2011 ● Solo show. Public privacy:Solo show@ White Box Art Museum/ Beijing Curated by Gu Zhenqing
Public privacy: Lin jingjing's works
Gu Zhen Qing
Public privacy usually refers to individual privacy and privacy rights in public settings. Privacy refers to concealed, non-public affairs. Individual privacy touches on individual rights and an individual’s secrets, things that have nothing to do with other people. Individual information, private affairs and the individual realm are things that the individual is unwilling to reveal to others, or to have others intervene in; these are privacy rights. In today’s globalized, networked world, individual privacy and privacy rights are in danger. A side effect of technological progress has been that the public sphere is no longer limited to physical public spaces. Public information platforms, urban surveillance systems, internet monitoring, candid street photography, human flesh search engines and hacker attacks have all become methods, both positive and negative, for breaking down the boundaries of privacy. This has made individual privacy increasingly transparent, something that the public can give or take away, something that can be revealed at any time.
With her feminine sensitivity, Lin Jingjing has found within her own childhood an anxiety derived from individual memories and privacy. She has become aware of individual privacy’s inability to resist the public world. When individual privacy encounters the public setting, it faces the danger of being invaded or swallowed up at any moment. As an artist Lin Jingjing’s societal role is to create artworks, present them and reveal their secret import. The artistic exhibition space is a fully exposed stage, a completely public setting that every artist must face. For this reason, the weakness or danger of individual privacy alluded to by the concept of public privacy has become the focus of Lin’s insight into the relationship between the individual and society.
In November 2009, the Song Zhuang Art Museum exhibited Lin’s 2007-2009 installation series I want to be with You Forever and Never Apart. These works used hundreds of wedding photographs taken from wedding photography studios and the artist’s friends as social survey visual research material. Lin’s photographic alteration techniques were low-tech, manual, even crudely interventionist. In each photograph, she forcefully removed one of the people from each of these intimate spaces and placed them into different spaces. In I want to be with You Forever, Lin used miniature toy wedding beds. These identical European-style white wire-mesh wedding beds bore obvious traits of the consumerist culture inherent to China’s social transformation. She took the five inch wedding photos, with one person removed, and sewed them into the fine wire mesh of the toy bed, while the other person from the photo was sewn alone onto the canopy of the bed, directly above its cutout silhouette. Since the two images were aligned, when the viewer looked down from above, the two subjects of the wedding photograph were still together, albeit separated by a fine wire mesh. In Never Apart, Lin used cheap compact mirrors. The external casing of the compact mirror is a joyful image of a peony flower over a red background, and the edges are lined with gold geometric markings. The brides and grooms of the wedding photos have been placed on opposing sides of the mirrors in their original positions. With the mirrors open to 90 or 100 degree angles, it appears as if the brides and grooms have been reunited in their reflections. Lin uses the dismantlement of these wedding photos to express her skeptical attitude on the union and disunion of male and female relationships in the contemporary marriage. The use of hundreds of tiny wedding photographs of unknown couples represents a grand narrative of size and scale. Another trait of public privacy emerges through the constant probing of Lin Jingjing’s artistic imagery. These countless private photographs of men and women, owing to their repetitive poses, stiff postures and identical expressions, have been wiped of individuality, and for this reason it does not amount to the exposure or revelation of any particular individual identities. Public privacy is also a process of the formatting of privacy. If the private subjective is not brazen, and the public does not track down individual cases, then the monotone individual privacy is submerged within the planned and designed social realm. Though this individual privacy repeatedly emerges in the public setting, it blurs the public gaze to the point where it is no longer seen.
In her early years, Lin Jinjing concentrated her efforts on painting, creating oil paintings of skirts and signs with a freehand technique. As she honed her artistic practices, Lin，as a woman artist, she often experimented with inserting once tightly held private details of life into her works, presenting them to public society through metaphor and symbolism. In fact, within the artist’s experiences, not only the body’s characteristics, private life and private habits but even private diary entries, photo albums and communications, all of these things that belong to the realm of privacy rights, become a series of convenient and rich resources that the contemporary artistic spirit cannot ignore. If self-concealment is the right of the individual, then self-exposure and self-expression are also individual rights. For this reason, Lin has been trying to break the taboos of privacy to look upon the self and the world truthfully and objectively. She is bent on forcing certain individual privacies to encounter the public sphere and become public privacies.
