Existential Beauty: The Art of Lin Jingjing

By Richard Vine

 

 

 

“I” am silent in the darkness, begging for an explanation in solitude.

—Lin Jingjing

 

Contemporary Chinese art made its initial impact,  both at home and abroad,  through methods that were surprising and galvanizing but far from subtle:  Big Face painting, shocking live performance,   large-scale anecdotal sculpture,   bizarre staged photography,    and irreverent video.

 

This bold esthetic, which would have been a jolt to any culture, was particularly unsettling in a land steeped in refined ink-wash painting and quiet contemplative poetry.

Once the post-Mao Opening Up policy took hold, two forms of brash visual rhetoric—Cultural Revolution propaganda and Western-style advertising—seemed to merge in the insouciant art of post-Opening China.

 

The later waves of Chinese avant-garde artists, those who have come of age since 1990, in the new era of rising prosperity and social liberalization, know little of a shared political trauma or a common cause. For them, dizzying change and dislocation—physical, social, psychological—are the prevailing issues, and their artistic responses have proved as diverse, as atomistic, as their individual experiences. Women artists in particular, affected by Western feminism but wary of formal doctrines and group activities, have tended to center their work on private sources and concerns.

 

Lin Jingjing, who did graduate study at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, has contributed notably to this discourse, embracing femininity without resorting to either sentimentality or lasciviousness. In paintings, altered objects and installations, she addresses some of the most wrenching themes imaginable—death, loss, loneliness, betrayal—with a remarkable sophistication and restraint, even at times a touch of humor.

 

Dresses (2006-09), for example, features a variety of white shifts, variously embellished with cotton balls and lace, displayed against flat lacey backgrounds punctuated by grids of round photo portals. Some of the garments are innocently girlish, some more alluring, and some customized to blatantly evoke female genitalia.

The multiple photos, identical in each case, range from rose blossoms with their petals surgically stitched together to shots of a hyper-realistic sex doll in provocative poses.

The interplay of virginal and erotic elements bespeaks not only the dualistic nature of marriage but the larger paradox of femininity itself—at once elevated and degraded, purified and reviled, worshiped and subjugated.

 

A desire to escape the low and mundane seems to animate the departed figures in the photo installation I Want to Fly (2006-08).

To create the effect, Lin asked individuals to jump energetically while she photographed them from a low angle.

She then juxtaposed the cutout shape of each leaping figure, seemingly stitched or bandaged into place, against street scenes or construction-site images.

Some of the resulting pictures were mounted on suspended heart-shaped hand mirrors with wings, reinforcing the Baudelairean impetus to transcend self-reflection and pass n’importe où hors de ce monde (“anywhere out of this world”).

But there is clearly a downside to this wish.

 

To be ourselves, Lin’s missing persons imply, we must be free to define our own goals and fulfill our own nature.

Yet how can we, as human beings, fulfill ourselves except through connections, however onerous?

Even the smallest social unit, the couple, is subject to this dilemma.

For Never Apart (2009), Lin cut one figure out of each of several bride-and-groom photos and inserted them on opposing inner surfaces of rectangular compacts. Here, to be “open” means to be apart; the spouses are together—or almost so—only in the darkness of the closed case.

 

The 300-unit "I Want to be with You Forever"  (2008-09) separates the marital pairs even more poignantly—one (almost always the man) embracing a partner-shaped void on the surface of a toy bed, while the absent mate hovers perpetually on the canopy overhead.

At the heart of the human condition, Lin suggests, lies an unfulfilled longing—a quest for genuine connection that inevitably, given the self-contradictions of human nature, translates into a vacillation between solitude and ritualized but imperfect union.

 

Beyond the romantic pair lies the family and society—equally necessary, equally encumbering, equally flawed. Lin’s most complex examination of this problem, the series “Nobody Knows I Was There, Nobody Knows I Was Not There,” so far encompasses three related bodies of work.

 

Private Memories (2009) is a traditional Chinese medicine chest with 90 drawers, each now devoted not to herbs or other medicinal substances but to extended-family photographs from roughly the last 100 years.

The yellowing images—depicting parents, grandparents, distant aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.—lie tenderly on beds of cotton, implying a respect for “precious” blood ties and the collective past. Yet every figure has been literally defaced—its visage cut out, leaving a hole.

