Bound Unbound: Lin Tianmiao
One of Lin Tianmiao’s clearest recollections of her childhood in China was helping her mother sew clothes for the family. When she returned to China after spending eight years living in New York, she was inspired by this memory to create a technique she calls thread winding, where she winds silk or cotton thread around an object until it is completely covered and ultimately transformed. She used this in one of her first major works called The Proliferation of Thread Winding in 1995, which began her career as an artist and is included in the exhibition. Her use of the technique continues today and can be seen in such recent works as All the Same.
Lin Tianmiao’s paintings, sculptures, and installations have always been about a series of dual tensions. These are frequently played out in her works through contrasts between materials, but they are also evident in binary themes such as male versus female, function versus form, and physical versus psychological experience. Underlying all of these themes is a keen exploration of a physical experience, at times emphasizing the female body. We see this in the works Chatting and Mothers!!!.
Lin is one of only a handful of women artists of her generation born in the 1960s to have emerged during the 1990s when the Chinese art world was coming of age and gaining substantial international recognition. Her works over the past twenty years are as much about her personal journey as an artist as they are about a desire to articulate broader social issues. Through her focus on a female experience, she comments on the enormous social progress made in Chinese society during Mao Zedong’s tenure, yet she hints that some promises remain unfulfilled. Her consistent exploration of these issues, sometimes latent, makes her a significant artist of our time. This exhibition represents Lin Tianmiao’s first major solo exhibition in the United States.
Bound Unbound: Lin Tianmiao is part of Asia Society's yearlong programmatic focus on China, titled China Close Up.
The Proliferation of Thread Winding | Bound and Unbound |Spawn | Chatting | All the Same
This exhibition comprises a selection of works spanning the artist’s prolific career from 1995–present. Many of the works have never been seen outside of China and several are new works on view for the first time.
Proliferation of Thread Winding, 1995
Photo © Michael Bodycomb
One of the highlights of the collection is the artist’s very first mature work, The Proliferation of Thread Winding, from 1995. This work was created shortly after the artist’s return to Beijing after living in New York from 1986–1995 with her husband, the artist Wang GongXin. The installation features a bed pierced by 20,000 needles connected to some 20,000 raw cotton thread balls resting on the floor. A video monitor embedded in the pillow loops an image of the artist’s hands endlessly winding a ball of thread, emphasizing the monotony of domestic labor.
Bound and Unbound, 1997
Photo © Michael Bodycomb
Another seminal work from this period is Bound and Unbound, from 1997. The artist created this work in reaction to her culture shock of returning to a Beijing that was very changed from the one she left almost a decade previously. Lin felt that many of the societal changes she experienced during this transition home were reflected in the everyday objects around her. In reaction, the artist chose to bind these items with thread using her signature technique of thread winding. This work was first shown in the United States as part of the Inside Out: New Chinese Art exhibition organized by Asia Society in 1998.
The female body, often represented by the artist’s own body, is a reoccurring motif within the artist’s practice over the past decade. Spawn, a full frontal nude self-portrait, is significant as the first moment where Lin’s signature cotton thread balls begin to appear as appendages protruding from the surface of the canvas. These balls are meant to allude to a connection between the internal and external elements of the body. In many of these self-portraits the artist represents herself without hair in an attempt to blur the boundary between genders.
Photo © Michael Bodycomb
In later works, such as Chatting from 2004, the artist’s focus shifts on the inevitable metamorphosis of the body experienced through the aging process. This new focus reflects the artist’s own experience as a woman acknowledging her fading youth. In this work six full figured female figures are joined in a circle and connected by thin, tenuous threads. An animated soundtrack acts as a metaphor for the intimate relationship between women.
All the Same, 2011
Most recently, the artist has been preoccupied with the internal structure of the body. Her use of bones is best exemplified by the 2011 work All the Same. In this work the artist represents every bone in the human body categorized from largest to smallest. They are wrapped with the thread winding technique, however instead of the raw cotton, these bones are swathed in a brilliant spectrum of silk threads, the ends of which spill to the floor.
Lin Tianmiao was born in Taiyuan Shanxi Province, China, in 1961. She studied Fine Arts at Capital Normal University in Beijing, and then at the Art Students League in New York. For nearly a decade she and her husband, artist Wang GongXin, lived in New York City, where she designed textiles until the couple moved back to Beijing in 1994. Working across installation, sculpture, photography, paper, and video, Lin Tianmiao’s work has been included in numerous local and international exhibitions, such as: Focus: Works on Paper, Long March Space, Beijing, China, 2008; Global Feminisms, Brooklyn Museum, New York, 2007; About Beauty, House of World Cultures, Berlin, Germany, 2005; Mahjong: Works from the Sigg Collection, Kunstmuseum, Bern, Switzerland, 2005; Between Past and Future, International Center of Photography, New York; Asia Society Museum, New York; and Smart Museum, Chicago, 2004.