From 2001-2002, Lin engaged in a year-long photographic diary series entitled My 365 Days. She placed the hairs that fell out of her head each day into a bowl and took a photograph as documentation. What appeared to be a random stream of photographs was actually marked by temporal qualities, laying bare a woman artist’s sense of helplessness and emotion in the face of her passing youth. The lack of emotion found in the simplicity and unity of the image style evokes traditional aesthetic imagery of the unforgiving march of time. This exposure of privacy and her cool attitude towards the brutal reality of one’s fading youth are things that come from Lin’s heart. This led her to a deeper understanding of more contemporary art concepts and opened up new means of expression.
Afterwards, Lin Jingjing’s painting language grew more open. Her Diptych series of 2005-2007 recreated public images that were popular during the Cultural Revolution, and brought them into the imagescape of everyday life as flourishing touches in the foregrounds or backgrounds of figure paintings. This individualized reproduction or transplantation of public images from history is perhaps linked the artist’s personal memories. With their lack of defining traits and their Cultural Revolution-era clothing, the figures become striking collective memories. It was precisely this call to remembrance and cultural introspection that brought Lin’s diptychs beyond expressive forms and towards the conceptual.
The 2007-2008 photographic series I Want to Fly was an effort to bring her individual creations on the track to systemization. It was as if she directed, shot and produced a group performance art piece. She repeatedly set up a camera and asked the young people around her to jump in place in front of buildings marked for demolition or construction sites. Each photograph presented one person. The low camera angle placed the people in the sky. She then cut out each person from the resulting black and white photograph and attached them and the separate backgrounds onto opposing book pages made of cotton. The soft cotton sticks out from the edges of the cutout pictures, creating a sense of floating people within the empty silhouettes. Among the different poses, some of the people appeared to be flapping their arms like birds. Lin placed the hollowed-out photographs on the right side of the cotton page, with the figures on the left side. On the left, the leaping figures removed from their surroundings floated in solitude above the cotton background, like symbols removed from reality, metaphysically floating, carrying Lin’s cultural idealist yearning to escape the fetters of the world and fly off into the distance. Flight is the realm that Lin Jinjing has always sought in life. In having normal people open their arms and jump in place, she is actually trying to let them escape their increasingly mechanized jobs and trivial everyday lives to experience a moment of transcendence. Those flying white silhouettes are suggestive blank spaces which the viewer can interpret as multitudinous avatars of the artist or can project themselves into, to imagine a moment of flight. On the surface, Lin’s projective empathetic method appears to be an expression of the generosity that is unique to female Chinese intellectuals, but in fact, it is the artist’s systematic attempt to create individual style and imagery in the language of photographic installation.
Lin Jingjing’s empathetic method is even applied to inanimate objects. In the Rose, Rose photographic series, she uses red string to stitch the rose petals together on the bud, and presents the intricate stitches and wounds on the flower petals through massive, high-resolution subjective pictures. The pain alluded to in these vivid details is frightening. The artist uses a subtle, intentional harming of beautiful objects to allude to mankind’s violent destruction and exploitation of nature. Her Dress - Rose series forces roses into women’s clothing, further anthropomorphizing roses. Her 2006-2011 Dress series is an effort to use beautifully exquisite wedding dresses and silk gowns as visual mixed media materials. The minutest details of those beautifully laced garments are laid out to create desolate imagery, like a series of bodies emptied of all spirit. The coldly beautiful images are alluring, yet viewers dare not look too closely.
Privacy rights are a product of modernity. They have been broadly affirmed by civil society as god given human rights. It was because of this that they were enshrined in legal shields and moral screens. But the Talmud said long ago that there are three things man can never keep private: a cough, poverty and love. Under globalization, privacy is finding it increasingly difficult to hide from the increasing pervasiveness of mass culture and the eyeball economy. The screen of privacy is often warped and twisted, worn thin and brittle. For Lin Jingjing, once privacy can no longer conceal that which the artist most wishes to conceal, then revealing private memories, private emotions and independent awareness to the public become her best methods of protection. For this reason, public privacy is no longer a passive concealment but an active revelation and sharing. Public privacy is a way of replacing private privacy, and solution to media’s penetration of the deepest levels of privacy. When some people’s secrets can be shared and turned into public information, public affairs and the public domain, then the private privacy becomes an unspoken open secret. When many people see the telling of individual secrets as a means of relieving stress, then below this surface of sharism, each person will find better concealment for a deeper level of privacy.
