Focus XV A, Lin Tianmiao, Lithograph and screenprint with embossing, 2006
Much of Lin Tianmiao’s work is in sculpture and installation, often using thread and techniques of embroidering and embossing. These lithographs on handmade paper were completed while she was at a residency at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute in 2006.
“Lin Tianmiao was born in Taiyuan Shanxi Province, China in 1961. She studied Fine Art at Capital Normal University in Beijing, and then at the Art Student’s League in New York. For nearly a decade she and her husband, artist Wang Gongxin, lived in New York City, where she designed textiles until the couple moved back to Beijing in 1994.”
-Mary Ryan Gallery, New York
Perhaps one of the most challenging problems of lithography is that it is a chemical process involving the use of oil and water which means that everything, from how humid it is outside to how well you wring out a sponge can alter the final outcome. It is also highly labor intensive, requiring hours of grinding a stone with sand and a piece of glass. In an interview with the art critic and historian PiLi, Lin Tianmiao describes the process she values in art. While much of her work is three-dimensional, her words speak eloquently to labor intensive manual processes like lithography.
“Handwork has a randomness while the mechanical work only has accuracy, without that unexpected randomness. The randomness of handwork can fall within the control of man and can be added, reduced, maneuvered and used at any time.” — Lin Tianmiao, www.lintianmiao.com
Reflection on seeing Lin Tianmiao’s work at the Long March Space in Beijing, 2008:
My current method of drawing began when I walked into Long March Space and saw Lin Tianmiao’s two series of low contrast monochromatic prints that use a combination of lithography, screen print, embossing and sewing on handmade paper. The two bodies of work, entitled Focus and Seeing Shadows, both play with the relation between surface and depth in the prints. The lithographs of blurred faces or dilapidated houses only come into focus at a distance while the embossing and inclusions in the paper can only be seen when the viewer stands an inch or two away from the paper. The low contrast monochromatic palate, combined with the haziness and scale of the prints puts the images just on the edge of visibility. I found myself repeatedly backing away from the prints and then walking up close to them again. The low contrast invited me to notice much smaller variations in tonality and further highlighted the details of the paper itself, which had needle-shaped forms, threads and spheres embedded in the paper. The lack of contrast, coupled with the diffused nature of the image and the need to see the detail up close meant that there was no position in the room at which the entire drawing clicked into focus. The only way to experience the drawing was by moving in front of it, by walking a distance on the floor in a way that resulted in the visual reading of the image fluctuating between atmospheric depth and surface detail.
For me this was a pivotal moment in the development of my work. I felt pressure to use video or installation to create an interactive experience for my viewer. Much of this stemmed from an institutional categorization of video art and installation as contemporary and drawing and printmaking as traditional. Working in the Chinese contemporary art scene for a summer, where most work is two-dimensional, I realized how erroneous this categorization was. However, it was not until I saw Tianmiao’s prints that I realized that her prints were not only equally capable of being contemporary but could actively engage with the viewers in ways that were distinct from but no less important than those used by time based media. Lin Tianmiao’s prints could not be taken in from a single vantage point. To appreciate the fine detail on the surface of the paper and also see the large blurred image printed on the paper the viewer had to walk up close to the painting and back away from it. For the viewer to have this experience the work had to be two-dimensional and static. It was the stillness of the image that allowed this fluctuation between surface and depth to occur and demanded a certain level of contemplation and engagement from the viewer.
for more information about the series and the artist:
www.lintianmiao.com artist’s website in English and Chinese, also includes interviews and articles on the artist.
Mary Ryan Gallery, New York
Singapore Tyler Print Institute, “Introduction,” Lin Tianmiao: Focus on Paper (Singapore: Singapore Tyler Print Institute, 2007). “collaboration between Lin Tianmiao and the Singapore Tyler Print Institute (STP) from her four week residency as a Visiting Artist, which culminated in the Focus and Seeing Shadows series.”
Victoria Lu, “Reflection of a Goddess: Looking at Lin Tianmiao’s Print Series,” Lin Tianmiao: Focus on Paper (Singapore: Singapore Tyler Print Institute, 2007)