1984, BFA, Capital Normal University, Beijing
1989, Art Students League, New York
Selected Solo Exhibitions
The Same, Beijing Center for the Arts, Beijing, China
The Constructed Dimension—2010 Chinese Contemporary Art Invitational Exhibition, National Art Museum of China, Beijing, China
Audi A5 Popcorn—The Art of Lin Tianmiao, Audi Art Design Award Opening, Beijing, China
Gazing Back: The Art of Lin Tianmiao, OCT Contemporary Art Terminal of He Xiangning Art Museum, Shanghai, China
Mother’s!!!, Long March Space, Beijing, China
Focus, Long March Space, Beijing, China
Visions de Paysages, JGM Gallery, Paris, France
Focus, Singapore Tyler Print Institute, Singapore
Seeing Shadow, Art & Public Gallery, Geneva, Switzerland Loft Gallery, Paris, France
Non Zero, Tokyo Art Project, Beijing, China
Focus, The Courtyard Gallery, Beijing, China
Bound and Unbound, The Central Academy of Fine Arts(CAFA) Gallery, Beijing, China
Open Studio, Baofang Hutong 12#, Beijing, China
Selected Group Exhibitions
JUNGLE: A Close-up Focus on Chinese Contemporary Art Trends, Platform China, Beijing, China
Over Six Hundred Choices, Arrow Factory, Beijing, China
Art in Use: Sculptural Objects, Hong Kong Arts Center, Hong Kong, China
Metropolis Now! A Selection of Chinese Contemporary Art, Meridian International Center, Washington D.C.
The State of Things—Brussels/Beijing, Center for Fine Art, Brussels
Our Future: The Guy and Myriam Ullens Foundation Collection, UCCA, Beijing, China
Where Are We?, Beijing Center for the Arts, Beijing, China
Four Season Group Exhibition, Zhejiang Academy of Art, Hongzhou, China
Half Life of a Dream: Contemporary Chinese Art from the Logan Collection, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco
Beijing–Athens: Contemporary Art from China, Grace NationalContemporary Art Center, Athens, Greece
Multiplex: Directions in Art, 1970 to Now, Museum of Modern Art, New York
Global Feminism, Brooklyn Museum, New York
Asian Contemporary Art in Print, Asia Society and Museum, New York
Asian Contemporary Art in Print, The Gallery of Singapore Tyler Print Institute (STPI), Singapore
Martell Artist of the Year 2006, National Gallery of China, Beijing, China
Rapt: Austral-Asia Zero Five, Sherman Galleries, Sydney, Australia
About Beauty, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, Germany
Shanghai Cool—Creative Reproduction, Shanghai Duolun Museum of Modern Art, Shanghai, China
The New Works of Wang GongXin and Lin Tianmiao, Courtyard Gallery Annex, Beijing, China
Mahjong:Works from the Sigg Collection, Kunstmuseum Bern, Switzerland
Xianfeng! Chinese Avant-Garde Sculpture, Museum Beelden aan Zee, The Hague, The Netherlands
Fairy Tales Forever, ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum, Denmark
Between Past and Future, International Center of Photographey, New York; Asia Society Museum, New York; Museum of Modern Art, Chicago
Concrete Horizons, Adam Art Gallery, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand
Officina Asia, Gallery d’Arte Moderna, Bologna, Italy
Regeneration: Contemporary Chinese Art from China and the US, Samek Art Gallery, Bucknell University, Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles Gwang Ju Biennale, Gwang Ju, Korea
Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale, Japan
Arles Photography Art Festival, Arles, France
New Zone Chinese Art, Zacheta National Art Gallery, Warsaw, Poland
Imagined Workshop: Second Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Japan
Pause: Fourth Gwang Ju Biennale, Gwang Ju, Korea
Ireland Biennale, Ireland
Urban Creation: Shanghai Biennale, Shanghai Art Museum, China
Guang Zhou Triennale, Guang Zhou Art Museum, China
Shout on the Face, Earl Lu Gallery Lasalle-Sia College of the Art Singapore
The New Media Art Festival: Non-Linear Narrative, The Gallery of National Academy of Art, Hong Zhou, China
Threads of Vision: Toward a New Feminine Poetics, Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art, Ohio
Floating Chimeras, Edsvik Konst Och Kultur, Sweden
Translated Acts, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, Germany; Queens Museum of Art, New York
The New Works of Wang GongXin & Lin Tianmiao, The Loft New Media Art Space, Beijing, China
The Digital Art Festival, The Loft New Media Art Space, Beijing, China
At the New Century 1979–1999: China Contemporary Art, Chengdu Museum of Contemporary Art, Chengdu, China
Inside/Out New Chinese Art, National Gallery of Australia, New South Wales, Australia
Home? Contemporary Art Project, Shanghai, China
Inside/Out New Chinese Art, The Hong Kong Museum of Contemporary Art, Hong Kong, China
Bed/Chair, Xuxian Art Center, Taipei, Taiwan
Beijing in London, Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), London
The Second Yearlong Contemporary Sculpture Exhibition, He Xiang Ning Art Museum, Shen Zhen, China
Inside/Out New Chinese Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco
Magnetic Writing / Marching Ideas: Works on Paper, IT Park Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan
