Lot 1172
  • 1172

Lin Tianmiao

550,000 - 700,000 HKD
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  • Lin Tianmiao
  • Initiator
  • fiberglass and silk
signed in Chinese, titled in English, dated 2004 and numbered 1/3


Generally in good condition.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Lin Tianmiao's use of thread is central to her artistic practice. Known for working with thread made from all sorts of materials—cotton, mohair, synthetic wig hair—and in both sculptural and photo-based media, Lin has moved in her recent practice towards an intuitive inwardness, incorporating the female figure (sometimes her own) into scenarios of a mythical nature. Initiator (Lot 1172) seems to nod in the direction of the Western fairytale, making use of common stories, much as one finds in the work of American artist Kiki Smith. In Lin's installation, we see a nude woman standing before a large frog; the frog holds a long expanse of hair that falls from the woman's head and body as though it were a veil. The woman stands in what seems a meditative pose, looking down through the delicate strands at her improbable companion. A white, silk floral pattern covers the skin of both woman and frog, lending to the piece an exquisite surface that is matched in color and texture by the strange strands joining the figures.


Lin has created a scene of fabulous intuition using a figurative or realist approach to a story that we may or may not know. Lin's tableau begs a narrative reading, and for Westerners, it may bring to mind the story of Rapunzel letting down her hair, or that of the frog-prince whose identity changes with a magic kiss. But while the work seems to embody some such scene from a literary source, it may well be one of Lin's imagination.


Mythic narrative is a reality of the imagination, in which the actions of protagonists achieve a symbolic significance that defines moral behavior. In Initiator, the beauty of the young woman is openly evident, her stance seeming to welcome what lies before her, as though she is an emblem of purity, promise and future accomplishment. The bumpy frog who holds the figure's veil as though leading her towards her initiation might signify the vicissitudes of the real world, which the lovely girl must face in order to make good her convictions. The combination of the young woman's physical attractiveness with the unsightly, oversized frog suggests a deliberate juxtaposition on the artist's part, which she has nevertheless unified by means of their beautiful surfaces. Lin may well be appropriating fairy-tale imagery in order to invest the work with a meaningfulness that is greater than the sum of its parts. Both exquisite objects encased in fabric, the woman and the frog are players in a story that Lin's viewers must imagine for themselves.


In another body of work, entitled Signal (ref. Chinese Contemporary Art Sale Part II), the artist has photographed hands in a variety of expressive positions. In the work on offer, a right hand reaches horizontally across the picture plane, its thumb pressed against the index finger, which hides the middle finger from view. The ring and pinky fingers extend outward, and Lin's viewer may deduce that she proposes a mudra, or symbolic gesture with the hand's configuration; that is, the configuration of the fingers may represent a ritual sign. The black-and-white photograph of the image, printed on wool felt, captures the lines and folds of the palm and fingers, giving the image a greater sculptural complexity. The hand is a wonderfully expressive part of the human body, and in this body of work Lin presents images that are strong as both abstractions and as deeply personal figuration. The compositional balance of the work is accordingly a conflation of contrasts and oppositions synthesized into a quiet, even meditative image.


Although Lin usually works independently, she has also collaborated with her husband, Wang Gongxin, the celebrated video artist, for the body of work entitled Here? Or There? (ref. Chinese Contemporary Art Sale Part II),  which was first seen at the Shanghai Art Museum in that city's 2002 biennial. While Wang, too, generally works independently, the two artists share a contemplative tone in their diverse practices. The collaboration Here? Or There? was conceived in response to curator Pi Li's desire to include both artists in the 2002 exhibition despite constraints on the number of Chinese artist whose work could be shown. As the theme of the biennial was Urban Creation, Lin and Wang chose to show a sequence of videos highlighting changes in the architectural fabric of contemporary China. The black-and-white videos show environments representative of the experience of Beijing and its environs: traditional hutongs that are fast disappearing as the city modernizes; the rubble of destroyed buildings; recent building construction; and images of nature itself.


The artists conceived the videos as a team; then Wang, acting as editor, incorporated pictures of ethereal women in a light-blue shade wearing fantastical costumes, as well as bustling city traffic that momentarily overruns the ongoing imagery. The artists also worked collaboratively on the models' costumes, the decorative elements of which reference shapes and material used elsewhere in Lin's work. Industrial materials flesh out these other-worldly garments, which consist of high-collar dresses decorated with the Styrofoam balls, or gossamer ruffles of synthetic materials, or strange tubular forms. In the portfolio of photographs offered, the scenes consist mostly of empty fields and ruined houses. The eccentric costumes of the pearlescent female figures emphasize the strangeness of the human presence in the decrepit landscape, as though these ghost-like figures are visiting from another time.


Although the images unfold in sequence, they form no coherent narrative one can follow from beginning to end. Instead, they together suggest a general tone of loss, a story of spiritual transformation, or perhaps regression, in which time is no less out of joint than the relationship between mankind and the natural world. In this entropic atmosphere, nature itself seems to have become dysfunctional in conjunction with the architectural destruction, and the pale female figures seem to perform rituals mourning the loss of land to a burgeoning populace.


One remembers that Wang and Lin abandoned downtown Beijing a number of years ago for a distant suburb that had previously been farmland. And perhaps there is some reflection of their own personal history in Here? Or There? Although one might read the work as in some way autobiographical or the female figures themselves as ghosts from another time, whether past or future, definitive interpretations are eclipsed by the sheer oddness of the scenes. While China's recent transformations resonate throughout Here? Or There?, the visual non sequiturs proposed by Wang and Lin suggest this world exists in the domain of their fertile poetic imaginations.