What do you call the world? 2019. Installation.
CHRISTOPHER LIN combines organic materials—plants, soil, teeth, hair—with synthetic and technological materials like polystyrene, electrical cords and LED lights. His sculptures and installations are thoughtful arrangements of found objects that make the familiar just unfamiliar enough to elicit contemplation. . . of climate change, of the impermanence of the body and self, and of the contemporary human condition. Christopher earned his BA at Yale University and his MFA at Hunter College. In addition to numerous group shows throughout the five boroughs, he has had solo shows at Art Bash and Ray Gallery, both in Brooklyn, as well as Thomas Hunter Project Space at Hunter College. He received the C12 Emerging Artist Fellowship in 2016 and is currently an Artist-in-Residence at the Hercules Art Studio Program. His work will be included in The Lovely Wild, curated by Jenn Cacciola and Frank Sabatté. The show opens on Sept 12, 2019 at Church of St. Paul the Apostle through Openings Collective. Christopher lives and works in lives and works in New York.
OtherPeoplesPixels: I see an underlying buddhist perspective in your work. There are also overt references to the dharma, Zen koans, the breath and the mandala. How does Buddhist practice and/or philosophy inform your work?
Christopher Lin: Yes, there is absolutely a Buddhist influence within my work. Part of this comes from an indirect, cultural relationship. I grew up in a home with underlying Buddhist influences and observances (i.e. maintaining an altar to ancestors and burning incense), though my family never dictated my experience with religion. The other part comes from a personal desire to understand and address spirituality in my own experience. I am lucky to have been able to search for my own understanding of spirituality free from strict direction which led me to explore and define my own system of belief throughout my childhood. I identify more now as a student of Buddhism as a means to better understand abstract ideas such as the human condition. What is it that we are doing here and why? How do we make sense of this world filled with chaos, suffering, and violence? How do we find balance and equilibrium within ourselves and our environment? These are common questions amongst all people, but something that I've found is investigated more directly through Buddhist teachings.
Modern Dharma, 2016. Pencil on index cards (full transcription of Thich Nhat Hanh's "Peace in Every Step"), Buddha's Hand citrons, and lap desk. 24 x 14 x 12 inches.
OPP: There are repeated references to the body through its material castoffs, like hair and skin, and the marks it makes. In recent years, there’s been a trend in work that explores identity through the vehicle of the body, but I don’t think that’s the case here. I think your work is more about the experience of having a body, rather than the interpretations we add to those bodies. What are your thoughts on this? What keeps you returning to the body as a subject?
CL: I think this is a particularly keen reading of my use of body! I’m interested in investigating the human condition. The realization of the dissolution of selfhood and identity is a recurring theme in my works involving the body and perhaps stems from explorations of Buddhist understandings of the ego. I am more interested in how the idea of identity falls apart once we start to inspect it a little further. The molecules that make up our bodies—what we define as us—are constantly changing as we maintain our life processes through consumption and excretion, through breath and contact. What is at one instance us—our hair, our skin—suddenly becomes no longer ourselves through natural processes. And what was once another being—a plant, a cow, the minerals in the water we drink—is incorporated into our cells through consumption and integration. Furthermore we ourselves are ecosystems containing more cells of independent microorganisms numerically than our own human cells!
Excoriate, 2015. Glue, skin, hair, and gut sutures. 1 x 48 x 36 inches.
Works like Excoriation (2015) present the self through the form of a molting, making evident the exchange of cells that were previously me but upon shedding become a spectral representation of the past. The sloughing of hair and skin cells is one reference to the nature of our temporality. Effigy (2013) is a meditation on my inevitable end. It was a way for me to contemplate the passing of time and dissolution of my own image through the slow burn of sandalwood incense. The collapse of the physical form through the burning gives way to another manifestation of scent and smoke which are briefly captured by the bell jar hung above, making evident a kind of phase change.
Effigy (performance), 2013. Sandalwood incense, glass bell jar, rope, and pedestal.
OPP: How does “environmental anxiety” show up in your work?