In 2008-2009, Lin Jingjing further probed the collective and private memories in her individual experience, creating the two photographic installation series Private Memories and News Memories under the theme Nobody Knows I was There, Nobody Knows I was Not There. Ambiguous and equivocal definitions of public privacy are controversial, but Lin finds clear, dualist values judgments to be useless, and feels that more ambiguous approaches can reach closer to the truth of public privacy. Her passion for paradoxes grows ever stronger. She has incorporated highly perceptive paradoxical thinking into her methodology, infusing her artworks with a personalized sense of form. In 2010-2011, she pushed this paradoxical theme a step further with her Public Memories series of oil paintings.
Private Memories is actually a single photographic installation, a collage of photographs collected from her relatives that span the breadth of the 20th century. Lin Jingjing used an old-style Chinese medicine chest with 90 drawers to present these private photographs of various sizes, lining each drawer cavity with cotton and placing only one photograph in each. Some of these dusty, yellowing photographs are studio family portraits, some are individual portraits, some are passport photos and others are commemorative group portraits. They come in many forms, but all of the people in them are related to Lin Jingjing in some way. Lin views these photos as both a visual family tree and as a precious collection of materials regarding her own life. Drawing from her thinking on public privacy, she has gouged out the faces of all the people in the photographs. As a result, each of the figures in these pictures has a gaping hole in a key place. With the faces removed, the uniquely private properties of these images have disappeared. What remains is lifeless clothing, furniture, buildings and scenes. The figures may be empty shells, but viewers fill them in with the artist’s own portrait. After all, they are all Lin’s relatives, so they must look like her. Genetic references turn all of these photographs into Lin’s avatars. It is as if Lin has used the cycle of life to lead the viewers into experiencing the trying times and glorious moments of the last century. Her arbitrary method of concealing her family’s privacy led to a unique image expression form, turning the artist into a chameleon who can pass through history and life with the utmost of ease. Perhaps it is this dreamlike, indefinite quality of her imagery that leads her to exclaim “nobody knows I was there, nobody knows I was not there.”
Lin Jingjing’s News Memories series uses images derived from CCTV news reports. Her selection criterion was that the image must contain a central figure as well as a crowd. As a result, most of the images are related to Chines official political gatherings and coverage of political life. One after another ritualized collective event is brimming with ideological atmosphere. Lin has removed the face of the core figure in each image, and then stitched each image – minus the face – onto a porous metal box, which is then covered with a lid marked with the Coca-Cola logo, in an allusion to the conflict between the right-leaning consumer society in the background and the left-leaning ideological imagery at the center. In the faceless figure, there exists the logical paradox of simultaneous presence and absence. The true visage of that core figure is already absent, becoming a public privacy intentionally created by the artist. Though the specific individual has been concealed by the artist through subjective methods, as long as the profile is there, he is still the core of the image. When the different profiles are placed together, they take on shared properties, becoming what is apparently an omnipresent, headless big brother who appears in different public settings with different poses and bearings. Lin’s intention is to use this to examine the collective unconsciousness of the public memory. The result of omission is often public approval. It doesn’t matter who that core figure is. What matters is that there must be such a core figure in every crowd.
The 2010-2011 Color of Memory series is a work that Lin Jinjing derived directly from individual secrets. She devised three questions regarding pain to ask of friends around her willing to share their secrets: 1, what is your most painful memory; 2, what object is connected to that most painful memory; and 3, what color best describes that most painful memory? Lin then creates a painting according to those answers, giving each painting a certain color and certain object. The key element of this artwork is the process of transforming individual secrets into public privacy. By placing concrete, everyday objects together with abstract colors, the artist has turned private memories into metaphor-rich symbols. These visual symbols cast doubt on and ridicule the increasingly superficial symbolic cognitive mode that is created by public privacy. Individual secrets have nothing to do with public or group benefit, but when private secrets are turned into public privacy, they become inextricably linked to public benefit. Perhaps this is Lin Jingjing’s thinking regarding privacy.