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.

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Exhibition Highlights

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.


Spawn, 2001


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.


Chatting, 2004

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.

About the Artist

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 19791999: 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

Selected Bibliography

“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.


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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