treatment of the traditional Japanese house (Untitled, 2009; fig. 10). Instead of a modern, public thoroughfare designed for transient crowds, the secondfloor living space of the domestic dwelling where Lin painted sliding screen doors is small and intimate. However, the repetition of the blue slope and pink floral pattern, which is lavishly spread across the vast hall in the station but tightly cropped and framed in the house, links the two places. This simple repetition of the same motif prompts us to draw tenuous, experiential connections between private and public spaces and times, between daily activities such as work and play, between identities, and across the geography of the city. The ferry station and the domestic interior coexist and are codependent. Their mirror images of each other prevent their interpretation from being over-determined exclusively by the public or domestic nature of their respective sites. Rather, Lin’s painting sets up a tension between the two spaces which reveals that the public self and the private self, the individual and the collective, are not stable categories, but constantly shifting ones.

In his large-scale public works, Michael Lin seems to understand painting—that is, the tangible dried liquid paint on the flat material support—as a vector for experience, as a hinge between spaces, and as a mediating object. In some of Lin’s works on canvas, especially those he has made since his relocation to Shanghai in 2006, he engages more concretely with issues of cultural identity. In his hands, simple, useful objects rendered in paint become strong critical statements about personal identity and cultural difference. For example, his exhibition at the Eslite Gallery in Taipei entitled Island Life (2006) included painted reproductions of carpets he owns from Xinjiang and Tibet, regions in which the struggles with the Chinese government regarding issues of cultural identity and autonomy have led to violent conflict and oppression. Lin provocatively associates these carpets with a painting of the Tai Bao Zheng, the special permit the Taiwanese are required to carry to enter mainland China, thereby foregrounding the relationships of power and inequality that link these regions to China.

Until 2008 paintings on canvas still featured among Lin’s works, as seen in Untitled (2006–08; fig. 11), in which he has broken down patterns once used for murals into sets of seven smaller canvases to form Chinese puzzles. These tangrams can be playfully reconfigured, either by Lin himself or by the public, in endless combinations, a process that asserts the non-narrative and nonillustrative character of the patterns he chooses, their inherent instability of meaning.

In 2009 Lin returned to the Eslite Gallery with the exhibition I Am the Sun, which was comprised of plaid wall paintings and several series of works on canvas, including tangram paintings, printed paper book-covers, and a series of photographs. As another reference to filial and cultural identity, the title’s homonymic play on words—I am the sun / I am the son—hints that we might even see this collection as elements of a self-portrait in progress.

Lin was inspired by the Taiwanese cultural phenomenon of the sun cake, a sweet, filled pastry with which Lin had a personal connection during his youth and which has since attained the status of a national culinary symbol. Cakes bearing that name now proliferate, but with no relation to the original site of production. Lin based his series of quasi-abstract paintings in muted hues or near monochrome on the original Sun Bakery logo, now devoid of text and reduced to a single ribbon festoon over a blank center (e. g., Flag, 2009). Shimmering gold-painted canvases covered with geometric orange cross-hatching that recalls festive wrapping paper are in fact reproductions of Lin’s own design for Sun Cake packaging. These lush, seductive paintings are paired with a representational series of typical Taiwanese writing workbooks for children. Their front cover presents a parrot squawking out symbols for phonetic sounds to a boy, who looks out of the canvas, and a girl, who looks down at an open book. The back covers are stamped with a text that celebrates unity, a love of one’s country, and a respect for family. The exhibition, which included the distribution of sun cakes to visitors, speaks to forms of collective acculturation and exchange.

Lin’s works of the past decade transgress the lines between popular and high culture, between craft and art, and between the undervalued domestic realm and the powerful public one. He is an artist who uses paint to create spaces we interact with and which allow us to interact with each other. We enter, step on, look down on, look up at, eat or talk in, or even—as they become familiar—overlook them. The common themes of sociability, socialization, interaction, cultural symbols, and collective life are present throughout his practice.

Lin uses paint and plays with its conventions to unsettle our expectations and to make room for intersubjectivity within particular physical, aesthetic, and social spaces. In so doing, he has proven irrevocably that painting and public life are intricately, conceptually, and formally bound to one another.

1 “The Body as a Site of Culture: Michael Lin in Conversation with Gerald Matt,” in Michael Lin:

Kunsthalle Wien project space, 20.4–29.5.2005, ed. Sabine Folie, exh. cat. Vienna, Kunsthalle Wien

project space (Vienna, 2005), p. 63.

2 Ibid., p. 61.

3 Ibid.

4 Adolf Loos’s 1908 essay “Ornament and Crime” is a key reference in these debates. For a recent

edition, see Ornament and Crime: Selected Essays (Studies in Austrian Literature, Culture, and

Thought Translation Series), ed. Adolf Opel, trans. Michael Mitchell (Riverside [CA], 1998).

5 “The Body as a Site of Culture” (see note 1), p. 61.

hou hanru – michael lin, public artist

For more than a decade Michael Lin has been using vivid floral motifs mainly derived from traditional Taiwanese fabrics to cover a variety of surfaces, ranging from conventional canvases to large-scale walls. The resulting works are energetic, beautiful, and even poetic, and they often contrast starkly with their environments. Lin’s reintroduction of ornamental elements into the world of contemporary art from which they are often excluded has been a fresh and provocative strategy. By shifting public attention to something that for a long time has been considered backward, and even regressive, he prods us to revaluate the commonplace as an equally creative and therefore significant expression of imagination and beauty. The risk is that his work will be overlooked by the art community. However, those who might dismiss Lin’s projects as populistic—just pretty paintings of flowers—would miss Lin’s essential concern, which is not so much about painting as it is about public space and the role of the contemporary artist in the public sphere. In 2002 he acknowledged that his work had “moved away from the idea of painting as an object” and that he was “more interested in creating a painting as a space to occupy.”1

Individual artists can find themselves caught between social ideals and freedom, between the obligation to participate in the established system and the pressure of ethical imperatives regarding intellectual and political independence. Artists must make their work public in order to exist and to contribute to the common interest. But which public one is addressing and how to reinvent real public spheres are the most crucial questions for artists today. As Guy Debord and others have long argued, ours is now a society of spectacle.

Exhibitions such as The Spectacle of the Everyday, the 10th Biennale de Lyon in which I included Lin’s work, are perhaps the ultimate form of this society of spectacle—of art as entertainment.2 Thus, contemporary artists and curators, who are implicated by their inclusion in the spectacle and involved even in its promotion, must ask some serious questions about it. When the world is in crisis, does this kind of spectacle matter? Is art still vital and capable of challenging its own definition? Is change possible in situations in which conventions about what is worthy of our attention (and where and how) are relatively fixed? By mining le quotidien—the commonplace, that which we take for granted in our everyday lives—and seeing its worth, artists like Lin challenge entrenched views. Despite Negro and Hardt’s assertion that in the “global empire” there is no “outside”3 from which to confront and criticize, Lin finds the spaces necessary for subversive negotiation. To disrupt the spectacular in the sanctioned public space, he uses traditional and familiar designs and production in unfamiliar ways to occupy unexpected places within the institution. He turns the ordinary into the extraordinary, the quotidian into a new spectacle, one that is not fixed, but rather open to alternative models of living and interaction.

Taking popular but largely ignored vernacular patterns and making them visible in the contemporary art context as Lin does is a clear gesture of resistance, a challenge to the domination of Pop Art’s manner of selecting and fabricating images, and to its cynical complicity (despite its ironic dimension) with the logic of consumerism. Lin is also making an insistent inquiry into personal and communal cultural identity in a turbulent geopolitical landscape where the “space of everyday life is potentially the most open and perhaps . . . the most effectual space for implementing justice-based change through a broad scope of intersecting ideas.”4 His insistence on painting most of his work of the past decade by hand, regardless of the project’s scale, is consistent with this spirit of resistance and optimism.

Lin’s research and the conception of his works are based on a relentless longing for and questioning of both personal and collective identity. Michael (Ming Hong) was born in 1964 in Tokyo to a Taiwanese family with a long tradition of fighting for Taiwan’s dignity during the country’s Japanese occupation. Raised in Taiwan until the age of nine, he then moved to California, obtained an MFA, and eventually returned to Taiwan. For the last ten years, Lin has been producing and exhibiting his work all around the world. Now, after leading a nomad’s life, crisscrossing the globe, he lives and works primarily in Shanghai and makes regular visits to Brussels, Paris, and Taiwan.

Lin’s homecoming to Taiwan in the early nineties was a turning point in his career, because it was then that he rediscovered the floral patterns of traditional Taiwanese fabrics. The patterns and the original processes of fabric design and production that he draws upon and is inspired by have survived harsh historical changes and evolved over time. Lin says, “I often spent time in the countryside with my grandfather when I was young. I still remember such textiles being used for bedding as [part of] women’s dowr[ies]; to me they also mark an age when Taiwan was transferring from handcrafted modes of production to industrial production, from rural to urban.”5 The formation and distribution of these patterns, which were influenced by Taiwan’s indigenous ethnic Chinese and Japanese communities, reflect the nation’s evolving cultural identity, the development that resulted from the island’s political instability. For the last century it has been engaged in uneasy negotiations with its colonial past, and it is now grappling with the postcolonial and globalized conditions of contemporary life. The evolution of folk fabric patterns under these conditions manifests the trajectory of this historic process and its influence on the popular imagination and social consciousness. In a way, the patterns are visual witnesses to Taiwanese society’s self-imagining and self-identification, far realer and more faithful than the official symbolism of national flags, official emblems, etc. Despite the increasing marginalization of the old ways by modern production methods and consumer needs, these handmade products are still a part of most people’s everyday lives. And it is here, in the realm of the quotidian, that “the most amazingly inventive things occur, unfold, and develop.”6

Lin has emphasized the public dimension of his work from the very beginning, as one can see in his early projects such as Interior (1996) at IT Park and Complementary (1998) at the Dimension Foundation. While he continues his recuperation and interpretation of traditional patterns of Taiwanese fabrics in his work, Lin has gradually extended his approach with new projects that are as conceptually and structurally site-specific as his previous work. Almost all of these projects are installations that not only occupy their designated sites in forms closely related to the venues’ characteristics, but are also functional: they make his artworks into platforms and infrastructures designed to facilitate various social exchanges and activities for the visiting public. Through his numerous interventions in museums, galleries, buildings, and urban environments, Lin turns public spaces into ones that are activated by the tension between his personal signature designs (floral patterns, for example) and their open-ended application (in coffee shops, restaurants, bookstores, garden terraces, the lobbies of public buildings, etc.). These projects encourage the public to contribute to the function and meaning of his work, and to renegotiate and reorganize their relationships with one another within them. Hence, Lin’s work becomes genuinely architectural and social: its very nature makes it public art. Yet the way he opens and articulates spaces for public interaction—which is reinforced by their aesthetic power—makes his installations simultaneously spectacular and fragile. He sets the scene for the transformation of the usual function and form of a particular space, but the actual changes are driven by the public’s participation, which therefore makes them unpredictable.

Lin’s commitment to the public’s engagement with his art is particularly significant because of how privatization and gentrification are drastically reducing the number of urban spaces available to the public. While it is true that contemporary cities are increasingly design-oriented, their spectacularity is often the result of a liberal-capitalist realization of the urban order rather than environmental improvements aimed at facilitating public enjoyment and freedom. In such a contradictory context, Lin’s work, without rejecting the spectacular language, has successfully proposed prototypical works addressing social life and public interaction and thus opened a debate about the nature of public art within contemporary art production.

Although he is far from being a social-political activist, Lin has been negotiating the conflict between artistic integrity and the power of the established system by implementing some highly inventive and intelligently deconstructive strategies. In the art institutions that tend to close their doors to the real world, his boundary-expanding interventions serve to interrupt the existing protocols governing the functions of particular spaces and upset the hierarchy of the institution: he placed a daybed in the exhibition hall of the Kiasma Museum to allow people to rest, contemplate, and even sleep in the gallery; he created a coffee shop in the Palais de Tokyo; and he installed skateboard ramps in P.S.1 and the Shanghai Gallery of Art (Three on the Bund). These projects not only provided visitors with easy, comfortable, convivial, and beautifully designed and decorated spaces that facilitated their meetings and interactions, but also allowed—and even encouraged—the public to carry out actions that are often considered irrelevant or even inappropriate in the sacred space of the art institution, a space that is generally supposed to be autonomous and cut off from real life.

