Bound Unbound at Asia Society: Chinese Artist Lin Tianmiao Exhibit Review


A few weeks ago, I attended one of the most bizarre exhibitions I have seen in quite some time: Lin Tianmiao's "Bound Unbound" at the Asia Society in New York. Tianmiao was born in China in 1961 and has clear memories of spending her childhood with her mother sewing clothes for their family. It is this experience where the idea for her exhibit takes root. "Thread winding" is the technique she created based off her childhood memories and it is done by winding silk or cotton thread around an object until it is completely covered and ultimately transformed. This appears to be a repetitive, rigorous and almost manic technique. Thread winding is what we see upon entering her exhibit, artificial bones that have been thread wound with every color of the rainbow. Her thread winding technique is seen throughout the exhibit done to hundreds of other objects of all shapes, sizes, and materials. 


In the next room, grotesque and haunting costumes, which look as though they are made of hair, are placed in front of footage of China which is projected onto circular screens throughout the room. The costumes come to life in the footage, dancing spectrally over scenes of her homeland. A clever use of videography in her exhibit was her thread wound sewing machine which had a projection of hands running a piece of white fabric through the machine. It looked as though a ghost was at work.


The next part of the exhibit I walked through held her piece "Chatting" (2004). Here she used naked body casts of herself and other people, which she wrapped in pink silk. Nothing is left to hide. In place of the bodies heads, Tianmiao has the sculptures necks thrust forward supporting a rectangular audio speaker which plays sounds of women's voices weeping, mumbling, laughing and yes, sexual panting. Juxtaposed to these women are castings of men, who like the women are nude and wrapped in silk, with their heads downcast and the silk covering is left with seams unfinished.


Finally, I put on the disposable white booties to cover my shoes in order to enter a room covered floor to ceiling with white silk. In this room were multiple examples of Tianmiao's mastery in her use of material and technique. You really must watch your step in this small room as tiny objects of art are placed in such random spots on the floor, hanging from the ceiling and jutting out from the walls ... you do not want to step on or knock into anything.

"Lin Tianmiao’s paintings, sculptures, and installations have always been about a series of dual tensions. These are frequently played out in her works through contrasts between materials, but they are also evident in binary themes such as male versus female, function versus form, and physical versus psychological experience. Underlying all of these themes is a keen exploration of a physical experience, at times emphasizing the female body," (The Asia Society)

Tianmiao's craftsmanship is so precise and her fingerprints cover every piece in the exhibit. There is a sense of extreme delicacy and intense labor in her work, you wonder how much time certain objects took to create. "Bound Unbound" is worth a visit and will definitely trigger a sense of wonder and imagination within.

Bound Unbound: Lin Tianmiao runs at the Asia Society from September 7 - January 27, 2013. The Asia Society is located at 725 Park Avenue, New York, NY.