Art Critic (1)

Hou Hanru

……In the first "Big Tail Elephants" exhibition in 1991, Lin Yilin produced "Standard Residences Series", allegorically exposing this increasingly standardized world. He used iron bars, bricks and other materials found in a construction site to build a series of standard "residences". The rough and naked brick wall and iron structures intrude into the gentle space of art like strange and terrifying monsters. This work provocatively exposes the oppression and alienation caused by the increasing standardization of everyday life.


Lin Yilin has developed a vocabulary based on these brick walls to question and negotiate the relationship between humans and the built environment. His work emphasizes the particular texture of the material and the "amazement" caused by the individual's direct engagement with this material in the process of construction. This work brings us to critically reappraise the rapidly changing environment and, eventually, to question society's commonly held ideas and values. In a series of installations and performances, he creates astonishing combinations of brick walls,

water, money, massage machines and the human body he aims to "add motion to the original form. Any eternal concept related to walls and bricks no longer exist. The work becomes a 'living object', a new substance appealing to our visual sense."


The pursuit of motion endows Lin Yilin's work with the substance of action and performance. It is through actions and performances that he and the other "elephants" create a way to bring "alternative' ideas, visual forms and cultural values to the fray, becoming means to negotiate the reality of a standardizing consumer society. Lin Yilin's action, "Manoeuvring acrossLin He Road", is a striking example. He uses tons of bricks to build up a wall on one side of a busy main street in the new town of Guangzhou. He then takes some bricks down from one end of the wall and moves them to the other end where he piles them up again. Repeating the same gesture for hours, he moves the whole wall to the middle of the street and, finally, to the opposite side of the street. This hours-long labour not only turns a stable wall into a moving one, but also disrupts the heavy traffic. This action creates moments of void in the turbulent flow of urban life. Lin Yilin's void allows those rare moments in which one can contemplate the city's fundamental changes. Johan Rajchman talks about the contemporary urban inhabitant becoming an "anyone" rather than a "someone". The human body becomes a constantly moving, unstable existence and open to the 'Other'. Lin Yilin's wall action, exploding the metaphor of rooting and stability, is an effective testament to Rajchman's "prediction": once we give up the belief that our life-world is rooted in the ground, we may come to a point where ungroundedness is no longer experienced as existential anxiety and despair, but as freedom and lightness that finally allow us to move. Movement and indetermination belong together; neither can be understood without the other."                      


Big Tail Elephant catalogue, P.56





Lin Yilin is a builder of brick walls for him, these walls are traces of physical labour rather than sculptures - extensions of the human body and therefore part of real life. According to Lin,it is in the arduous labour of construction, rather than in abstract ideas, that art becomes meaningful.


The wall has been utilized as a cultural and political metaphor through out China's history, from the Great Wall to the recent ‘fire Wall’ - the imposition of official controls on the Internet. Due to the Post-Cold War globalization of the capitalist economy. China is currently undergoing an unprecedentedly rapid process of modernization. This has engendered enormous conflict between the post-Communist system and the liberal market economy, between openness to the global culture and fear of losing local identity, between the fanatical pursuit of money and traditional values, between urban explosion and ecological consciousness, creating a constantly moving, schizophrenic landscape. The new skyscrapers, with their brick walls, steel structures and glass facades, constitute a spectacular image of this new reality. Along with artists Chen Shaoxiong, Liang Juhui and Xu Tan - fellow members of the ‘Big Tail Elephant’ artists' group in Guangzhou (Canton) - Lin has developed a strategy of active and critical intervention in order to disrupt this paradoxical world. In his controversial action/installation The Result of 1000 Pieces, realized inGuangzhou in 1994.Lin erected a wall of bricks and bank notes to evoke this moment of transition. In a further, even more subversive action. Safely Manoeuvred through the Lin He street. 1995, he collected scores of bricks from a wall on a construction site on a busy street in  Guangzhou, which he then transported brick by brick to another construction site on the opposite side of the street, where he rebuilt the wall. Causing a tremendous traffic jam in the city, the action halted for a moment the otherwise unstoppable growth.


The retrocession of Hong Kong is a potent symbol of the current global post-colonial transformation and extremely important to Lin, a resident of Hong Kong's neighbouring Guangzhou. His recent work attempts to reveal the collective, unspoken panic in the face of such a historic change. In the summer of 1996, he built a ‘moving wall’, which he carried through the street of central Hong Kong. On it were written the names of Hong Kong's official institutions, political parties and corporations. The action interrupted the busy traffic and disturbed the long queue of people trying to obtain British Overseas Citizen's passports before the handover. Ironically, these have little real validity as travel documents - they serve more as a kind of psychological consolation for those seeking ‘protection’ after the transition. In November 1997, Lin realized another action in a swimming pool in Hong Kong. Calling the event Shark Proof Web , 1997, he was referring to the netting that protects Hong Kong people swimming in the ocean. His web, however, was made up of hundreds of copies of the Basic Law of the Hong Kong SAR (Special Administrative Region).When he had woven it, he lay on a life buoy and floated in the void.         


Cream , P.256-259