 

This act of intimate vandalism, rendering the individuals anonymous, is Lin’s mildly shocking way of reminding us that families are constituted largely of roles that persist across time and historical circumstance, regardless of who plays the parts in turn.

Each drawer contains, in effect, a treatment for illusion. Just as medicine works in like fashion on every person, no matter who they are, we all serve as father, mother, brother, etc., in fundamentally similar ways. In the end, only those conventions remain; no potion can cure death or prevent the annihilation of personal memory.

 

CCTV News (2008) explores public roles from the same disabused perspective. Small metal boxes, their lids emblazoned with multiple Coca-Cola logos, bear stitched-on photos of organized group events—meetings, concerts, calisthenics, political rallies—with the myriad participants clearly shown but the leader cut out, leaving only a ghostly void. This evokes not only the shadowy nature of much official leadership but also the loss of self that is entailed, for followers and directors alike, once strict social organization comes into play.

The news, we are reminded, is often a montage of such scenes, conceptually disjunctive and recounted in an eerily dispassionate “professional” manner, while Coke and other mass-market products reign increasingly over the distribution of vital information.

 

Such, too, is the import of Public Memories (2011), the third component of “Nobody Knows I was there ,Nobody know I was not there . . . ,” in which a wide variety of photographic scenes from the past and present (including dance presentations, group portraits, award ceremonies, airplane boardings and exits, key movie moments, and colloquies ranging from intimate to diplomatic) are cast in bright monochrome colors, with selected faces and figures stitched over.

 

The sewing creates a partial erasure of that character on the recto side and a thread silhouette on the blank verso. The simple device makes a telling point: in groups and daily situations, the self is somewhat eradicated; yet without these interactions, one feels meaningless and adrift.

 

The vulnerability of that self is most movingly represented by the stitched-together blossoms highlighted in the photographic suite " Rose Rose"  (2008-09).

The flowers, traditionally associated with women and romance, are shown singly in close-up or as bouquets jammed into garments and shoes, the long green stems evoking lower bodies and legs. The tender pink petals, meanwhile, recall skin—provocative when bursting from openings in the clothes, delicate when seen at close range knit together with sutures. Opening flowers often represent nubile women and their vaginas, while wilting flowers stand for the transience of life. But Lin offers something new: blossoms sewn together as though in the hope of recovery, thus emblemizing the wounds that flesh and soul alike are heir to.

 

In the installation Insecure Security (2011)—the title seems to summarize Lin’s take on human relationships—real threads, as red and attenuated as blood vessels, hold together pieces of white clothing or fill the interiors of ornate white slippers. The very ties that unite us, it seems, may also limit our growth.

 

That idea is explored in great depth and detail in the ongoing project Color of Memory (2010-). The end product may be a series of paintings and wall texts, but the essence of this work resides in its process. Lin asks various people to tell her three things: their single most painful memory, the object they associate with it, and the color that the memory brings to mind. She then makes a deliberately crude monochrome painting of the object in the color specified, and exhibits it with a text transcribing the Q&A between subject and artist. Everything about the project is memorable—the candor of the participants, the emotional rawness of their recollections, the aptness of their object and color choices, the dreamlike power of Lin’s renderings.

 

The stories are heartbreaking: a woman who loses her three-year-old daughter forever at a shopping mall; a medical student who watches a patient die on the operating table under the hands of a skilled surgeon; a wife who receives a letter from her husband’s pregnant girlfriend, and responds by terminating her own pregnancy and her marriage. In Lin’s world, we are all damaged flowers—holding ourselves together by force of will, hoping to transcend grief, beautiful in our fragile persistence.

 

In the recent performance installation I (2011), the artist invited participants to sit with books and patiently cover all the text, line by line, with white correction tape, leaving only the punctuation and the word “I.” This “correction,” an erasure of all that describes, defines, qualifies, enriches, and contextualizes the self, results in hauntingly minimal volumes. The pages are as white as marble slabs; language is reduced to the cogito (the “I” of Descartes’s “I think; therefore I am”) and a few vestiges (periods, commas, quotation marks, etc.) of its former situation, its contingency, in a vanished physical and conceptual milieu.

 

In existentialist terms, the world is composed entirely of the “I” and the “not-I,” pure consciousness and brute things, the self and the Other. Yet there is, and can be, no pure intellection; every thought is a thought about something. And the most disturbing, most challenging something is another mind.