Lin has often redesigned art galleries as places to host events and collaborations with other artists. At the Gwangju Biennale in 2002, Lin and Yung Ho Chang designed an open office for installation in the center of the exhibition where the curators could work in direct contract with the public. Some of his other “platforms” have been used as spaces to display video and film programs, including his projects for Asianvibe at the EACC in Castellón, Spain, in 2002 and the 2nd Guangzhou Triennial in 2000. To further break down the boundaries between real life and the institution, Lin has also produced multiples of his design objects, such as T-shirts and notebooks, to be distributed in museum and gallery shops. With their signature patterns, these objects are displayed as installations that cover the entire shop and then distributed all around. They are intended to contaminate the everyday lives of the public like microbes or viruses. While exhibitions always come to an end, the potential of Lin’s work to contaminate is endless. For the last few years, Lin’s own life has been engaged in a kind of relocalization because, in spite of his increasingly global career, he has decided to settle with his family in Shanghai, China’s new boomtown. There he finds himself in a simultaneously familiar and estranged society. On the one hand, his Taiwanese background and experiences of global migration have allowed him to adapt easily to the Chinese language and Shanghai’s way of life, which is perhaps the most postcolonial and globalized in mainland China. On the other hand, the city’s complicated recent history—marked by a shift from colonization to the communist revolution, from the Cultural Revolution to the globalization of the modern world, and from spectacular urban expansion to the drastic transformations of everyday life and old communities—inspires and intrigues him. He understands that to relocate successfully and to refocus his artistic imagination and livelihood in order to remain relevant and creative, he must develop a relationship with his immediate environment and the people around him. His latest work, What a Difference a Day Made (inspired by the eponymous song by Maria Grever), which he produced for his solo exhibition at the Shanghai Gallery of Art (Three on the Bund) between September and October 2008, is a powerful demonstration of how Lin, the globalized nomad and artist, is trying to reengage with his local reality.

In a radical departure from his previous work, this project presents a multimedia installation that does not include any paintings. After visiting a hardware store on an ordinary street in front of his house for two years, he purchased all the goods in the store—common utensils ranging from small tools to kitchen wares—and brought them all to the gallery, where he then reconstructed the entire shop with all its contents at the entrance. Inside, he set up a huge warehouse with wooden crates in which he had recategorized the store inventory according to the characteristics of form, size, material, and color rather than function and then reinstalled all the objects in a minimalistic structure that recalls the work of Donald Judd. At the installation’s opening, a sound artist improvised music while acrobats performed with the objects. Lin’s photographs and video recordings of his negotiations with the shop owner, of the inventory, and of the performances were also displayed as part of the final work.

As the gallery’s director, Shanghai-based art critic David Ho Yeung Chan, has pointed out, this work is “a hybrid setting that investigates notions of time, speed, recollection, and nostalgia. Lin’s provocation is to use a cultural space as a frame to push our associations of the forms and functions of a mundane object to their extreme, and how we attach different meaning to art, objecthood, preservation, and the politics of the everyday becomes the focus here.”7

No one knows how long the tiny hardware shop along with the neighborhoods it serves will survive in the new global economic center that Shanghai has become. As emphasized by Henri Lefebvre and Michel de Certeau, among others, the popular, mundane world of everyday life is indeed the real laboratory for true invention and innovation; it is also the most intense battlefield of the struggle against the oppression of the hegemonic power of the capital and its political system. However, this resistance, no matter how courageous and even heroic, is indeed extremely fragile. The shop and the neighborhood, along with the rich and profound history of the city and its people, might disappear overnight.

Contemporary art is now confronted with an immense contradiction: while it is unprecedentedly globalized, popular, and integrated into the mainstream, its commodification makes it a part of the entertainment industry and the society of spectacle. This leads to a loss of the criticality and engagement with real life that go beyond consumerism.

Stepping into the flux of such dramatic daily change, Lin’s project has been produced at the most relevant moment. By reconstructing the shop in the gallery and then turning the show into a performance festival to celebrate this soon-to-be-gone world of ordinary people, Lin shows real enthusiasm for and faith in his community. With this work he continues his engagement with the everyday, and thus his challenging of the society of spectacle. Lin grasps the mundane, commonplace, and unimaginative aspects of everyday life und uses them to disrupt the overriding spectacle. Entering into the public exhibitions of his work, we find ourselves paradoxically in spaces that make room for the marginalized within the official, and in which the personal and the particular are sometimes in an uneasy relation – ship with the powerful and the global, like the almost-disappeared shop Lin had found hidden among the skyscrapers and then deconstructed, displaced, and reorganized within the museum. His careful scrutiny of the inventory and reprocessing of the objects became an extraordinary work of art, one which turned the fate of the small shop into a powerful testament to what is happening in his city, in society, and, ultimately, in the world. As Lefebvre and de Certeau point out, it is in the praxis of the everyday that the reinvention of everyday life lies.8

Real visions and expressions of inventiveness must be acknowledged and supported, and, as Arjun Appadurai has stated, grassroots initiatives have to be encouraged, 9 not destroyed. In his art, Lin wants us to see that what we thought was marginal is actually central to who we are. It is our world, and this could be our fate and we should urgently debate it. His work, like that of a growing number of contemporary artists, is forcing cultural and other public institutions to open their doors and pay attention to a laboratory of practices about a largely unfamiliar world.

1 “LM100 presents Michael Lin” (2008), at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DcwGyznqsKY

(last accessed November 10, 2009).

2 The present author discussed these ideas when he was interviewed by Coline Milliard for

ArtReview, http://www.artreview.com/forum/topic/show?id=1474022%3ATopic%3A861955

(last accessed November 10, 2009).

3 Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge, 2000).

4 Hou Hanru, curatorial statement for The Spectacle of the Everyday, 10th Biennale de Lyon, 2009, p. 1.

5 Michael Lin interviewed by Amy Cheng, in The Gravity of the Immaterial, exh. cat. Taipei,

Cultural Affairs Bureau of Taipei (Taipei, 2001), p. 107; the artist amended his statement in

an e-mail to Rhana Davenport of May 29, 2002.

6 Hanru 2009 (see note 4), p. 1.

7 David Ho Yeung Chan, “The Difference Is You . . . ,” exhibition brochure for Michael Lin:

What a Difference a Day Made, Shanghai Gallery of Art (Three on the Bund),

September 6–October 20, 2008.

8 Hanru 2009 (see note 4), p. 3.

9 Ibid.

nicolas bourriaud – michael lin and the concept of ambience

When Jérôme Sans and I invited Michael Lin to participate in the 2005 Biennale de Lyon, he made a wall drawing for the front of the La Sucrière building that consisted of a monumental reproduction of a tiny wallpaper sample. The gigantic mural extended over a hundred square meters, covering the entire wall surface with the exception of the windows, and was adapted to the surface’s constraints, thereby turning the building into an object. In a few short years Lin has made his mark on the international art scene with a body of works that spread easily identifiable patterns over a variety of surfaces and volumes. But the apparent accessibility of his art is misleading. In my experience of working with him as a curator, the underpinnings of Lin’s work give rise to a number of complex questions.

Just as the work of Rirkrit Tiravanija is often reduced to a sole figure constituted by the redistribution of Thai food, Lin’s is reduced to the reproduction of Asian decorative patterns.

The reductive association of these two artists does little to illuminate the work of either, for both have been wrongly identified with the visual and/or conceptual forms that marked their early efforts. Moreover, their works have other points in common—although not where one might initially expect to find them. First of all, both extract a clearly identifiable form on which to base their work from the general social production and popular culture of their countries of origin. Secondly, both make use of the problematic concept of ambience, something that in the nineteen-nineties developed as an artistic strategy out of its earlier use in music, and of the form that corresponds to this strategy and conveys it, that is, the platform on which the encounter with gallery-goers takes place. But considerations of Lin’s works must also include the observation that painting, and abstraction in particular, have arrived at critical junctures in their history. In every one of Lin’s interventions, each of which is made for a specific architectural space, questions arise about the survival of the work’s lexicon, the autonomy of the piece in relation to the architecture that accommodates it, its resistance to instrumentalization, its effectiveness in relation to a certain historical situation, and its value as a language that attests to an aesthetic position.

In the most varied contexts, Lin tests forms stemming from modernist abstraction by bringing them into contact with the challenging concepts of the decorative and the readymade.

What is a pattern? What is décor? And what becomes of painting when the artist voluntarily subjects it to the play of its disappearance in an ambience?

I. Pattern as a Visual Tool

The salient act of Lin’s work—the reproduction of textile patterns—belongs to a practical category: the post-production of the history of pattern. But before commenting on the meaning and value of the operations that constitute Lin’s works, we must look at their iconography and ask what the artist’s employment of such a repertory of forms means. In many interviews, Lin has foregrounded his personal history and family memories as well as his desire to revive interest in traditional patterns and fabric-dying methods. Must we then conclude that his work is based on the act of making something new out of something old, of “putting the past into the present”? These fabric patterns (which, at least in the early stages of Lin’s work, display traditional Taiwanese floral motifs) are derived from collective memory, anonymously designed, and used to decorate popular artifacts intended for domestic use. Lin’s choice of this basic raw material places him within a specific space–time continuum that has not only a geographical aspect (the Far East), but also certain socioprofessional limits (qualified craftsmanship). These patterns are not immediately recognizable, however, as coming from a bygone era; their persistence over time and eventual international dissemination make them hard to date and thus imbue them with a sort of timelessness. After they are enlarged and incorporated into the artist’s installations, their geographic origin is not always obvious either. Their interlacing, brightly colored flowers or geometric figures in pastel hues could have been produced, in this era of globalization, anywhere in the world. Paradoxically, Lin’s rootedness in a specific context leads to a form of abstraction. Pattern does not constitute, for him, a theoretical point in the same way that it does, for example, for Yinka Shonibare when he features African decorative patterns produced in Indonesia in order to show the cultural dispossession of the peoples of Africa.

Rather, it would seem that his Taiwanese iconographic sources, which the artist has linked to childhood memories, function in Lin’s work just as Daniel Buren’s 8.7-centimeter-wide stripes or André Cadere’s wooden rods do—in other words, as a visual tool that enables him to mark the architectural forms on or within which his work is exhibited. This visual tool proves to be less neutral than Buren’s, however, since it is imbued with strong cultural connotations connected to Taiwan, the world of craft, and, especially, the very nature of textiles. Working from this raw material constitutes a sort of provocation. Fabric has always been viewed, at least in the West, as the very antithesis of painting—as a functional, massproduced, ornamental object; it belongs to the world of decoration, to that of the pretty as opposed to that of the beautiful, or even to that of kitsch.

II. The Decorative and Enlargement

This notion of kitsch could very well be the hidden foundation of Western aesthetics insofar as it constitutes art’s absolute foil, its demon (or, indeed, its “daimon,” in the Platonic sense of the term). Kitsch is the art of the uneducated masses whose interest in form is about pleasure and visual comfort rather than the discomfort that art sets out to produce by questioning our intellectual and visual presumptions. If Henri Matisse came within a hair’s breadth of kitsch when he declared that he wanted to make “works as comfortable as a good armchair,” and if this type of consumer product is now employed by artists such as Jeff Koons and Mike Kelley, who draw upon low culture as their raw material, then kitsch remains—as Clement Greenberg put it in his canonical text on avant-garde and kitsch—at the heart of Western art discourse. The way in which Lin has seized upon the problem by constructing spaces from a raw material as insipid as floral fabrics amounts to a sort of formal putsch; from his position as a nomadic Taiwanese artist, Lin questions the foundations of the modernist aesthetic. This first claim is then followed by a second. The decorative is traditionally associated with the world of women, just as the types of patterns Lin uses are associated with gentleness and the domestic realm. This unconscious association follows the same vector: in Lin’s work, both a sense of kitsch and clichés about femininity serve to disrupt the radical character of the installations, like a Trojan horse designed to contain a better discourse.