CL: I try to address the current condition of environmental anxiety on a primary level through my material choices. I use found polystyrene ironically. This ubiquitous “archival material" is essentially throw-away packaging. Many works contrast organic and synthetic materials. This can be seen in 1up (2017): a dead and decayed tree on a piece of AstroTurf which appears to be resurrected by the balloon tied to it. Calcification (2018) is more direct: bleached brain coral and sand dollars are organized on a banker’s table like stacks of coins. This tableau links economy and capitalism to the destruction of organisms and habitats, pointing to the failure of our purely rational economic systems. The work poses the question: What is the value of a life, of a habitat, of an interdependent system?
Untitled (Deep Clean), 2016. Graphite on nautilus shell, cotton swabs, ear wax, and polystyrene.10 x 7 x 3.5 inches
OPP: Can you talk us through some works that address complicity and climate change?
CL: Conceptually some of my works attempt to understand levels of complicity with regards to climate change. What role do you or I play in the slow inevitable lurch towards global warming and carbon imbalance? Loaded objects like the air conditioner in Monolith (2015) point a finger at modern habituations and what we have created as our new “normal” living conditions. The ink-loaded bubble solution in Rupture (2015) and Where we begin and end (2015) draws a line between pleasure and beauty and its consequences, likening the blackness of ink to the blackness of oil. These two works depend on conscious and unconscious participation to generate this sense of complicity. Viewers actively blow bubbles to create the mural in Where we begin and end and unintentionally activate the motion sensor which controls the bubble machine in Rupture.
Terra nullius, 2016. Globe, belt sander, sanding sponge, grooming table, and extension cord.
OPP: What sensation were you most hoping to evoke for viewers in your recent solo exhibition What do you call the world? (2018)? Can you talk about the symbolism in the objects included in the room?
CL: I conceived of this installation as an exploration of aspects of relativity. On the surface, it was a relative shift of gravity through the flipping of objects from the floor to the ceiling. The room was bathed in the magenta light of the grow lamps, which allowed the peace lilies to grow in an isolated, windowless environment. Viewers experienced a relative color shift after spending just 10-15 seconds in the installation. The eyes would accommodate the intense color, and the brain would adjust the sensation of color to appear normal even within the intensely pink light. One would begin to see greens in the leaves of the plants even though no green light was present in the room! When leaving the room, the color generated from regular light would appear intensely green until the eyes and brain could reacclimatize to neutral lighting.
Conceptually I was interested in layers of artifice that allow us to perceive reality and how that relates to our contemporary experience of the world. Our brains are powerful intermediaries and interpreters of reality. What we initially find jarring in its unfamiliarity quickly becomes natural and a new normal. A grow room—one of the few ways to sustain plants in the darkness of the urban New York environment—is a strangely synthetic but natural space. I wanted to point a finger at the sci-fi artifice of the modern urban condition. The objects within the room highlight these ideas. A clock with a reversed dial runs counterclockwise such that the time is still accurately reflected. A torn quotation from a Calvin and Hobbes strip about personal gravity appears both right-side-up, yet upside-down.
A shelf of books suspends source material and relevant readings: a NASA study analyzing and ranking various plants as air filters for space travel, The Biosphereby Vladimir Vernadsky, Vibrant Matter by Jane Bennett, The Interaction of Color by Josef Albers, and Chromophobia by David Batchelor, amongst others.
Wishing Well, 2014. Inflatable swimming pool, water, and ink. 66 inch diameter.
OPP: Your work is both poignant and clever—that’s a hard balance to maintain. Too much cleverness can tip into insincerity; too much poignancy can turn to sentimentality. I think you are able to strike the perfect balance. What do you think of this assessment of your work?
CL: Wow thanks! This is a very generous assessment of my work, and I’m really glad that you read it this way. The intention in all my work is to strike a balance between the known and the unknown. In the spirit of empathy and shared experience, I offer some familiar object or idea as an entry point, then make that starting point unfamiliar through recontextualization. I think at its core this is kind of a Surrealist move. I think the goal of artwork is to allow people a way to approach what they think they know a little differently. But it is important to start somewhere authentic, a real feeling that is deep and generative. As you said, the cleverness of an idea can often deaden a work and make it feel contrived or distant. I think this relates to the push and pull between irony and sincerity in art. An extreme on either side comes off disingenuous or disaffected. I think ultimately the goal of my work is not to find a clear or concrete answer to any of the questions I'm investigating, but to open up a topic or an idea for further personal examination.