 

The loss of family and friends, imprisonment, illness, political repression—all these and more tend to isolate us (a fact that makes this work exceptionally effective across cultures). But always we find around us the lingering signs of other subjectivities, other judgments and desires, other plans. So long as we live, the “I” will ceaselessly wrangle with history and the conflicting wishes of others. The push-pull of interacting wills—sometimes contending, sometimes cooperating—continues without pause, until death brings obliteration, a perfect nothingness.

 

Lin Jingjing’s contribution to contemporary Chinese art is thus two-fold. She couples a focus on individual experience (in what has for centuries been a collectivist culture) with art-making of unassuming skill. The amalgam generates a distinct form of beauty—existentialism melded with subdued artistry, and permeated with simple human care. In short, Lin’s vision is compassionate, transcultural, and mature.

 

 

 

(Richard Vine : Managing Editor of "Art in America" Magazine)

 

 

 

美之所在:林菁菁的艺术

 

                         —Richard Vine

 

 

 

“我”在“空了的空间里静默着,孤独地乞求解释                       

---林菁菁

                         

放大的面孔、惊世骇俗的行为表演、巨大的雕塑、诡异的场景摄影与匪夷所思的影像作品,中国当代艺术就这样借由离奇的创作手段为国内外所知。

这些大胆的、让任何文化都为之一颤的美学实践,在这块曾经浸润在静默诗意与细腻丹青的国度异常活跃。后毛泽东时代的改革开放政策得以让两种不同形态的视觉修辞——文革宣传画和西式广告,融合于后开放时代漫不经心的中国美术。

 

伴随着经济增长和社会开放,上世纪九十年代兴起的中国前卫艺术家,对这片土地所经历的政治创伤及其原由知之甚少。那些应接不暇的变化和社会、物质与心理的异位才是他们急切需要面对的问题,由此产生的艺术实践也是丰富多样、切合他们个体经验的。

尤其是女性艺术家,她们受到西方女性主义的影响,但由于对群体创作与理论教条保持着警惕,她们的创作多以私密空间和个人焦虑为母题。

 

林菁菁,毕业于中央美术学院研究生院,用不同于伤感与性的表述方式参与到女性主义话语当中。

她的绘画、经过改造后的现成品装置,将那些极其痛苦的题材:死亡、失去、孤独与背叛,表述得非常精致、而且有节制,甚至带着一丝幽默。

 

 

作品《物语》 (2006-09)由多件白色的衣裙组成,上面用蕾丝花边和各式各样的棉花球做装饰,这些丝质衣裙展示在画面中心,作品用纵横平铺的圆形小图片为背景。

其中一些非常纯真、非常女性化,一些则明显设计得让人联想到女性生殖器官。

这些小图片,大小统一,有的是缝合的玫瑰花骨朵,有的是质感真实的性玩偶摆出的挑逗姿态;贞洁与色情的相互作用影射了婚姻中的二元性,同时更大程度上体现了女性自身所蕴涵的矛盾与复杂:升华与贬值、纯洁与玷污、被追随与被征服。

 

在照片装置作品《我要去远飞》(2006-2008)当中,一股想逃脱世俗的欲望似乎控制着照片装置作品中那些展开双臂的人形。

照片的拍摄过程中,林菁菁要求被拍摄的个体充满活力地一跃,同时在较低的拍摄角度,抓下跃起的一瞬间。然后,将这些个体跳跃的瞬间并置在一起,用缝合的方式将它们固定在有街道和建筑工地背景前面。

这个系列,也有部分图片缝合在悬起的心型镜子上,再配以翅膀,给人以波德莱尔式的自我升华以及穿越这个世界之外的任何地方的诗意。

 

显然地,这些作品有其悲观的一面。

那些被镂空的人型,隐含着一层意味:为了做好我们自己,我们必须能自由定义自己的目标与自我意愿的满足。

然而作为人类,除了通过周边各种关联性来实现自我满足外,还有什么更好的途径呢?