Critical of the visual regime of art in the age of ambience and marketing display, Lin’s work invades the most heterogeneous contexts like a gas. Moreover, he systematically adapts to his exhibition venue by following a site-specific principle that seeks answers to questions from the nineteen-sixties about the relationship of the work of art to its context.

It could be said that Lin’s installations are based on the principle of unlimited enlargement: the work expands outward exponentially from a chosen pattern, limited only by the confines of the venue. This dimensional convention obviously refers to the world of publicity—the aesthetics of window displays and commercial advertising—as well as to the history of visual art and design. We should not forget that the American Abstract Expressionists adopted large formats precisely when oversized billboards first appeared and when the Hollywood film studios invented the cinematoscope format and VistaVision®, which were designed to immerse viewers in visual spectacles. The way in which Lin extends pattern to monumental dimensions corresponds to a specific historical stage in the capitalist iconography of the oversized, of the image as environment—its gaseous moment.

III. Sampling Social Production

Twentieth-century art developed alongside numerous protocols that made it possible to incorporate objects, images, and figures stemming from both the world of industry and that of craft. Considered radical and avant-garde for their time, these sampling processes now, constitute a repertory of usable gestures and methods—a toolbox, as I described them in my essay “Postproduction.”1 Among these sampling tools, there is, of course, the Duchamp ready-made, which is a pure sampling taken from the world of contemporary consumer objects without any modification. The principle of the ready-made became more complex and diversified in the fifties with the works of Jacques de la Villeglé, Mimmo Rotella, and Raymond Hains (who were named poster artists because they collected and reused torn posters, the visual castoffs of urban industrial iconography), and with those of Belgian artist Jacques Charlier, who in 1964 began making use of his paid position with the technical services department of the city of Liège to exhibit his photographs. Many different sampling methods relating to the pictorial, sculptural, or mechanical representation of consumer objects appeared in the sixties. Pop Art explored the use of the serial processes of mass-produced American culture, while a less well-known movement, that of Mec-art (mechanical art), appeared in 1963–64. Led by the French artist Alain Jacquet and the Italian Gianni Bertini, it set out to explore purely mechanical means of producing images.

The sampling principle that proves to be closest to Lin’s work, however, seems to be located in the concept of Industrial Painting, developed from 1959 on by one of the founders of the Situationist International, Giuseppe Pinot-Gallizio. The Manifesto of Industrial Painting called for an end to perceiving art as an activity separate from other means of production and instead proposed an inflationist art: a “unitary applied art” that is made according to assembly-line principles and exploits the possibilities offered by machines. Thousands of kilometers of paintings must be exhibited in the streets, said Pinot-Gallizio; it was to be an art for the people, one without copyright or authors. Today, when Lin expands a wallpaper sample to the dimensions of an environment, he is to some extent pursuing the dream of the Situationist artist, for he is, quite literally, creating a situation out of elements of popular culture—a virtually inflationist art (since it could, in principle, be enlarged and reproduced endlessly) that is based on production intended for contemporary use.

Although one can find an echo of industrial painting as conceived by Pinot-Gallizio in Lin’s work, Lin has replaced the assembly-line model, which had predominated in 1959, with that of digital telecommuting, which has become the hegemonic model of our era. Lin’s large-scale installations are made, therefore, by pixellating images. Cut up into geometric segments, these images are then painted in the desired dimensions by a team of assistants and assembled at the exhibition site. This moment when the work becomes a huge production site seems to me to belong to the logic of the work itself. Lin is not necessarily physically present at every stage of each project’s fabrication, a fact that corresponds to the underlying logic of contemporary work processes and means of production.

The way in which each assistant is initially confronted with the task of making a tiny fragment of the work, as if it were an independent painting, and is then caught up in a collective act of assembly brings Lin’s work back to its starting point—the workshop that produces the patterns.

IV. The Figure of the Platform

When Jérôme Sans and I were named directors of the Palais de Tokyo in Paris in 1999, one of our first decisions was to give artists the responsibility for the artistic direction of certain strategic spaces in order to create a center of contemporary art. Beat Streuli, for example, designed a project that used the restaurant windows as its support. When we thought about rearranging the space of the cafeteria, which is located below the exhibition rooms and opens onto the broad terrace joining the Palais de Tokyo to the Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris, we immediately thought of Michael Lin. This was a two-phase project, first of all because, beginning with the inauguration in January 2002, the work was presented just as it was, in a still undefined space in which visitors could stretch out on cushions that the artist had placed here and there. Some months later, the cafeteria tables and chairs were installed in this zone, and this lent Lin’s spectacular floor piece—a floral pattern in tones of violet, fuchsia, and chrome yellow—a more ambiguous character that lay somewhere between a functional space and one composed of the remains of an independent work.

Lin is one of a generation of artists who in the nineties gave the notion of ambience a conceptual value in its own right. Until then, the term ambience, which stemmed in part from the earlier rise of ambient music and its later spin-offs in the first years of the nineties, was considered as pejorative as the term “decorative.” But from the very moment that the concept of ambience (in other words, the constructed situation) was integrated into a formal artistic project, it was no longer considered as a vacuum: instead, it became one of many plastic elements. The platform, both as an element of the work and as a physical framework for artistic intervention, became one of the most useful vehicles for the formal translation of this notion of the artwork as a structured space which is designed to accommodate visitors and in which a variety of activities can take place. Rirkrit Tiravanija, whom I mentioned earlier, organized his exhibitions in accordance with certain functions, such as having a meal, reading, drawing, etc.; Liam Gillick proposed orchestrated spaces devoted to specific tasks associated with the world of business; and Surasi Kusolwong developed environments in which different activities came together. The entire list of these “platform works” is long and includes reading cubbies, cafés, and spaces for public speaking or collective production. From 1990 to 2000 there was an increasing number of works like these in which the viewer was an integral part of the formal device and constituted one of the figures in the artistic sphere, which is something I tried to describe back then in my essay “Relational Aesthetics.” Lin has always incorporated this idea of a twofold integration of the visitor into his works. Two perfect examples of this are Kiasma Daybed (Helsinki, 2001), a space in which visitors to the exhibition could relax, and Untitled Cigarette Break (Taipei, 1999), a space in which one could smoke. “When you look at a painting,” says Lin, “you are concentrated and on your feet, but the relationship that is established with my works is more physical. It has more to do with the relationship that exists between you and your sofa than it does with the relationship that can exist between you and a painting.”

This physicality of the viewer’s relation to the work answers a canonical question of modernism, that of the management of duration in art. In Art and Objecthood, for example, Michael Fried criticized Minimalist art for its “theatricality” and “scenic” character—in other words, for the inclusion of elements related to duration, which was in opposition to the presentness and immediacy he saw as characterizing pictorial modernism. The platform work extends the problematic issues of Minimalist art and its critique of modernism by organizing the duration of the visitor’s presence in a dialogical manner and by making this duration a formal element in its own right. Here it is the activity (sitting, stretching out, smoking, etc.) that determines duration. This has less to do with the viewing time of the piece, as it might in the work of Tony Smith and Robert Morris, and more to do with the time it takes visitors to pass through the platform-environment, which is regulated by a specific protocol. Michael Lin belongs to a generation of artists that has shaken up our relationship to works of art by treating the visitor/ viewer as a raw material that plays a decisive role in the production of meaning. He accomplishes this by changing the visitor’s static act of viewing into a dynamic one of moving through an environment, but also by reviving the question of what visual tools are necessary for the constitution of platform works like his own.

jerome sans – conversation

JS: When. Did. You. Start. Making. Paintings?

ML: I’ve always been making paintings. I’ve made paintings in different ways. In the early 90’s I was making paintings with a spray gun, with industrial lacquer that is used on cars. It was not until ‘96 that I started to use the brush to paint. That’s when I started to paint patterns and flower motifs.

JS: And how did you come to use the Taiwanese floral motif in your work?

ML: I started to use these prints when I was in Taiwan because I discovered that it was a very good way to communicate or open up a way of communication with my audience. The floral prints are coming from the domestic setting of people’s homes. It’s something very warm and very direct. They felt at ease to enter the work. It was something that they were all familiar with. That was the beginning of how I started to work with these floral patterns.

JS: You were putting the work in its own environment. It was a way to question the work toward its environment.

ML: Yes, it was a way for me to think about my relationship to the environment. Prior to making this work I had been at school in Los Angeles. In Los Angeles I made work that reflected that environment. I concerned myself with the surface and finish of paintings, a kind of car painting. It had a lot to do with the environment of the school that I was in at the time. The school that I studied at is very well known for industrial design, especially car design. I had all the facilities that allowed me to work with such industrial materials. Cars are so much part of the culture in California. It became very clear when I came back to Taiwan, that this kind of language that I was using was from somewhere else, or it was more difficult for the audience to engage in. Finding these floral prints that come from the environment that I was working in, that come from the people’s lives that I was trying to communicate with, helped me and my work to open up a dialogue with my audience.

JS: But it’s very interesting because you were coming from making monochromes with this car painting, to floral, real motifs. You go from one extreme to the other.

ML: Yes, it was extreme, but you can understand that what I saw in those monochromes was coming from the car culture, there is a history of this discussion in California. The story goes that Robert Irwin picked up his dealer from New York at the airport, they’re driving on the freeway, and Robert Irwin is trying to convince his New York dealer that car culture or the car is a very important part of cultural life in California. The dealer didn’t believe him and the argument ended suddenly when Robert Irwin stopped his car on the side of a freeway and told his dealer to get out. It was not because he was upset, but that he wanted to leave his dealer out on the freeway to let him understand how important the car was in Los Angeles to everyday life, to everybody’s life as a tool for getting around and as a form of identity. The culture of low-riders and hot rods are important when one is trying to understand art being made in California. The monochrome paintings I was making with industrial paint were products of my environment that facilitated my engagement with Los Angeles. In Taiwan, in the same way, I was trying to find a medium or a language to work in that would be able to communicate to the people. A vernacular.

JS: But from the car in Los Angeles, to the flower in Taiwan, you went from the outside of the street to the inside of the house. So it’s a big movement.

ML: That’s a very nice relationship. I didn’t think of that. But what I want to use as a description of it, is this idea of folk culture. It’s about the everyday, quotidian, banal things. It’s art from the people and not fine art or high art. That was the kind of relationship I was trying to make.

JS: But the home is a very important thing for you, since when you work in an institution or in a gallery, you have been famous for painting the floors and walls, transforming the place into a stage where the viewer becomes part of your work, and not just the formal, traditional painting.

ML: One of the important motivations behind this was the gallery that I worked at in Taipei called I.T. Park. I worked there for two years. It was a gallery that was open from 12 noon to 12 midnight. There was a bar in it, and I was the bartender. That environment had a lot to do with how I thought about my work and how I thought about art in general. During that period an exhibition space was a place that I sat around with people drinking in. We looked at art and talked about art in a very casual and indirect way, but also talked about everything else. It gave me a chance not only to look at art but to look at people looking at art. It became clear how important the audience and the way they interacted with art was. I became aware of the exhibition as a form similar to a ritual, with very clear codes. I proceeded to questions those codes and attempted to transform and recreate them. It was this environment that pushed my work into this direction.

JS: So you are doing more than a wall or a floor painting. For me you are developing an environment. An environment in which we are on another dimension.

ML: I create spaces. In the beginning, I consciously chose spaces outside of the exhibition space in the museum; for example, the entrance area for the Taipei Biennial, the bar area or the restaurant area of the Palais de Tokyo, areas that were not traditionally used for exhibiting artworks. The audience encounters my work in non-art spaces that are less intimidating, allowing them to be more at ease. This kind of inclusive space helps create an opening, an area where one is not restricted to certain kinds of behavior and codes unlike the exhibition space where one is to speak quietly, look with intent, and ponder gravely the importance of art. I am interested in instigating a different attitude towards how we interact with art.

JS: You’re shifting the behavior towards painting, towards the artwork in general.

ML: Yes.

JS: And it is somehow from the perspective of performance, of ritual.

ML: The work is an inviting backdrop or a stage on which the performance can take place. The performers are the audience that enters into the space. It is a theater of the everyday. As soon as the audience walks in the performance begins.

JS: Is the performance inside the motif which has been in most of your work until now, a blow-up of this traditional Taiwanese flower, blown up in a kind of conceptual or post-Pop painting?

