|文 / Bronwyn Mahoney
'I never understood how people can be lax about choosing sofas.'
Michael Lin could never be accused of laxness when it comes to the quality of his lounging apparatus. His large-scale installations, paintings designed to transform spaces and shift the audiences' viewing position, create forums of interchange, where comfort is conducive to thought.
In her monologue accompanying Lin's first solo exhibition 'Complementary', Frances Stark muses on the comfort of her couch, of divisions between public and domestic spaces. She places herself within Michael's life, discussing the books she flips through in his home, their conversations. As his work invites people into the painting, writing about Michael Lin's work invites similar 'within' thinking. It was while I was lying on Michael Lin's sofa that he told me of a performance of Eric Satie's 'Vexations', a minimalist 16-bar phrase piano solo, repeated 840 times.
He was intrigued by the time-span – some performances have lasted more than twenty-four hours. He described the bodies of listeners, lying on the floor, leaning against the wall, their comings and goings, unbounded from the constraints of a theatre. 'Vexations'' extended, repetitive performance supplies the audience with unusual freedom. From an invitation to one performance:
"to come and go at their leisure, shaping the experience of the piece according to their own interests and whims. Pillows and other lounging apparatus will be provided."
Just as there is no one correct place or time from which to hear Satie's music, there is no prescribed position from which to approach Lin's work, the physical painting, installation, nor the ideas they are created from and generate. The positional hierarchies for 'receiving' culture have lain down.
With his melding of history painting's scale and the subject of still lives, and his conceptual encompassing of the audience within the work, Lin's art could be inscribed into history in many ways. He has noted pop as an influence -- it can be seen in the subject, in the flat, block colors. It could be related to the shifting of the canvas practised by the Abstract Expressionists, or minimalism's spatial investigations. All of these approaches could hold an amount of truth, but none would capture the multiplicity of Lin's own vocabulary.
From the age of nine, Lin lived in Los Angeles, returning to Taiwan in 1996, at the same time the nativist movement was investigating Taiwan's national identity. Taiwanese New Wave cinema of the 1980s and 90s offered him a line to negotiating his history. Its questions echoed his, as he found a culture both familiar and distant.
Lin began painting the patterns from fabrics in his Taipei apartment, patterns remembered from the home of his grandfather in central Taiwan's countryside. The brightly colored, floral textiles, domesticated from nature, were again remediated, becoming still lives. Now the motifs were part of public space, and while seen though close focus, they retained the warmth to transform spaces.
With the close-up, space expands; with slow motion, movement is extended. The enlargement of a snapshot does not simply render more precise what in any case was visible, though unclear; it reveals entirely new structural formations of the subject.
Lin's work have an anti-monumental attitude, though those he is best known for are monumental in scale – the impressive bird's eye view of his work overlaying the Richard Meier's City Hall in the Hague. almost begs for this description. In this difference, between scale and attitude, Lin creates places for people to meet and interact.
The large floral patterns are sensory overload, with their voluptuous petals, rich colors. Even without knowing their domestic, textile genealogy, the paintings are sensual, enlivening spaces and bodies. Patterns deliver sensuality to the eye, pleasure in the familiar and repetitive. They contain their own end and their own continuance – infinite and finite. They are stopped only by the edges, arbitrary demarcations, creating boundaries, visual and emotional, but without depth. Without depth it is hard to move – those mornings when all you can see from your bed is steel gray sky - no shapes, no way of judging, impossible to mediate. Patterns create edges, parenthesis.
Nobody has ever noticed a place except at a time, or a time except at a place
It is only by their punctuating the space with their lines that definition is found. Lin additionally defines the works in spatial/temporal terms – the titles are the site and installation dates - Taipei Fine Arts Museum: Sept. 9, 2000 – Jan. 7, 2001; Atrium Stadhuis Den Haag 12 juli t/m 8 september 2002; Palais de Tokyo, 21-01-2002/21-12-2002; I.C.A. 2001.5.27-8.26. The dates act as parenthesis, bracketing the event, and the acts within it.
Movement breaks up time –if something isn't happening, time seems to go that much slower. Events break up the exhibition period, either organised by the artist or the venue – dinner parties in the Palais de Tokyo, for example – or the everyday occurrences of people traversing the works as they go about their day – the Hague City Hall. These gatherings, and traversings, bring the people who complete the work.
To capture the sense of space and time being melded, rather than independent entities, physicists often describe places, actions and moments in history, as 'events', locating them in the fabric of space-time. Einstein's mathematics teacher – "space by itself, and time by itself are doomed to fade away into mere shadows, and only a kind of union of the two will preserve an independent reality."