Cologne–Beijing/Beijing–Cologne: Exchange Exhibition, Gothaer Kunstforum, Cologne, Germany
Inside/Out: New Chinese Art, The Mexico Museum of Contemporary Art, Mexico City, Mexico
Food for Thought: An Insight in Chinese Contemporary Art, Mu Art Foundation, The Netherlands
Mark of Existence: Art Workshop in Process, Beijing, China
Woman—Century, National Gallery of China, Beijing, China
Life: Contemporary Chinese Art, Wan Fung Art Gallery, Beijing, China
Neo Lagoon: Contemporary Art of North East Asia, The Niigata Prefectural Museum, Japan
Inside/Out: New Chinese Art, Asia Society, New York; P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York
Crack in the Continent, The Watari Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, Japan
Fifth International Istanbul Biennale, Istanbul, Turkey
Between Ego and Society, Artermesia Gallery, Chicago
Another Long March, Chasse Kazerme, Breda, The Netherlands
Against the Tide, The Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York
Demonstration of Video Art, The Gallery of Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing, China
File NO.1—Conceptual Documents for Impossible Art, SoHo Biennale, New York
Woman’s Approach to Contemporary Art, Beijing Art Museum, Beijing, China
Chinese Women’s Artists Invitation Show, National Gallery of China, Beijing, China
Group Show, Ground Gallery, Los Angeles
Group Show, City Gallery, Courtland, New York
Beijing Youth Painting Exhibition, National Gallery of China, Beijing, China
Youth Artist Association Show, National Gallery of China, Beijing, China
Beijing Youth Painting Exhibition, Liulichang, Beijing
“All Good Things Are Frail: Lin Tianmiao in Conversation with Lu Jie,” Yishu: Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art, November–December 2008.
Mother’s!!!. Beijing: Long March Space, 2008.
Butler, Cornelia, Griselda Pollock, and Alexandra Schwartz. Modern Women: Women Artists at the Museum of Modern Art. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2010.
Chiu, Melissa. “By a Thread,” Modern Painters, September 2010.
Chiu, Melissa. “Thread, Concrete, and Ice: Women’s Installation Art in China,” Art Asia Pacific, 1998.
Goodman, Jonathan. “Lin Tianmiao Long March Space,” Sculpture Magazine, May–June 2010.
Heartney, Eleanor. “Life after History,” in Half-Life of a Dream: Contemporary Chinese Art from the Logan Collection. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008.
Huang, Zhuan. “Gazing Back: A New Aesthetics of Gender,” in Gazing Back: The Art of Lin Tianmiao. China: OCT Contemporary Art Terminal of He Xiangning Art Museum, 2009.
Li, Pi. Here? Or There?: Wang GongXin and Lin Tianmiao. China: Timezone 8 Ltd., 2005.
Li, Pi and Karen Smith. Lin Tianmiao: Non Zero. China: Timezone 8 Ltd., 2004.
Marcoci, Roxana. “Lin Tianmiao,” in Threads of Vision: Toward a New Feminine Poetic. Cleveland: Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art, 2001.
In the News
Wrapping Up China's Ambitions: Lin Tianmiao makes objects that question her country's industrial boom - The Wall Street Journal, August 24, 2012
Chinese Art Star Lin Tianmiao Brings Her Unsettling Textile Environments to Asia Society - ArtInfo.com, September 5, 2012
Anyone who thinks that contemporary Chinese art is just a canon of male oil painters should experience the work of Lin Tianmiao - Time Out New York, September 24, 2012
A hypnotic retrospective of the work of an artist who uses traditional crafts to create surrealistic meditations on femininity - Financial Times, October 3, 2012
Download Press Release in English (PDF)
Download the Press Release in Simplified Chinese (PDF)
For more Asia Society press releases click here.
Major support for this exhibition is provided by The Coby Foundation, Ltd., Carol and David Appel, Artron, Joleen and Mitchell Julis, and the W. L. S. Spencer Foundation.
Additional support is provided by Will and Helen Little and Sarah Peter. With special thanks to Galerie Lelong.
Support for Asia Society Museum is provided by the Partridge Foundation, a John and Polly
Guth Charitable Fund; Asia Society Contemporary Art Council; Asia Society Friends of Asian
Arts; Arthur Ross Foundation; Sheryl and Charles R. Kaye Endowment for Contemporary Art
Exhibitions; Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller Fund; National Endowment for the Humanities;
Hazen Polsky Foundation; New York State Council on the Arts; and the New York City
Department of Cultural Affairs.
Asia Society Museum Staff
Melissa Chiu, Museum Director and Senior Vice President, Global Arts and Cultural Programs
Marion Kocot, Director, Museum Operations
Nancy Blume, Head of Museum Education Programs
Clare McGowan, Collections Manager and Registrar
Laili Paksima, Manager, Global Events and Special Initiatives
Adriana Proser, John H. Foster Senior Curator for Traditional Asian Art
Jacob M. Reynolds, Registrar
Donna Saunders, Executive Assistant
Kevin Stapp, Installation Manager
Kate Williamson, Museum Publications Coordinator
Michelle Yun, Curator, Modern and Contemporary Art
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