ML: What is important with the color and the floral prints is that it breaks with the white cube, it references the domestic, and is therefore more welcoming. Due to the large scale of the prints it is able to transform an industrial space into a very sensual space, a fantasy space. It immediately opens the space up to allow for a more open, free, and perhaps even bad behavior.

JS: You told me that you were less interested in this floral motif in an iconographic or symbolic way, and it was more important for you that people relate to it in a familiar, sensual way.

ML: Yes, it is not so important for me what the flowers mean symbolically. It’s more about the prints as emanating the domestic, the sensual…they come from textiles and fabrics, and for everybody these are things that we have intimate contact with. Things that we either are sleeping with, or that we wear on our bodies. So their relationship to us is very much tactile and of the senses.

JS: Where do you find all these motifs? In markets?

ML: I find them everywhere, in all the textile markets. They are everywhere, in every culture you have them.

JS: Yes, it’s transcultural in fact.

ML: All pre-modern cultures have these kinds of ornament, be it Greece, the Middle East, Asia, Polynesia, or Europe. Whether it’s Austrian cross-stitching, or Delft-ware in Holland. So in all traditional cultures we have this. It’s culturally specific, but at the same time something that we all share.

JS: So in other words it has nothing to do with the American formalism from the Sixties or early Seventies.

ML: You mean in terms of the formalist painting?

JS: Yes.

ML: It’s more a reaction, a resistance. I am against a hegemonic modernist view. I am interested in the vernacular and see it as a resistance.

JS: What were your references when you started to do this kind of work?

ML: My references were very direct, things that were happening in my environment politically and socially. Do you mean contemporary art references?

JS: Any kind of art, but of course contemporary art as well.

ML: Early on in my development my references and motivations came from the Taiwanese new wave cinema. I learned about Taiwanese culture through the cinema, and that really affected the way I came to think about my work and my relation to cultural identity and history.

JS: And you told me as well that this reference to Taiwanese cinema was parallel with your own struggle and the contradiction between your education and your genealogy.

ML: Yes, that’s also an important point. At the time Taiwanese cinema was searching for an identity and its own language. I think very much in the same way that the French New Wave in the Sixties was trying to create a new language of cinema. In the same way that this new language of cinema was created in the context of that time, I was also searching for my own language and voice to communicate with what was happening at that time in art and in Taiwan.

JS: And what about your references in contemporary art?

ML: At the time there was a lot of reaction against some of the minimalist writings, for example towards Donald Judd’s resistance of certain works that went beyond the specific object. I was thinking also about Franz West, who was quite important for me as an artist, who created provocative relationships with the audience, acting on and manipulating sculptural objects. Also Dan Graham’s critiques of modern architecture and the urban environment were very important for me.

JS: Certain people said you developed a kind of post-Pop aesthetic?

ML: [laughs] I don’t know, those are the sorts of labels that I can’t be responsible for. Pop in the sense that I borrow from popular culture, that I work with everyday objects and things from everyday life. Pop in the sense of popular.

JS: Recently you started to make painting to hang on the walls where the motif is smaller than the field, so a little motif in the middle or on the side. Somehow for me it looks a little bit like Monet, or Jackson Pollock with the idea of all-over, and just a fragment of the gigantic thing on the side.

ML: I’m not sure how I can answer that question, but in terms of what I’ve been doing since 2004, I have started to paint on canvas again, and I’m thinking a lot about serial painting, about the relationship of how the painting is made to how it’s shown. I think a good example was the painting that I made for the contemporary art museum in Tokyo last year, where 90 per cent of the room was the drawing on the wall that connects to the 10 percent that was the painting surface. I am thinking about how a painting becomes a space, the relationship of how a drawing becomes a painting, or which one comes first. There are several different issues I’m trying to explore with painting now. I feel a lot freer now, coming back after years of not making works portable. I come back to painting with more ease, energy and less inhibition to explore the possibilities.

JS: So you were born in Taiwan, lived in Los Angeles, then moved to Paris, then went back to Taiwan, and now you’re living in Shanghai. Why this move to Shanghai at the end for someone who’s always on the move? Why China?

ML: The decisions that brought me to all these places have been a complex and uncertain weave of personal and professional motivations. It was never a specific choice in saying, yes, I want to go there; there are these different kinds of impulses in my life that bring me to these new places. And I think that it’s hard for me to explain why I end up in all these places, but I have the ability since I’ve been moving so much, to be able to assimilate into these environments very quickly and easily. So for me it’s quite easy to move through these different kinds of cultures, to be always in environments that I don’t understand fully. And I don’t know if that’s a quality that could be somehow talked about in relation to my work, just to explain this kind of movement.

JS: We see this in your work. For example, recently you have used cartoon-like figures entering into your world of flowers…

ML: I’m in the midst of having my meeting with David Chen, Director of Shanghai Gallery of Art, about the show coming up in September 08 and I would be very happy if you could come; you would see a whole other trajectory of what we have just been talking about. Maybe by seeing this new show, it would broaden the way you thought about the work before.

JS: I’m sure! This is why I’m still working with you after all these years. You still surprise me a lot!

ML: I hope you come and get a surprise.

JS: How about the question of the making of the painting itself. You use a very interesting process where you make a small drawing, and then you expand it on a large scale, with a lot of assistants working on it. Your process spans the traditional and the contemporary. What do you think about that?

ML: The actual process of the painting is quite straightforward. I find it quite interesting how a lot of people still want me to pose in front of my paintings with a brush, most of the work that I do is much like a readymade. The product at the end is painting, paint on a surface, but the actual relationship to my work, the physical relationship that I have to it, is not a very important point. All the textiles, patterns and colors that you see are all appropriated. I take them directly from the textile. I choose the textile, and how it is cropped and placed. But as far as the composition and the colors, they are coming directly from the textile. I don’t mix colors. It’s a very industrial process. The paints we use are all coming directly from the paint store. The same as what you buy to paint your house. It’s house paint, and as far as the actual painting, because of the scale of the work it was always beyond one person’s ability to paint. Therefore there is always a large team of people working with me or for me. I see myself sometimes as the architect who draws out the plan, and then it is produced, contracted out to a team.

JS: Have you ever thought about making architecture yourself? Because from the beginning you have had this real sense of space. Have you ever thought of building something completely? A real building, or some other architecture?

ML: I’m very interested in architecture. I was not trained as an architect, but I’m interested. I don’t know if I would actually build something completely on my own. With my position and my work, I always work with someone else in a collaborative relationship, or a complementary relationship. So I think this is one point that’s very important about my work—none of it is ever singular in the sense that it exists by itself; it is always there in relation to something else. It is always co-existing with something else. I’ve made some project with architects in the past few years, and my work is there to complement the architecture. And that’s an important point.

August 11 2008




david ho yeung chan – what a difference a day made

The difference is you…

What a difference a day made, twenty four little hours

Brought the sun and the flowers where there used to be rain

My yesterday was blue dear

Still I’m a part of you dear

My lonely nights are through dear

Since you said you were mine

Oh, what a difference a day made

There’s a rainbow before me

Skies above can’t be stormy since that moment of bliss

That thrilling kiss

It’s heaven when you find romance on your menu

What a difference a day made

And the difference is you, is you, is you1


Originally written in Spanish by Mexican composer Maria Grever in 1934, the song What a Difference a Day Made was also known as Cuando Vuela a Tu Lado. Artist Michael Lin, inspired by the 1994 film Chungking Express directed by Wong Kar-wai who also featured this song in the film, has decided to title this exhibition after just such a love song. Chungking Express is a tour de force that speaks of the complexity of a post-colonial subject. Composed of seemingly disparate narratives that capture vignettes of everyday lives in Hong Kong, its central message is to express our fate as a colonial era draws near. Wong captures the trauma of restless characters that are eager to travel elsewhere, yet without knowing the real reason for doing so either. The protagonists are all lost souls desperately seeking someone to share their pain. Time is not on their side. But one thing is certain. Their identification has everything to do with their relationship with a place; this is the only thing they can hold onto as the loss of memory gradually sets in. To speak about Shanghai is like talking about a film that is still rolling, it is somewhere between imagination and reality, a pure spectacle that thrives on itself in order to fill its own sense of void. The minute you thought you got it’s meaning, the next minute it leaves you blank. The coexistence of what is vernacular, utopic; dystopic of this city provides us with a contradictory backdrop. After the initial delight of discovery, Shanghai manifests a perpetual amnesia which continues until an instance where you are completely neutralized, taking it all in whether you like it or not. Where is the vernacular? Is it still possible to preserve a spatial and temporal history, something lived and living? Question: What a difference a day made here, I have two answers: it can be of no difference and all the difference in the world. It depends on you. Hence, you have to go through this experience by yourself. The trajectories that Lin took as an artist bear the traits of a transient subject in Wong’s film. Born in Tokyo in 1964 and subsequently attending the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California for a graduate study in Fine Arts, Lin was granted a solo exhibition as early as 1994 at the IT Park, a reputable non profit artist run space in Taipei. Lin’s eventual return to Taiwan in 1993 was significant as he started to retrace his past by appropriating traditional Taiwanese textile patterns as a way to reconnect himself to that complex social political environment comparable to that of Hong Kong. Lin’s deployment of the vernacular sought to engage itself to the then current debate of cultural identity. Known for his large-scale architectural interventions by way of ornament, Lin challenges the parameters that defined the genres of painting, architecture, design and installation. Always conscious of the elements of time and function in the public domain and not entirely interested to make singular art objects, Lin’s ultimate intention is to create a situation, a mid-ground for the audiences to interact among themselves and in so doing we are able to formulate a more private experience in return. As Lin says that his art always carries an ambivalence, the artist states: Art is merely a breath, to say it is useless is something useful, to be at a lack of a breath is alright, but without it we cannot live anymore. We have already gone through a profound history of art, I always dream of reinserting something new to old things, that we may still yet have another breathe. Having subsequently based himself in Paris for a number of years since 2002, it is almost by chance that Lin finds himself in Shanghai after a prolonged stay abroad. In many ways, Shanghai offers a fresh start for Lin to observe his surroundings anew. What are the politics of place for Lin as he travels and shows at different cities? What are the real relationships between an artist and a place? In “The Wrong Place”, Miwon Kwon claims that the way in which we define our subjectivity relative to a place carries an important political implication. Rather than celebrating our newly acquired ability to transgress different localities and cultures, Kwon suggests that we must arrive at a concrete methodology for critiquing trans-locality and its ideology. Not wanting to be caught between the nostalgic return to one’s place and total infatuation with subliminal displacement, Kwon claims that we must consciously analyze temporal and spatial disjunctions and propose strategies to turn such displacements into something positive. This is precisely Lin’s interest. What is the very nature of this city? What is the artist’s relationship with the environment that he works in? This was a starting point for Lin in Taiwan during the early 1990’s and he poses this question to himself again but this time from a different cultural context. The concept behind this exhibition comes out of the artist’s enigma of arrival to Shanghai two years ago. Living directly opposite from a daily product store in Shanghai, Lin has taken a long-term interest with the way in which normal objects in a local store are organized. The store is in itself a time capsule that captures a trace of history specific to the people living in his neighborhood. In acquiring all the goods from a daily products store as the base material for this project, Lin records the whole process meticulously from the initial negotiation between the purchaser and the storeowner to the actual layout of the store, from cataloguing individual objects to the final placement of these objects into wooden crates, every step of this project is recorded with photographs. What a Difference a Day Made is an installation that incorporates music, video and performance. It is a hybrid setting that investigates notions of time, memory, speed, recollection, and nostalgia. Lin’s provocation is to use a cultural space as a frame to push our associations of the forms and functions of a mundane object towards its extremes, and how we attach different meanings to art, objecthood, preservation, and the politics of the everyday becomes the focus here. When I asked how the set up of the show is configured with respect to the given exhibition site, Lin’s initial response towards the gallery’s consecrated setting was one of denial. Lin claims that the project needs not be made specific to the site. By re-fabricating the daily product store at the gallery’s entrance, there is a dramatic shift of scale. The interior of the original store is replicated. The initial passage of navigating through a compact space overloaded with objects to an expansive and almost empty gallery space offers a lapse. What was once vernacular is somewhat displaced; but the store doubles up as an architectural intervention which places the gallery space into question. Upon entering the gallery space, the audiences observe a number of video projections throughout the exhibition area that document a juggling act that took place inside the gallery atrium during the exhibition opening. In knowing that acrobatics is a highly popular form of performance art in China which has a long tradition dating back to the Warring States period, Lin stages a clash of two diversely different art forms, contemporary art and traditional folk performance in one locale. Lin also invited a Belgium sound artist Anton Aeki to improvise during the opening in order to create a tactile experience, one that destabilizes our readings of the store and objects and transforms the gallery into a visual/audio feast where people can first relax and contemplate. Shown on the projections are fragments of the acrobat’s bodies in the midst of juggling with different objects from the daily store. The acrobats’ movements seem to be agitated, unable to overcome balancing these unfamiliar objects. If acrobatics is about testing the limits of the human body, Lin pokes fun at such a spectacle and denies the object’s preciousness to that of its most fundamental level – its physical properties. Stripped of any link with a place or history, these objects are a part of the prop. In knowing that it is necessary to conform to the institutional setting of the gallery, Lin categorizes his inventory of objects according to different sizes, materials, colors and shapes. The objects are then carefully stored in wooden crates, inviting us to admire their aesthetic and formal qualities and to remind us the role of a cultural institution is to protect the material culture for the sake of our collective memory. What all these elements in the exhibition amount to is a cancelling act, from a banal object in its original context to a displaced object shown in a gallery, a specimen being preserved in a wooden crate to an object being used as a tool for a performance. Lin not only demonstrates the potential meanings of simple things around us, more importantly he has achieved equilibrium among different poles of interpretations. A coherent meaning emerges in a subtle manner that points squarely back to the audiences. To engage our surroundings is to become conscious of our own sense of movement, like a vessel traversing through different times and spaces. The difference is you.


