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 × 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