Atelier Michael Lin

What a difference a day made

David Ho Yeung Chan

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 breath.

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.