1.Lyrics from song What a Difference a Day Made, written in Spanish by Maria Mendex Grever and translated by Stanley Adams.

gerald matt – conversation with michael lin

Your works are monumental and usually found on the floor or the surfaces of walls. Floral patterns inspired by Taiwanese textiles cover the surfaces of the room. The intense colouration – you use many shades of red – escapes from the surfaces because of its brilliance and creates an extraordinary atmosphere in the room. What is the role of sensuality in your work?
The textiles, that I appropriate my patterns from, are used in Taiwan as duvet covers that are given as part of the dowry to the groom from the bride’s family for the wedding. It is mostly used as the covers of the wedding night bed.


Last week, while I was in Tokyo, I had a very interesting conversation with a young architect. She asked me if I ever considered moisture in relation to my works. She explained to me that, because my works are appropriations of textiles, for her they retain the qualities of textiles in terms of moisture. Unlike paper, which is dry and more rigid, textiles contain a certain amount of moisture that allows them to be soft and moldable to the body.


You were born in Tokyo in 1964, grew up in Taiwan and immigrated to the USA with your parents in 1973. You have lived in Los Angeles and Paris and after finishing your studies, decided in 1993 to return to Taiwan where you now live. What role does the place where you live play? How much are you influenced by each of the different cultures?


The move from Los Angeles back to Taiwan was the most important for me in regards to my practice. I moved back to Taiwan in 1993, directly after I finished my studies in LA. At the time the “art system” in Taiwan was very different from the conditions that existed in LA. Contemporary art or for that matter Modern art in Taiwan were seen as something imported, something which did not develop out of its own tradition. There was, at the time, in the arts and the general society, a conscious struggle to search out and define a vocabulary base on its own cultural parameters. Of course this condition was a result of the political predicament that is specific to Taiwan since 1949. The precarious and uncertain state of political and cultural identity due to its isolation from the international community, the United Nations, since 1972, gave rise to an identity crisis that provoked a paradoxical retrospective search for a national identity. I identified myself directly to this condition both due to my own past history and my position as an artist. One of the main reasons for my family’s immigration to the United States was directly linked to the uncertainties brought about by the transfer of recognition from Taiwan to China of the United States. On the other hand, as an artist, I was forced to go back to very fundamental questions in my practice that only came about because of this displaced distance. I posed very fundamental questions such as the relationship between my practice and the specific contexts that I practiced in, which later led to questions about my practice’s relationship to the audience.


Which artists or art movements have inspired you?


There are many obvious inspirational artists for me; Daniel Buren, Dan Graham, and Franz West for example. But what really challenged and provoked me was the very specific circumstance in Taiwan. The Taiwanese New Wave Cinema was something very important for me, the films of Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Edward Yang, and Tsai Ming-Liang. Each of them developed a very specific language in their reflections on the state of contemporary life in Taiwan, Hou with his historical essays, Young’s focus on contemporary urban life in Taipei, and Tsai’s cinema of the body with almost no dialogue. I too, at the time, struggled to reconcile my practice with the context of my new environment. At the time I was very influenced by the ideas of Elaine Scarry and how she spoke about culture in the body. The culture that is learned into the body “is more permanently there, then those disembodied forms of patriotism that exist in verbal habits or in thoughts about one’s national identity.” For me, she pointed the way to the body as a site of culture that allowed me to think about cultural identity and its relationship to art practice in a very different way.


Your ornamental patterns are infinitely expandable, there is no centre and no composition. The term “all over” structure began with Jackson Pollock’s art and deals with surface democratically and on the basis of equality. A structure located between abstraction and figuration. In your case, a natural process of alienation and stylisation? Simulacra that cause mood shifts?


I am not sure what you mean by alienation and stylisation in regard to my work. For me the term “all over”, democracy, and equality seem to be linked directly to American cold war politics. My works create temporary places, not a painting surface but a pedestrian unremarkable place of respite.

I use the term unremarkable for my work, even though they are most of the time monumental in scale, for they recede into the background at the tilt of the head. They are not focus points like a painting or a sculpture.


With your floor works, on which visitors often lie on cushions designed by you, you break with the well-known museum sign “Don’t Touch”, the Christian “Noli me tangere” and the aura of the artwork. Visitors to the exhibition can sleep on the “Kiasma Day Bed” and recover from the exertion of looking. How do you deal with art becoming functional and applied art?


I am not interested in making divisions between fine art and applied art. Art has always been functional. Even if it is a painting on a wall, it is either functioning as contemplative provocation, a decorative object or as a trophy on a collectors wall. I don’t agree with Donald Judd when he said that a chair is not art because when you sit on it you can’t see it. I think that some of the most important works of art are the ones that we live with and effect our daily lives such as architecture, furniture, and fashion, that can be said to even shape our bodies and minds.


You often work together with assistants or students. Even during the production of your works, art becomes a social event. Rirkrit Tiravanija also often tries to make places and situations where people meet possible, places where there is communality and communication. How close is your work to this artistic praxis?


I think that they are in some ways fundamentally similar, but I must add that my practice is less utopic then Tiravanija’s. All my works are produced by groups of people that we recruit on site because the productions are very laborious. There is communality and communication but in toil. The work is not about my personal expression with paint but more about my proposition for a relationship to a place.


The work “Untitled Cigarette Break” from 1999 appears to be an obvious reference to Andy Warhol and Pop Art. What is your relationship to them?


For Untitled Cigarette Break I was thinking much more about the relationship of ornamentation to Modernism. For me the DC2 chair of Le Corbusier reflected perfectly the white cube of the gallery space I was showing in. The chairs became a scale model of the room. The paintings on the wall were scaled somewhere between the chairs and the room. I thought of smoking as a more conscious way of breathing. Smoke describing the breath. The chairs describing the room. The walls becoming a shirt for our body.


Can you explain the technical aspects of your work? I have heard you refer to yourself as a painter; what do consider your position in painting to be?


I refer to myself as a painter because I use paint. I am a house painter and perhaps we can say that that is my position in painting. The first large scale painting that I made in 1988 was titled “House”. It was the first time that I painted directly on the architecture with the ornamental patterns that I found in my home.


Sometimes your work appears to me to be film or stage decoration and the visitors are the potential protagonists. Am I mistaken?


No, not at all, even for my first floor painting, I thought of it as a stage for something to take place on. The works are places as opposed to spaces. Space is an abstraction while a place has a name, is in time, and necessitates physical experience.


The avant-garde – and above all the neo-avant-garde – had the problem that if their claims for art were realised, namely the combination of art with life, art would then become superfluous and completely assimilated into life. How do your works look against the background of this debate?


This is only a problem if the premise is that art is separate from life. On Kawara once said, “Europeans can’t really understand the Japanese. For them, ‘one’ is the basis of thinking. For the Japanese, ‘complements’ permeate all thought.”


You also show outside the classical exhibition space. Thus art as such is less visible and more difficult to identify. With that, you step outside the pre-existing framework of art, the institution. How do you see the institutional critiques of Michael Asher and Daniel Buren?


Buren and Asher critiques of institutions are exactly their limit. I am less interested in the formalized spaces in the institutions for presenting art. These spaces on the margins of the institutional space, the events and social interactions are much more important for me. I am much more interested in the everyday, the general culture. It is in these places that art is not so clearly defined that questions of the function of art come to light. In these marginal places like Taiwan, outside of the clear parameters of art as it is defined in the European and American traditions, that these traditions are exposed and become more susceptible to be redefined.



In your exhibition project for the Kunsthalle Vienna project space you will be making transparent film to be affixed to the inside of the windows. Most of the windows will be covered with a green floral pattern, the rest will show lilac, strictly geometrical, interlocked circles. You designed the work specially with the effect it will have in the evening when it is dark and the room brightly lit. Then the pavilion will take on an almost psychedelic mood reminiscent of Flower Power in the Seventies. Are you playing with these associations and the lightness and hedonism of a lifestyle like that?


I was thinking more of an oriental lamp. This cryptic glass pavilion transformed into a beautiful banal object.



If someone would call you a decorator who, above all, designs beautiful rooms, what would you answer?


I would take it as a compliment. Beauty is something I believe to be a quality.



What I notice in the work for the Kunsthalle Vienna is the contrast between the irregularities of the plants which loosely and casually wind their way over the surface and the strict geometric pattern; is your use of the oppositions in Nietzsche’s view of art which confronts the Apollonian with the Dionysian conscious?


The lattice windows with organic patterns or geometric patterns in traditional Chinese architecture were never seen as being in oppositions, quite the contrary, they are seen as being complementary.


The interior of the project space, the museum room, remains empty. A room which could be used or an empty space for the reception of the facade design?


The gallery space becomes a receptacle for the play of light and color dictated by the passage of time and the sun moving across the sky. The glass curtain wall is made more physical and sensual. The gaze is broken by the screen, like a blink, allowing the eyes to see again. Vision becomes more conscious and active.


What was particularly appealing or challenging about the Kunsthalle Vienna building? How did you arrive at the artistic solution you are now showing?


The KV building is very appropriate for me, one space, one building, a glass pavilion, a very strong symbol of domestic modernism, like the Philip Johnson House. I was very much interested in working directly on the architecture, one work, one space, one building.


The music being played in the café will be piped into the exhibition space. What is the role of music in your work? Are you concerned with a synaesthetic experience or are you following another goal with your holistic approach in relation to constructing an atmosphere?


I wanted to normalize the space with the furniture music from the restaurant. To some how fuse the two spaces with the music. The restaurant as a social space, merging with the exhibition space. One modifying the other, but always returning to the emptiness of the institution.


Are there any things you might term radical breaks in your work?


The most radical break in my work occurred between my first solo show in Taipei in 1994 and my second solo show in 96. In the 94 I was making monochrome paintings on steel two years later I was moving my furniture into the gallery for my exhibition. Again it was this change of context from Southern California to Taipei that changed my concerns in my work.

Gerald Matt (director Kunsthalle Vienna)

April 2005





 vivian rehberg – language of flowers

A rose-colored carpet strewn with tendrils of red, yellow, violet, green, and white foliage unfurls beneath you, crawls up the walls, slithers through passage ways, butts against baseboards, arches, windows, and doors. This is excessive painting, painting that does not know its limits until it reaches them, is contained by them, and stops. This is painting that so vividly and insistently asserts its capacity to extend beyond its frame, and its habitual frames of reference, that it threatens to turn into something else.


