Challenging the Female Identity- Lin TianMiao
Updated: Apr 4, 2019
Lin TianMiao is one of the first internationally recognized contemporary Chinese artist. Best known for her installations, her signature practice is thread winding, in which she binds material – usually silk, hair, cotton, or felt – tightly around found and manufactured objects. The technique alludes to her childhood, growing up in a traditional household in China.
Despite her art engaging the subjects of femininity and the domestication of women, Lin chooses to reject the label of feminist artist, believing it to be a part of Western conceit.
“The label feminism restricts the interpretation of my work, and how I think about it,” she says.
Lin Tianmiao was born in Taiyuan, Shanxi, China in 1961. She studied at Capital Normal University, China, and at the Art Student League, New York.
From 1986 to 1995 she and her husband Wang Gongxin, a video artist, lived in the United States until they returned to Beijing to continue their work.
Lin began her career as a textile designer, later incorporating weaving, sewing and embroidery into her fine art practice.
Much of her work addresses women’s issues, interweaving the past and present social issues of China in a critical feminist perspective about gender awareness and self-examination.
"I am often called a Chinese woman artist. But I would rather say that “I am an artist, I am a woman, and I am Chinese.” To be a woman artist means you have the responsibility to expound on the current state of feminism and the mentality of women in China when invited to attend international exhibitions. I personally think there is no such thing as feminism in its conscious sense in China and that only individual cases address feminist issues." Lin (Brooklyn Museum)
The act of slowly, precisely binding items with thread seems like it could be either a kindness or an aggression, applying bandages or bonds. Lin says that “because the work takes a long time, I have all these feelings: smothering, protecting, and transforming.” (Gaskin)
“Now it’s impossible to have feminism in China. We can still discuss it, but we’re not revolutionary enough or free enough to achieve change. It’s more important to input spirit into the work—fewer and fewer people are capable of doing that.” Lin
On FemininityPortruding Patterns
Lin Tianmiao 2014
Wool thread, yarn, acrylic
Featured in the Galerie Lelong in New York, this installation incorporates phrases and expressions about women from many different languages stitched on top of antique carpets. These chosen lexicons are pulled from popular novels, newspapers, the internet, and colloquial dialogues, including phrases such as “divinité,” “Mori girl,” and “leftover women.”
Lin creates an immersive experiences for viewers as they are invited to walk over the thread and textiles. This exhibit explores the evolution of women in today's society while still highlighting the disparities women face.
Bound and Unbound
Lin TianMiao 1997
floor installation of 600+ objects wrapped in white cotton thread, video projection on screen and sound track.
First shown in the United States as part of the Inside Out: New Chinese Art exhibition organized by Asia Society in 1998, this installation features Lin's signature technique of thread winding. The hundreds of household objects wrapped in silk thread successfully evoke childhood nostalgia while commenting on the simplicity of pre-boom domestic Chinese life. The art is a visual manifestation of Lin's reaction to her culture shock upon returning to a changed Beijing that she had left a decade before.
These household items traditionally associated with women are tightly encased in cotton threads, removing them of their original functionality. Lin provides a voice to the concealed women trapped in cycles of domesticity, inciting conversation about the true significance of household work and perhaps its meaninglessness in society.
Other Notable Works
“The Proliferation of Thread Winding” (1995)
floor installation of 20,000 raw cotton thread balls, 20,000 stainless steel sewing needles and rice paper in a bed with multimedia
floor installation of six life-sized female fiberglass bodies, with silk threads and audio soundtrack
ALL the Same (2011)
wall installation of synthetic human bones wrapped with colored silk threads