In studies of contemporary Chinese art, Lin Tianmiao’s work has been overwhelmingly discussed in terms of women’s crafts and maternal roles. Citing her use of embroidery and the female figure, these interpretations have led to broad and often simplified characterizations of her work as “women’s art.” In focusing exclusively on symbolic allusions to gender representation, these discussions overlook the possibility of more complex narratives arising from Lin’s artistic concerns. By starting from the formal, material, and spatial components of her work, this article reveals how Lin has enacted penetrating investigations into manifestations of resistance and tension between physical forms and objects. Replete with taut lines and trembling vibrations, her work scrutinizes the nature of her materials, their limitations, and relationships among different parts of an installation. By tracing such formal and spatial devices, this article reveals three central topics at the heart of Lin’s oeuvre: the insufficiency of language, the urgency of form, and latent visibility. The exploration of these abstract concepts helps us move away from overt symbolic readings of her materials. These topics help show how Lin uses her art as tactics of intervention for interrogating practices of classification in contemporary Chinese art. As such, this article does not discount commentary on identity or gender but, rather, allows for richer, interrelated frameworks for understanding both her work and how it has been historically treated.
Tensile Strength: Threads of Resistance in Lin Tianmiao’s Art
Peggy Wang is assistant professor of art history and Asian studies at Bowdoin College. Her work has appeared in Art Journal and Journal of Art Historiography and on the Museum of Modern Art’s Post blog. Her forthcoming book traces how contemporary Chinese artists sought to redefine art for themselves and as claims for global engagement.
Peggy Wang; Tensile Strength: Threads of Resistance in Lin Tianmiao’s Art. positions 1 February 2020; 28 (1): 121–144. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10679847-7913080
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