Instead, Michael Lin’s site-conditioned work hovers between surface and structure, ornament and architecture, motif and ground. In House (1998), Tamar Site (2000) andVilla Merkel 17.11.2001-22.1.2002 (2001), the lively patterns that Lin appropriates from Taiwanese textile designs are lavishly applied to made-to-measure wood panels placed on the wall or floor, at once disguising and laying bare the physical dimensions and properties of the space. On the wall, Lin’s work just winks at the history of gutsy, large-scale all-over painting before receding into the realm of the decorative backdrop. By theatrically, but ever so briefly, beckoning for attention, it toys with painting’s status as an object of contemplation. On the floor, Lin’s work floats seamlessly on its support; things are placed on it, one walks across it to get to somewhere else or to look at something else. Activated by these other presences, the floor paintings become the ground for myriad figures: a patch of contrasting cushions designed by the artist, clusters of people drinking and smoking, crushed cigarette butts and tossed candy wrappers, deflated exhibition visitors wondering what to see next, children running in circles.


Critics have related Lin’s use of readily available, vernacular motifs to long-standing efforts to collapse the boundaries between painting and popular culture, and between painting and the decorative arts. That the identification of “art” with the “non-artistic” (read as a confrontation between “high” and “low” culture) remains a legitimate field of investigation for contemporary production testifies that such boundaries—as social and cultural as they are aesthetic—have not crumbled with the advent of a post-modern, post-colonial, “global” society. However, a more radical questioning of categories is enacted in the loose play with horizontality and verticality that is structurally built into Lin’s work. For as his painting descends from the wall to the ground and stands back up again, it disrupts and destabilizes the position of the beholder accustomed to approaching sculpture, video-monitors, performances, projections, canvases, and installations from a more or less upright, more or less centered, and a more or less sovereign position. If verticality is “the axis the body shares with culture,”[1] then Lin’s flowery fields seduce the beholder into rotating her corporeal axis out of line with it.


Such interplay between horizontality and verticality is evident in Lin’s public commission for the Palais de Tokyo: site de création contemporaine, a work intimately connected to the architecture and the interior of the building. From the upper galleries looking down, the painting is framed by the staircases that lead directly into it. From the lower gallery, where it serves as a temporary floor for the bar, his juicy pink and lavender floral plane dialogues with Navin Rawanchaikul’s eye-catching cartoon mural hanging above. Seen from above, the body bent parallel to the floor, Lin’s painting can be absorbed in one visual sweep: it does not ask to be read, it does not require literacy. Down “in” the painting, sensorial distraction is highlighted—we stand and talk, we take a seat, we look out the windows, we look up the stairs—to the extent that the painting, qua painting, almost dematerializes.


What deceptively appears as benign “soft-pop”, or easy-listening music for the eyes, in fact, turns out to be a site of considerable transgression. Transgression is initiated the moment the visitor places her foot onto a work by Lin (and who doesn’t still feel a moment’s hesitation before reaching out to touch, or before stepping onto a displayed object?). It is reinforced as she tentatively sits down, and then stretches her body across the painted surface. Now horizontal, the body may be at rest and vision may be thwarted, but it is at rest and it is thwarted in the space of painting and in the space of culture. Lin delineates these two spaces as hybrids: composed of heterogeneous elements translated from both Eastern and Western visual languages and traditions. Sarat Maharaj has discussed the “creative force” of hybridity in relation to translation, arguing that in a hybrid, “since each language seems to have its own system and manner of meaning, the construction of meaning in one does not square with that of another.”[2] Lin’s achievement is that no matter how hard the body tries to sink fully into the hybrid space of culture, or cross the threshold out of that space, it never squares with it, it remains off-kilter; that is, just out of line.


Given that the position of the subject and meaning do not coincide here, questions remain as to how Lin’s painting mediates the social interactions possible within the space it generates. It has been suggested that works like Platform, or Kiasma Day Bed, as well as others shown in the context of biennials or large group shows, provide visitors with a meeting place, a place for “living,” and a temporal hiatus from the supposedly exhausting purview of cultural consumption and aesthetic transcendence that may be taking place in the other parts of the exhibition.[3] Does the situation of culture today call for the creation of such alternative spaces within the framework of an exhibition? Judging solely from current artistic and curatorial practice, the answer would seem to be yes. Let’s not forget, however, that in 1908 Henri Matisse also dreamt of “an art which might be for every mental worker, be he businessman or writer, like an appeasing influence, like a mental sedative, something like a good armchair in which to rest from physical fatigue.”[4] In Matisse’s case, art was to provide respite from the carnival of bourgeois society. According to a similar logic, Lin’s painted floors, beds, and platforms are meant provide respite from Art.

And they are meant to do so through their staging of conviviality.[5] For Lin, art is not something like Matisse’s good armchair, it literally is an armchair. With Untitled Cigarette Break (1999), he leaves the realm of metaphor and, with cheery irony, covers two sleek beige Corbusier chairs with floral slip-covers (one can just imagine le Corbu turning over in his grave). By positioning their backs to the identically patterned paintings hung on the walls, Lin makes the chairs available without imposing the condition of looking on the visitor. He invites the spectator to break with the rhythm established as she moves throughout the exhibition, and to communicate with whoever might be in the neighboring chair. The seated visitors then become part of the installation, altering its form with speech and gesture, interfacing with their surroundings.


From the laborious construction of the floor and wall pieces with his assistants to the intermittent, festive gatherings that take place on and around them, the self-conscious mise en scène of social exchange is one of the key driving forces behind Michael Lin’s painting. Here, the material form of social exchange is indexed as an extension of bodies in space, of corporeal movement, of the potential for pleasurable physical interaction. At the same time, the ambivalent, hybrid nature of that space, which is an aesthetic one, as well as its circumscription in a given time, leaves room for the failure of those interactions, and for their eventual release into a dimension other than the specific space/time of the exhibition.


Though his work is frequently geared toward collectives, Lin’s understanding of the aesthetic does not carry with it hopes of reconciliation or communion. Instead, it manipulates form and plays with pictorial conventions in such a way as to trace out and safeguard a place for the individual—differentiated by her or his corporeal, cultural, and linguistic specificity —within the collective. The permeable limits of the body are held in tension against the permeable limits of the artwork. Neither can be translated into the other.


Palais de Tokyo site de creation contemporaine

Paris, France


[1] Yve-Alain Bois and Rosalind Krauss, Formless: A User’s Guide (New York: Zone Books, 1997), p. 102-103.

[2]Sarat Maharaj, “‘Perfidious Fidelity’ The Untranslatability of the Other,” in Jean Fisher, ed. Global Visions: Towards a New Internationalism in the Visual Arts. (London: Kala Press, 1994), p. 29.

[3] See Hou Hanru, “What about sleeping in a show? Michael Lin’s Artistic Intervention,” in Maria Hirvi, ed. ARS 01, exh. cat., (Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, 2001) and Manray Hsu, “Painting as place—On Michael Lin,” in Urgent Painting exh. cat., (ARC/Musée d’art moderne de la ville de Paris and Paris Musées, 2002).

[4] Henri Matisse, “Ecrits et propos sur l’art,” (Paris, 1972), 50.

[5] See Nicolas Bourriaud, Esthétique relationnelle (Paris, 1998) for a critical analysis of the “interactive, convivial, and relational” stakes of recent developments in contemporary art.

hou hanru – what about sleeping in a show ?

Visiting a large scale exhibition which claims to be globally encompassing and relevant – the ARS01 show at Kiasma is such an exhibition — can be an exciting experience. In the meantime, it can also be an exhausting physical and intellectual exercise.

This tension or splitting between both sides, at the end, reflects to the contradictory situation of our cultural and artistic activities and the common ambition shared by many of us, facing the overwhelming globalisation and local reactions to such a “hegemonic” power. This affects deeply our everyday life as well as cultural concerns today. There have been all kinds of reactions, from radical “anti-globalisation” protests to profound intellectual debates, while it has also become a catalyst for artistic creation.


The Taipei based artist Michael Lin, far away from being an activist in the global-local negotiation, however, expresses his modest, discreet but unique voice in such a context to claim a space for free thoughts and actions. Instead of articulating the intellectual arguments or physically protesting gestures, he intervenes with a proposal for us to take a rest in the whirlpool of chaotic struggles: naming his project “Kiasma Day Bed”, he will build a large wooden platform (ca. 3 X 3 m) with painted surface in a textile motive with grid shape and pillows in a floral textile motive. This is a place for exhausted exhibition visitors to sit on or lay down to relax. People have views both outside to the city centre and inside to the entrance hall. The bed will be placed on the 2nd floor, a place which is also normally used as a ‘sit down’ place. By merging artistic-intellectual discourses and the everyday situation, Michael Lin suggests us to deal with the most spectacular and ambitious speculation of whatever that can be a kind of “global art” from an incredibly unexpected angel: to take a break.


No matter if Michael Lin has taken any obvious position in the “battle”. What is apparently extraordinary, and implicitly provocative, is that he has introduced some rather “disturbing” elements in contemporary art’s adventure, in it’s desperate search for re-relating itself to reality: an actual situation of daily life – the “Day Bed” that no longer distinguishes itself from real life. In the meantime, it’s by no means an intellectually comfortable setting: in the thoroughly regulated and encoded space of a museum exhibition, it’s a provocative gesture to invite the visitors to sleep in the middle of the busy parcours. And “Day Bed” suggests elimination between being awaken and asleep, between daydream and nightmare…not to mention the total break-down of the logic of art exhibition as a spectacle.

Relating to this particular strategy of claiming an “art-free” space – a veritable third space, Michael Lin makes us confronting with another aspect of this unconfortableness. He introduces an ignored element in the highly conceptualised contemporary art language, decoration, or textile motives, to be the main formal appearance of his work. The proliferation and contamination of these motives, transcending the connotation of “Kitsch” that has been historically imposed on them, opens up a fresh space, both physical and cultural. It may recall the common strategy of Pop Art, but it definitively opposes itself to the heroic and macho show-off of Pop Art. Michael Lin’s motives are borrowed from the folk craft textiles marginalized by the Capitalist consumer society. Their presentation in an high “neo-modernist” museum space provokes an obviously disaccording ambience. It is by no means that kind of tension that an exotic object may cause in contrast to Western norms of perception. Instead, it implies a clear attitude of resistance against the hegemonic “aesthetic” criteria and the values that they embody. Michael Lin’s art is an ambient art with a clear content, a “soft Pop” against Pop itself.


At the end, it’s not an indifferent fact that Michael Lin comes from Taiwan, a historically and geo-politically in-between land – an in-between island with its typical hybrid culture, floating on the sea of tension, negotiating its survival and aspiration between political uncertainty and economic and cultural development. The question of identity has always been a “national obsession”. It is equally a main focus for the art world. The identity anxiety, interestingly, has also become a driving force for cultural debates and development. It’s here that Michael Lin’s art becomes even more challenging. Emigrated to the US as a child and returned to Taiwan recently, he has a more distant and critical view on the issue. Rather than making any straightforward and partisan claim for an identity, he puts the question on the most down-to-earth level and dissolves it into the current of the everyday: identity is never a permanent and stable block. It is actually a constant changing construct. The movement of deconstruction, circulation and reconstruction is its real core. To demonstrate it, Michael Lin proposes us to experience its movement in the most intimate and invisible way: to sit or sleep in a bed full of “made in Taiwan” textile motives. However, they are not so much distinguished from what you can see in mainland China and other neighbours. To figure out the meaning of such a usage of the motives, one should actually transcend the question of origin and enjoy the contemplative experience of the real itself. The real unfolds itself in time and space; and it evolves in movement. Perhaps the most insightful understanding of issues like this can only be achieved in the state of half-awaken and half-asleep… on Michael’s Day Bed.