 

就连夫妻这种最小的社会单元也面临这样的难题。

 

在《永不分离》(2009)中,林菁菁将情人的亲密照中的一方镂空剪下,并把它装裱在一个小长方型镜盒里与被镂空的照片遥相呼印。

在这里开放意味着分离,这些情侣只会在盒子关闭之后的黑暗中,才能得以相聚。

《我要永远和你在一起》(2008-09)用一种更有深刻意味的方式将三百对夫妻们分开:其中一方,以男性为主,在袖珍玩具床上拥抱被镂空的妻子形状,而妻子的图片则永久地悬于袖珍床的顶棚上。

林菁菁提出的人类境遇的核心是一种永远无法被满足的渴求。

人们渴求真诚关联性的同时又避免不了撞见人性中的自我矛盾,作品中这些夫妻被叙述为一种在独立与仪式化之间摇摆不定,形成不完美的结合。

 

家庭与社会提供比浪漫情侣更深层次更丰富的思考维度,它们具有同样重要的存在必要性、同时也都充满瑕疵、步履为艰。

《没有人知道我在那,没有人知道我不在那》是林菁菁对家庭与社会这一复杂问题的一次审视,这个系列目前由三件相互关联的作品组成:

 

《私人记忆》(2009)是一组由九十个抽屉组合而成的中国传统中药抽屉柜,里面装有黑白的家庭照片,横跨一百年的时间。

发黄的相纸上是艺术家自己的曾祖父母、父母、表亲、叔叔与侄子的照片。

这些照片被轻轻地搁在柔软的棉花上,显出血缘关系的珍贵和对集体记忆的尊重。

所有家庭照片中的人物面孔都被剪去,留下一个空洞。

通过这种小心翼翼的破坏行为,基于个体匿名状态的再创造,林菁菁用一种温和但却震撼的方式提醒我们:家庭是生活在各个历史时期的人们所组成,可能是一个人在不同辈分之间的角色转换。

每一个抽屉内所承载的内容可以看作是对一个幻想所下的药方。

就如药对不同的人有着同样的效果,无论照片中的人物是谁,我们都基本承载着彼此相似的多种角色,父亲、母亲、兄弟等等。 最终,只有这些角色的形骸留下,没有什么能治愈死亡,或阻隔个人记忆的泯灭。

 

作品《新闻记忆》(2008)用同样的角度对公共人物角色进行审视。

在多个印满了可口可乐商标的金属盒子上出现多个正式场面,有会议、音乐会、运动会、政治集会等场面。

在密密麻麻人群中有一个核心人物的形象被镂空,留下幽灵般的空洞。

这件作品以一种警示的视角来打开我们对于公共人物的理解。

作品中的被镂空的核心人物形象不仅暗示了公众领袖的虚无,同时影射了无论是从众还是领袖,一旦进入到严格的组织形态中,内心自我即迷失。

作品也提示我们习以为常的新闻节目将各种事件堆砌在一起,以一种职业化冷静姿态播报出来的时候,无形中已经被批量生产的商品,例如可口可乐,越来越多地将真正重要信息传播所掩盖。

 

作为《没有人知道我在那,没有人知道我不在那》系列的第三部分,《公共记忆》(2011)也有类似的意味。该作品由大量的摄影场景组成,从舞蹈表演、合影、颁奖仪式、登机和出仓到经典电影镜头等组成,场景的选取从公众到私密。

艺术家用明亮的单色调覆盖画面,有的照片中的人物面孔被缝补过。

缝补让人物在正面看上去模糊了,而在反面呈现一个线勾勒的轮廓。

这样简单的设计展开了作品的内容:在日常或群体的互动过程中,自我基本上是被抹杀的,然而没有了这些互动关系,人们又会觉得没有意义或随波逐流。

 

自我的脆弱本质在《玫瑰玫瑰》(2008-09)这件以摄影为媒介的系列中得到了非常生动的体现。

 

作品中被缝合的玫瑰有的单独一朵,有的则整把挤在礼服或者鞋子里面,长长的绿色花枝让人联想到下半身和腿。

柔软的粉色花苞让人联想到肌肤,在衣服中含苞待放,挑起欲望。

走近细看才能注意到每朵花苞上面的缝合口。

 

玫瑰是女性和爱情的典型象征物,盛放的玫瑰通常代表富有性感的女性和她们的性器官,枯萎的玫瑰则被喻作生命的短暂。

 

林菁菁则给出一个新的比喻:被缝合的花苞虽然预示着康复,同时也象征着肉体和精神上不可抹去的痕迹。

 