The idea fits around Lin's work – objects and experiences need to be placed in the fabric of time and space to become memories. Lin is interested in the passage of time – his first solo show, in 1998, used timed photography, every twelve minutes during opening hours, to capture the space, showing changes in light and people moving through.
Buildings are appropriated in a twofold manner: by use and by perception – or rather, by touch and sight. … On the tactile side there is no counterpart to contemplation on the optical side. Tactile appropriation is accomplished not so much by attention as by habit.
And recalling the people, events that have moved through before. In Platform for the 2001 Istanbul Biennial, Lin referred to the history of Hagia Eirene, the fourth-century church in which he created his work.. Among its incarnations, the church has served as an arsenal and a military museum, a martial past suggested in the camouflage-covered cushions spread over the floral surface of Platform.
With Grind, Lin reminds us that PS1 stands for, stood for, Public School 1. Transforming the café into a flower-patterned skate ramp, the architectural space shifts, physically bent up the wall. And our mind shifts to the flow of skating –
To grind the copping, the lip on the top edge of the swimming pool, and as for ramps usually a still pipe is place on the top to making a copping
On top of this Grind, the cafe continues its daily existence. In bending the functionality of spaces in some cases – the cathedral in Istanbul – or making their presence different, like the Palais de Tokyo - there is a desire to create an awareness of the audience's own bodies, their physicality. Their presence creates, completes the work. These layers of meaning, relationships are the work.
Cut out doors and windows in order to make a room. Adapt the nothing therein to the purpose in hand, and you will have the use of the room.
Thus what we gain is Something, yet it is by virtue of Nothing that this can be put to use.
The notion of creating spaces for contemplation ties into Lin's longheld interest in Chinese gardens. Unlike European gardens, the philosophy behind Chinese garden design decrees the creation of discrete spaces, spaces that may mirror another place, frame a vista or provide a locale for contemplation.
Chinese gardens were designed by artists and poets, as spiritual utopias, closer to nature, reflecting the designers own heart. They were designed so their actual size could not be determined from any point. Rather, they were framed to resemble scenes, reminiscent of, or sometimes directly copied from, Chinese landscape painting.
Space does not equal emptiness in traditional Eastern art. The perceived nothing is full, as Western science has only recently allowed. While the design of European gardens is concerned with filling up the available space, Chinese garden design is more architectural, creating spaces within spaces.
It is the empty space which makes a place functional. As in Chinese landscape painting, you are in the space, not looking at it from the outside.
The meandering lines that intersect and connect Lin's work are personal, historical and theoretical, weaving between domestic history and public transformations. These disparate lines do not define Michael Lin as any type of bridge between East and West.
Where do we exist in relation to the work? Where do we walk in, out, stand, sit or lie? Where does it put our mind, and when?
Michael Lin's pieces do not need writing to make people smile; they do not need to know the history of the cloths to feel the sensation of being touched; they do not need to know anything of Einstein's special theory of relativity to sense the spatial manipulations, the turning of space into mass by creating definitions. The work encompass the paradox of the object and its context as the place of meaning. The works are digressions within the 'usual' life of spaces, leaving us free, as does Satie’s music, to find our own position.
 Harumi Murakami, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, trans. Alfred Bimbaum, Vintage: New York, 1993, p.45
 Frances Stark, 'The Architect & the Housewife', in Complementary – A solo exhibition by Michael Lin, Dimension Endowment of Art: Taipei, 1998. The title of this exhibition is variously written as 'complimentary' and 'complementary', including within the catalogue.
 Written in 1893, 'Vexations' was not performed until 1949, in an event organised by John Cage. All information from the Eric Satie website: http://www.af.lu.se/~fogwall/intro.html
 From a performance announcement at The Kitchen, New York - http://www.af.lu.se/~fogwall/vexation.html
 'The other side: An interview of Michael Lin by Jérôme Sans', Michael Lin Palais de Tokyo, 21-01-2002/21-12-2002, Palais de Tokyo, site de création contemporaine, Paris, 2002.
 Walter Benjamin, 'The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction', Illuminations, trans. Harry Zorn, Pimlico: London, 1999, p.229.
 Traditionally in Taiwan such fabrics were used for matrimonial duvet covers and can also be seen in the countryside, worn as head scarves.
 Hermann Minkowski, in a 1908 lecture in Cologne. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minkowski
 Sten Odenwald, Ask the Astronomer, http://www.astronomycafe.net/qadir/q411.html
 Minkowski, opcit.
 Benjamin, p.233.
 Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, Book One, XI, trans. D.C. Lau, Penguin Books: London, 1963, p.67.
 Email from the artist to the author, 5 January, 2003.