Then, I remember another impressive experience of Michael Lin’s work: in an exhibition in France, he set up a bar and offered the visitors Made-in-Taiwan beers. They tasted perfectly delicious, like any good beer in the world…


ARS 01 2001KIASMA (Museum of Contemporary Art) Helsinki, Finland

bronwyn mahoney – patterns of thought : the installations of michael lin

Every painting and every poem has its edges; the question is where they are placed.[1]

Michael Lin’s works are carefully placed; his warm-hued paintings overlay and define spaces, saturate them, but become so one with each, that they are accepted in the same way it is hard to remember how something was before it changed. While they meld, their scale and intensity almost dare people to overlook them, or at times, walk over them. Lin described his work in the 2001 Istanbul Biennial as ‘there not to be there’.[2]

Widely known for his expansive installations of predominantly floral patterns, it could be easy to classify Lin as simply a decorative painter. But this would be a misreading, missing the vernacular of Lin’s work, which encompasses many vocabularies.

Describing himself as a conceptual artist,[3] Lin synthesizes ideas from sagacious sources. He observes and absorbs a variety of information, an osmotic approach, possibly informed by the migrations of his childhood, from the countryside of central Taiwan, to school in Los Angeles. His approach to art is very much influenced by American art history, from the artists he invokes in conversation, to the pop sensibility that he notes of his work.

Returning to Taiwan in 1995, Lin found a culture that was both familiar and distant, a country dealing with a history of colonial rule, martial law and moves toward democracy. The traditional cotton textiles he recalled from the countryside of his childhood, were now decorating his Taipei apartment. He began painting the patterns from these fabrics as intimately-scaled still lives.

His first solo show, complementary, in 1998, sought to draw two elements of his history together, and he has continued to develop the ideas initially raised in this exhibition, of creating fluid spaces from the fluid sources, which blend masculine and feminine, in their scale and origin, with the fluidity of the lines of the patterns, and the patterns people create in using the areas he makes.

Lin’s shifting of the physical plane of painting relates art historically, to the creation of spaces from the early twentieth century. His spatial engagements are informed by investigations and experiments in space, including sculpture, like that of Donald Judd and Richard Serra, which have been described this as invading the space of the viewer.[4]

Lin does not so much invade space, but chooses venues, locales, often outside ‘official’ spaces to create his own world, with considerations of the history and uses of the place, for a designated period of time. Most spaces we use as a public, including museums, are particularly unsexy. Liminal spaces, those ones in between, are often notoriously so – those stairwells, cafe walls, passageways, entrance ways and open floors. It is these areas Lin sensualizes.

This is the role of the patterns – not only do they deliver sensuality to our eyes, but the domestic history of their origins invests them with warmth. Patterns create boundaries, visual and emotional, providing comfort in their repetition. The sensual envelops us, but still leaves us space to move – we retain our own skin, it is not constricted – rather we become more aware of it, aware of its shapes and what it feels, by the presence of another element – sensory, sensational, carnal, sensuous, the sensorial movement of bodies.

Patterns also set edges, in their repetition, parenthesis – from the Latin, to insert, to place. To amplify. The relation of Lin’s work as amplifying space is enunciated by the titles he chooses. Gallery 5 wall, QAG 09.12.02 – 01.27.03 2002; Bar Merlo, QAG 09.12.02 – 01.27.03 2002; Taipei Fine Arts Museum: Sept. 9, 2000 – Jan. 7, 2001; Atrium Stadhuis Den Haag 12 juli t/m 8 september 2002; Palais de Tokyo, 21-01-2002/21-12-2002

Hermann Mikowski, during a lecture in Cologne in 1908, stated « nobody has ever noticed a place except at a time, or a time except at a place ». He concluded by saying « space by itself, and time by itself, are doomed to fade away into mere shadows, and only a kind of union of the two will preserve an independent reality. » This geometric relationship, establishing a 4-dimensional space, is how physicists often describe events, places, actions and moments in history, in terms of their location in the fabric of space-time.[5] But we still only see in three dimensions, but an event takes place in four.

Within these parenthetical edges, in the four dimensions, events take place. To highlight the exhibition as an event. And these events – whether organized by the artist or institution, like the parties in the Palais de Tokyo, or the everday traversing of the work by workers on their way to offices in the Hague City Hall – give the work depth. In this there are resonances of the theatrical, but like the domestic notions associated with the installations, the relation returns to the physical work, for like theater and home, all are intervals, interludes from the ‘normal’. Painting is only a tool, a trope in the projects’ situation as a forum: « the work does not raise any concrete possibilities directly but opens up a space which allows for possibilities to be proposed ».[6]

Other authors have noted the physical shifting of the verticality of the viewer, the transgressing of the ‘understood’ behavior that Lin’s work encourages – lying on cushions, sitting, walking on painting.[7] We have been trained to behave in certain ways when looking at art, we are conditioned to believe that we stand in a certain way, and wait for the wonder. The unsexy museum is the instigator of this:

in the Louvre the seignorial Valéry feels himself constrained from the first by the authoritarian gesture that takes away his cane and by the « No Smoking » sign. Cold confusion, he says reign among the sculptures, a tumult of frozen creatures each of which demands the non-existence of the others, disorder strangely organized. Standing among the pictures offered for contemplation, Valéry mockingly observes that one is seized by a sacred awe.[8]

Perhaps the Valéry Adorno describes would have found himself more comfortable encountering Michael Lin’s work, lying on the scatter cushions and thinking. But the Proust of Adorno’s ‘Les Problème des musées’, who found that, unlike Valéry, works go beyond aesthetic, becoming part of the viewers’ consciousness – may have also found art that provided the memory that for him inscribed work with value.

Adorno sees both his protaganists positions as correct, along the continuum that is the truth, though there is much space in between the two: ‘each takes the part of one moment in the truth which lies in the unfolding of contradiction…the two most knowledgable men to have written about art in recent times, have their limits, without which, in fact, their knowledge would not have been possible.’[9]

These limits are necessary so we can gain perspective. The grounds that Lin produces, bounded by time and space, and his desire to create places encouraging social exchange, provide an interstitial freedom that bridges the history of their intellectual component with the humanity of the events they host and are part of, and the memories they become.

December 2002


[1] Eric Lindner, « Whoever has an eye for the extraordinary among the commonplace can imagine what we are actually familiar with, yet do not always know », in Michael Lin: Atrium Stadhuis Den Haag 2002 12 July – 8 September 2002, Stroom hcbk, The Hague, 2002.

[2] Quoted in my catalogue entry in: ‘Egofugal’-Istanbul Biennial, 2001-pp.128-129.

[3] ‘The other side: An interview of Michael Lin by Jérôme Sans’, Michael Lin Palais de Tokyo, 21-01-2002/21-12-2002, Palais de Tokyo, 2002.

[4] Nicholas Serota, Experience or Interpretation: The dilemma of museums of modern art, Thames & Hudson, London, 1996, p.33.

[5] Sten Odenwald, Ask the Astronomer, http://itss.raytheon.com/cafe/qadir/q411.html

[6] Email from the artist to the author, 10 December, 2002.

[7] Vivian Rehberg, « The language of flowers », Michael Lin Palais de Tokyo, 21-01-2002/21-12-2002, Palais de Tokyo, 2002.

[8] Theodor Adorno, « ‘Le problème des musées’, Valéry Proust, Museum », published in Prisms, Cambridge Massachusetts, MIT Press, 1981, pp. 173-85. trans. Samuel and Shierry Weber

[9] Adorno, p. 183.

rhana davenport – the painted garden


Michael Ming Hong Lin transforms architectural spaces into painted gardens of overwhelming delight. The artist floods the interior surfaces of heroically charged architecture with vivid ornamentations featuring amplified flowers, foliage and phoenixes. The visual references are sourced in humble beginnings – the fabrics found in Taiwanese homes as honeymoon bed-covers and pillows. By superimposing magnified versions of these textiles into the authoritative domain of institutional architecture, Lin crafts new meaning within these spaces. The artist deliberately intervenes and interferes with the original architecture. Lin plays the interlocutor, and subverts expectations of what these formal structures are built to accommodate, what ideas they are intended to reinforce, and how visitors are expected to feel and behave within their confines.


Minor arts, minor spaces


Stealthily employing the elements of parody and surprise, Lin toys with hierarchies. Although his imagery is drawn from everyday life, to unfamiliar eyes it appears fabulous and splendid. Here the artist disturbs notions of the exotic and the familiar and plays upon ideas surrounding the exoticisation of ordinary materials in extraordinary circumstances. He forces ‘monumental’ architecture and ‘everyday’ fabrics to meet in unlikely and provocative juxtapositions. His placements within buildings are strategically located. Rather than selecting grand sites for his interventions, he often chooses inconsequential spaces and transitional zones. For APT 2002, Lin’s site of intervention occurs in the transitional, ‘in-between’ space that is not usually considered a prime location for art – the café. This site is a transit zone between outside and inside, a liminal space of entrances and exits, where glassed boundaries are transparent and penetrable. Here visitors may relax, read, eat, gaze outward or peer inward, they can reflect upon what has just occurred, consider what might yet be experienced, and delight in the role of voyeur without censure. By superimposing the ‘minor’ artform of textiles within these ‘minor’ spaces, Lin subverts the way buildings are used. The public art museum, for instance, was originally envisaged as a space where visitors were expected to undergo certain experiences -, being educated, being enlightened and being ‘in awe’ of art. When hallways, floors, structural walls and other functional interior spaces are overlayed with Lin’s lurid patterning, the alliances between authority and public architecture are disputed. Interventions are made across divisions that demarcate high and low art, useless and useful spaces, and public and private domains


In Lin’s spaces, resplendent, florid patterns are transposed over utilitarian surfaces. The arresting visual impact of the transformation invites visitors to linger in unexpected places. In some instances, such as his project ‘Kiasma Day Bed’, Lin creates intimate rest zones, sites for stillness, for daydreaming and temporary dwelling. These are spaces created expressly for doing nothing and where time passes slowly. Bachelard speaks about the subtle changes that occur within spaces through the act of dwelling; ‘The function of inhabiting constitutes the link between full and empty. A living creature fills an empty refuge, images inhabit, and all corners are haunted, if not inhabited.’ 1.



The fabric of memory


Lin began working with Taiwanese fabrics in 1996 having returned to Taipei three years earlier after completing his high school and tertiary education in the United States. Dismayed by local political squabbling in his hometown, Lin immersed himself in a private, domestic life. Painting still-lives at home, he was soon intrigued by the embroidered muslin pillowcases made by his wife. In turn, these remnants of the domestic world were adopted and amplified by the artist as an avenue through which he could explore what it was to be ‘home’.


Everyday fabrics, in constant use in bedrooms and living rooms, could be seen as silent embodiments of memory, as continuous filaments of history that exist within the domain of private life. The artist borrows from textiles found in most Taiwanese homes a decade ago. These are now slowly fading from daily use, being considered a little old fashioned and kitsch. The stories embedded in these materials are invisibly recorded as intangible evocations of intimate life rather than as formal documents of events articulated through language. By referencing these fabrics and the inherited sensibilities that surround them, Lin tracks through temporal and spatial realms as he borrows specific cultural nuances and iconographies that remain as traces within these cloths.


A turbulent history of influences from Portugal, The Netherlands, Spain and Japan has been inflicted upon Taiwan since 1517 through colonisation. Household fabrics may be understood as persistent filaments of inherited linking back through the millennia. Patterned textiles have a long history in the region. The imagery of commercially printed fabrics in Taiwan could be traced back to the fine silk tapestries (‘cut silk’) of the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644) which feature exquisite configurations of birds and flowers in opulent colours. These in turn reference the tapestries from the Sung Dynasty (960-1279) being the golden age of the artform in China. Silk embroidery as an artform is even older, the earliest surviving evidence was excavated from a tomb of the Warring States period (475-221 BC) in the southern Hunan province.


Through his art, Lin undertakes a vital process as he salvages images rendered invisible by daily use within the peripheral domain of home, function, craft and subjective life. Cultural lineage, spheres of overt and subtle influence and hierarchies of power are gently provoked from the personal perspective of the artist’s own life, family and home. Lin explains:


I lived in [the] country with my grandfather when I was a little boy. I still remember such muslins were made into bedding as a girl’s dowry, to me they also mark an age when Taiwan was transferring from manual production to mechanical production, and from rural to urban. That’s why I insist on using hand-made paintings in my work. 2.