 

装置作品《安全的不安》 (2011)的标题看似在总结林菁菁关于人与人之间关系的理解:红线上渐弱的红色就像血管,将白色的布连在一起或者填满装饰华丽的白拖鞋。那些看起来维系我们之间的线,也可能成为限制我们成长的牵绊。

 

在《记忆的颜色》(2010-)中,林菁菁对这个概念做了细致深入的探索。

 

林菁菁让人们回答她三个问题:自己最痛苦的记忆,与这段记忆相连的物件,可以描述这段记忆的颜色。

然后她用述说者描述的颜色绘制与述说者记忆相联系的物件,展出绘画作品的时候同时配有对话的文字。

这个项目仍未结束,最终的作品形态可能是一系列绘画和墙上的文字,但是这件作品的关键在于它的过程。

参与者的率真,回朔记忆期间所灌注的感情经验,以及他们所选物品和颜色,与林菁菁的梦幻般的创作手法结合使《记忆的颜色》成为一件耐人寻味的作品。

有的故事很让人心碎:在购物中心丢失自己三岁女儿的妈妈;一位医学学生看着一位患者死在一个医术高超的医生的手术台上;一位已有身孕的妻子收到她丈夫已经怀孕的另一位女友的信,她以终止自己的妊娠与这段婚姻做出答复。

在林菁菁的世界中,我们都是受伤的花,以强大的内心力量缝合自己的伤口,脆弱的坚持格外美丽。

 

在最新的行为装置《我》(2011)中,艺术家邀请参与者坐下来将书上的句子一行行用修正带覆盖,只留下标点符号和字。这个修正过程抹去了所有描写、定义、资格、润色以及上下文关系。

剩下的是幽灵一般的无字书,书面色彩如汉白玉般洁白,语言只剩下我思故我在,以及少量的关于抹去之前的状态、偶然性的痕迹(逗号、句号和引号等等),这些痕迹存在于消失殆尽的物理和观念当中。

用存在主义的话说,世界完全有非我组成,纯意识和最原始的,自己和他者。然而没有,也不可能有纯粹的意识活动;每一次思考都是对“某种东西”的一种思想。最令人不安也是最具挑战性的这种“东西”,是另一个人的思想。

 

失去家庭和朋友、监禁、疾病、政治镇压,这些东西会割裂/孤立我们(正是这个事实让她的作品在不同文化中都能引起广泛的共鸣)。

但是经常会在我们周围发现其他的主观性、判断和欲望在游离。在我们有生之年,会不停地与历史、相冲突的意愿以及生命中的其它相纠缠。相互作用的意愿,持续不停滴时而相斥,时而合作,直到死亡带来最后的审判将所有定格。

 

这样,林菁菁对中国当代艺术的贡献在两个方面:她聚焦于个人经验(在一个集体主义盛行几个世纪的文化氛围当中),以并不张扬的艺术创作手法。这两方面糅合出一种独特的美感-存在主义与内敛的艺术创造结合,渗入简单的人文关照。

简而言之,林菁菁的艺术是富有同情心的、跨文化的和成熟的。

 

 

 

(本文作者 Richard Vine 系《艺术在美国》杂志主编)

 


DE SARTHE HONG KONG 
LIN JINGJING
Solo Exhibition 
Take Off
脱轨
林菁菁个展
香港德萨画廊
Sep.16 - Oct. 2, 2017

 

Lin Jingjing "Take Off" Solo Show

De Sarthe Gallery

20/F, Global Trade Square, No. 21 Wong Chuk Hang Road, 
Hong Kong

Opening hours : Tuesday – Saturday, 11 am – 7pm

 

 

DE SARTHE BEIJING 
LIN JINGJING
Solo Exhibition 
Tomorrow Was Wonderful
明天曾经无限美好
林菁菁个展
北京德萨画廊
JUNE 13 - August 2, 2015
DE SARTHE Hong Kong 
LIN JINGJING
Solo Exhibition 
Promise Again For the First Time
完美的诺言
林菁菁个展
香港德萨画廊
April 5 - May 3, 2014

Lin Jing jing 's New Catalogue   "The Method of Paradox" is available


林菁菁新画册《 悖论的方式》开始发售

"My Promise for Your Happiness" on the cover of 

TransnaTional Dialogues Journal 2014