Hand-made, home-made


Lin consciously references the home-made; he uses motifs derived from ordinary household applications, generated by and through domestic textile design and fabrication, an activity mostly undertaken by women. By highlighting this often-anonymous artform, Lin critiques notions of authorship and originality. The artist rejects commercially driven systems of mass production and undertakes a laborious process whereby designs are transferred via projection onto wood. The artist then collaborates with a team of people to hand-paint the images. If the amplification occurred via photographic or digital means, this new super-graphic would launch different interpretations. Through his chosen working system, Lin taunts the ‘Made in Taiwan‘ emblem as internationally synonymous with consummate manufacturing techniques. Gestures of the hand are evident in Lin’s painted cladding which camouflage the underlying surfaces. A sensual quality, usually absent from public buildings, is invoked. Lin takes his disruption of hierarchies one twist further by often inviting his audience to step onto and into the work, or by touching, using and lying upon it. Thus the preciousness of the hand-made artwork is undermined and rendered serviceable as well as picturesque.


Tactile sensitivity


Kenneth Frampton suggests in his essay ‘Towards a Critical Regionalism’ that architects can mitigate against the forces of a bland and ubiquitous internationalism. He warns of the fine line architects must negotiate between the use of sheer-surfaced technological materials, and the tendency to regress into nostalgia or glib decoration. Rather than an over-emphasis on the scenographic, Frampton pleads for a heightening of the senses within the built environment, what he calls ‘tactile sensitivity’ within ‘place-form’;


One has in mind a whole range of complementary sensory perceptions which are registered by the labile body: the intensity of light, darkness, heat and cold; the feeling of humidity; the aroma of material; the almost palpable presence of masonry as the body senses its own confinement; the momentum of an induced gait and the relative inertia of the body as it traverses the floor; the echoing resonance of our own footfall. 3.


Lin consciously abandons a generic and international visual language in favour of visual forms located in his home place by adopting vernacular fabrics of Taiwan as his idiom. And by introducing ‘down’ spaces into formal architecture, the artist re-focuses his audience’s awareness on the sensual aspects of their own presence within the space. Domestic architecture, with its workaday messiness and rampant array of decorated surfaces, remains embedded in the hidden fabric of the city. Monumental architecture, meanwhile, often predominates as a site for internationalism. By locating his work in museums and public buildings, Lin restores the presence of the intimate and personal in these spaces and activates these sites with an energy and intent that is seductive and disruptive. Further, by employing magnification, Michael Ming Hong Lin arrests and transports the viewer.


Immensity is within ourselves. It is attached to a sort of expansion of being that life curbs and caution arrests, but which starts again when we are alone. As soon as we become motionless, we are elsewhere; we are dreaming in a world that is immense. 4.


Lin uses mimicry and imperfect replication to achieve his sometimes discrete, sometimes startling interventions as he creates painted gardens in public spaces, inscribed for private use.




  • Cristina Sanchez-Kozyreva- Critics’ Picks- Artforum.com- March 2016
  • Pauline Yao- The Best of 2013- Artforum- December 2013
  • Jens Hoffmann- Reviews- 5th Auckland Triennial- Artforum- December 2013
  • Christopher Knight- Review: A modern Silk Road passes through OCMA’s Pacific Rim Show- Los Angeles Times, July 5, 2013
  • Frazier, David- ‘Painting’- Art Asia Pacific, May/June 2013, p. 177
  • ‘Collaboration: Michael Lin’s Model Home’- Leap, June 2012, pp. 50-53
  • David Ho Yeung Chan- ‘Michael Lin: Model Home/Model Museum’- Yishu, Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art, July/August 2012, pp.88-92
  • Pauline Yao- ‘Ten Years’- Contemporary Art & investment- Issue 56, 2011, pp.53-70
  • Arthur Ou (as told to)- ‘500 Words’- Artforum.com- 01.18.11
  • Hou, Hanru- ‘Flower Power’- Damn- No. 25, 2010
  • Iwakiri, Mio- Exhibition Reviews- www.art-it.jp December 2008
  • Chung, Shinyoung- Reviews- Artforum- December 2008, pp.321-322
  • Lin, Hongjohn- Exhibition Reveiws- www.art-it.jp October 2008
  • Leo Xu- ‘Pattern’- Visual Production- Vol.3, 2007, pp.60-69
  • Cornwell, Tim-‘In full bloom”-The Scotsman-Friday, August 10, 2007, pp. 12-13
  • Kolesnikov-Jessop, Sonia-‘Motif operandi’-Sunday Morning Post, Sunday, July 9, 2006
  • Hasegawa, Kanae-‘Couleur Locale’-Frame No 52, Sep/Oct, 2006, p.70
  • Maout, Christophe-‘Lyon Grand Angle’-Le Monde 2 No 84, September 24, 2005, p.58
  • Hou, Hanru-Interview- Yishu, Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art, Spring 2005, pp.55-62
  • Mahoney, Bronwyn-‘Lounging Apparatus Provided’-Art Asia Pacific No.41,Summer 2004, pp. 48-53
  • Jeffrey Hughes-Reviews-Contemporary, no. 65, 2004, p.67
  • Annette Tietenberg-“Wallflowers”-Form,197, July/August 2004, pp.36-43
  • Lily van Ginneken-‘Made in Taiwan’-Bloom, Issue11, 2004, pp.20-23
  • Lavrador, Judicael-‘Les Artistes s’etalent’-Beaux Arts Magazine,231,August 2003, pp.82-89
  • Mahoney, Bronwyn-‘Patterns of Thought: The Installation of Michael Lin’-Yishu, Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art, Spring 2003, pp.82-85
  • Tan, Eugene-‘Review, Liverpool Biennial, Pleasant Street Board School’-Contemporary, no. 10, October 2002, p.94
  • ML- ‘The art of deco’-Art Review, Vol.LIII, February 2002, pp.50-1
  • Davenport, Rhana- ‘The Sky is the limit’ –Art Asia Pacific, no.30, 2001, pp.20-2
  • Casavecchia, Barbara-‘Taipei Biennial’-Flash Art,Vol.33 , no.215, November-December 2000, p.103
  • Lloyd, Ann Wilson- ‘Reorienting: Japan rediscovers Asia’ – Art in America, Vol.87, no. 10, October 1999, pp.104-11
  • Bourne, Cecile- ‘Reviews:Taipei (Taiwan), Michael Lin, IT Park’ – Flash Art, Vol. 30, no.194, May-June 1997, p.124
  • Mcintyre, Sophie & Wang, Chia Chi Jason- ‘Taipei in entropy” Flash Art, Vol. 29, no.187, March-April 1996, pp.57-60

publication and other

  • ‘Place Libre’ a proposition by Michael Lin, Blackdog publishing, 2014 (essay by Mathieu Borysevicz)
  • ‘Graphic Anatomy 2 Atelier Bow-wow, TOTO, 2014
  • ‘China Talks, Interviews with 32 Contemporary Artist by Jerome Sans’, 2009, pp. 28-33
  • ‘Louis Vuitton Art, Fashion and Architecture’ Rizzoli, 2009, pp. 264-269
  • ‘In Production Mode, Contemporary Art In China’ Pauline J. Yao, Timezone8, 2008, pp. 99
  • ‘Patterns 2. Design, Art and Architecture’ Birkhauser, 2008, pp. 198-201
  • ‘DesignArt’ Alex Coles, Tate Publishing, 2005
  • ‘Patterns in Design, Art and Architecture’ Birkhauser, 2005, pp. 182-187
  • Domus no. 876, December 2004, pp. 44-45
  • ‘Vitamin P’ Phaidon Press, 2002
  • ‘Model Home’ Rock Bund Art Museum, 2012 (essays by Lai Hsiangling, Alexandra Munroe, Hou Hanru, Yuko Hasegawa, Pauline J. Yao, and Li Xiangning)
  • ‘Mingling’ Towada Art Center, 2011
  • ‘Michael Lin’ Vancouver Art Gallery/Hatje Cantz, 2010 (essays by Nicolas Bourriad, Bruce Grenville, Hou Hanru, Vivian Rehberg, and Annette Tietenberg)
  • ‘Island Life’ Eslite Gallery, Taipei, 2007 (essay by Eugene Tang and Jason Wong)
  • ‘Michael Lin Kunsthalle Wien project space 20.04-29.05.05’ Kunsthalle, Vienna , 2005 (interview by Gerald Matt/essay by Sabine Folie)
  • ‘Michael Lin’ Eslite Gallery, Taipei, 2004 (essay by Hong-John Lin)
  • ‘Michael Lin’ Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis, 2004 (essay by Shannon Fitzgerald and Frances Stark)
  • ‘Spaces Within, Installations by Michael Lin and Wu Mali’Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, 2004 (essay by Pauline J. Yao)
  • ‘Michael Lin’ Palais de Tokyo, site de creation contemporaine, 2002 (interview by Jerome Sans/essay by Vivian Rehberg )
  • ‘Bilbliothearapy’ (Remy Markowitsch in collaboration with Michael Lin) Villa Merkel-Galerien Der Stadt Esslingen Am Neckar, 2001 (essays by Alberto Manguel, Yvan Leclerc, Cornelia Saxes, and Antje Weitzel)
  • ‘Complimentary’ Dimension Endowment of Art, 1998 (essay and drawings by Frances Stark)

exhibition catalogues

  • ‘California Pacific Triennial’-OCMA- Newport Beach, CA, 2013- pp. 114-117
  • ‘If you where to live here…’- Auckland Triennial- New Zealand, 2013- pp. 60-63
  • ‘Open House’- Singapore Biennial- Singapore, 2011
  • ‘Le Spectacle du Quotidien’- X Lyon Biennial- Lyon, 2009-pp.168-171
  • Towada Art Center-Towada, 2008
  • ‘Space for your Future’-Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, 2007
  • ‘Schaurausch’- O.K.Centrum-Linz, 2007-pp.96-99
  • ‘Once Upon a Time…Contemporary Fairytale’-ARCOS-Benevento, 2006
  • ‘Surplus Value’-Tang Contemporary Art Center-Beijing, 2006
  • Hasegawa, Yuko-‘Notre Histoire-Palais de Tokyo-Paris, 2006
  • ‘Experience de la duree’-Lyon Biennial-Lyon, 2005-pp. 174-177
  • ‘Joy’-Casino Luxembourg-Luxembourg, 2005
  • ‘Createurs du Nouveau Monde’-The Biennial of Chinese Contemporary Art-Montpellier, 2005-pp.120-123
  • ‘The Elegance of Silence’-Mori Art Museum-Tokyo, 2005-pp. 122-125
  • ‘Polyphony-Emerging Resonances’-21st Century Museum of Cotemporary Art, Kanazawa, 2004- pp. 46-47
  • ‘Odyssey(s) 2004’-Shanghai Gallery of Art-Shanghai, 2004-pp 30-39
  • ‘Flowerpower’-Lille 2004, 2004-pp.154-159
  • ‘Crossed Lines, New Territories of Design’-Centre for Contemporary Culture of Barcelona, 2003-pp. 24-26
  • Bourne, Cecile-‘Montemedio Arte Contemporaneo’-NMAC, 2003-pp. 34-39Hsu, Manray-‘How big is the world?’-O.K. Center for Contemporary Arts, 2002-pp. 80-87
  • Thorpe, David-‘International 2002’-Liverpool Biennial, 2002-pp. 96-99
  • Davenport, Rhana-‘Asia Pacific Triennial’-Queensland Art Gallery, 2002-pp. 70-73
  • Hou, Hanru-‘Asianvibe’-Espai d’Art Contemporani de Castello, 2002
  • Hsu, Manray-‘Urgent Painting’- Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 2002- pp. 86-89
  • Hou, Hanru-‘ARS 01’-Kiasma Museum, 2001- pp. 142-143
  • Mahoney, Bronwyn-‘Egofugal’-Istanbul Biennial, 2001-pp.128-129
  • Kao, Chien-hui-‘Living Cell’-Venice Biennial, Taiwan Pavilion, 2001-pp.30-39
  • ‘The Sky is the Limit’-Taipei Biennial-Taipei Fine Arts Museum, 2000-pp. 78-81
  • Shih, Jui Jen-‘Fukuoka Asian Art Triennial’- Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, 1999- page 94
  • Bourne, Cecile-‘Tu Parles/J’ecoute’-Taipei Fine Arts Museum, 1998- pp. 66-69