Culture / Art Republik

All Aboard: Chinese artist Lin Jingjing at de Sarthe Gallery, Hong Kong

Chinese artist Lin Jingjing questions the state of contemporary living at de Sarthe Gallery

Sep 17, 2017 | By Art Republik

Lin Jingjing

According to French anthropologist Marc Augé, the airport is a “non-place” in the supermodern world we live in, where the individual’s identity becomes insignificant in navigating the urban spaces it occupies.

Beijing-born New York-based contemporary artist Lin Jingjing has expanded on this idea to stage a new multimedia solo exhibition, ‘Take Off’, at de Sarthe Gallery at Global Trade Square at Wong Chuk Hang in Hong Kong from 16 September to 14 October, which will see the space transformed into the artist’s version of the airport, with recognisable visual signifiers such as arrival and departure boards, airport signs and passports. However, these are not as they usually appear.

For one, instead of presenting flight information, the arrival and departure boards are LED displays that show laden words such as “commitment” and “collusion” that comment on current issues in society, as well as the human emotions they engender, such as “fear” and “frustration”. The artist says, “Our emotions are in flux, just as they are on the boards as they appear, disappear and reappear and in their random sequence, they remain linked, and cross the boundary between reality and our states of mind.”

Lin Jingjing, ‘Our Only Security is Our Ability to Change’, 2017. Image courtesy the artist and de Sarthe Gallery.

The boards, with the deluge of changing information is ultimately a commentary about the uneasy, unpredictable state of the world we live in today, and how we struggle to make sense of what is going on. In the artist’s statement about the work, she notes: “Incredulous political speech has diminished our ability to discern between right and wrong, and the ever escalating threat of war has undermined our trust in the possibility of peace. We have lost our cultural identities, and have become anxious and confused about the security of our respective homelands.”

The aesthetics of Lin’s new exhibition may differ from a previous show at de Sarthe Gallery in Hong Kong in 2014, ‘Promise Again for the First Time’, which showcased her mixed media works of reproduced monochromatic photographs of life in China featuring geometric patterns embroidered with colourful cotton threads. Nevertheless, the concept behind the works in the artist’s oeuvre remain consistent. “Upon closer examination, they are filled with paradox, just that the presentation format is different,” Lin says. “I hope through this work’s theatricality and absurdity that we will reconsider what we often think is normal but is actually not.”

‘Take Off’ pushes the viewer to think about their own disquieting experiences at the airport as a reflection of supermodern living, exposing overly optimistic portrayals of reality by bringing to the surface feelings of uncertainty, anxiety and loss of individuality in society today. “The technological advancements have a multi-faceted impact on our lives, with some industries made redundant forever, and with big data, there are some capabilities that are being abused or allowed to become stronger in a limitless way, and engenders a debate about one’s identity, rights, privacy,” says the artist. “Whether our future is something to be excited about, or to be feared and deeply concerned about, we have to rethink the meaning of human existence and where it’s going.”

The exhibition is the artist’s reminder of the need to live more consciously, which is reflected in the titles of the artworks, such as ‘Critical Thinking Matters: It’s Time to Reinvent, Rethink, Re-strategise’ and ‘Our Only Security is Our Ability to Change’. While these paint a pessimistic picture about the state of the world, the artist does give agency to the viewers, who appear able to make changes to regain control over their own well-being.

Lin Jingjing, ‘Critical Thinking Matters: It’s Time to Reinvent, Rethink, Re-strategise, and Grow’, 2017. Image courtesy the artist and de Sarthe Gallery.

The materials that Lin uses help to convey her ideas as well. ‘Username or Password Incorrect’ is made up of 50 passports represented by real covers from different countries, including the Republic of India and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, with each one presented on marble. “The purpose of the passport is to prove the holder’s identity, in particular the legality of the identity, its recognition and its traceability. It needs to indicate friendliness and prove that the holder is not a dangerous person in order that he or she is allowed to pass through customs,” says the artist.

The artist has chosen marble for its representative characteristics. “Marble is heavy, cold, untraceable, unmovable, even uncooperative,” says the artist. “Using marble to recreate passports is a form of extreme paradox, to present how one’s identity is in real terms, not provable and distinguishable from the next in today’s society where the individual has essentially been erased. There is no better metaphor than in the hordes of visitors at customs who become faceless strangers to the officer as they get processed to be given or denied entry into the country.” On the opening night, there will be performance artists acting as airport staff who hold the fates of the arriving passengers in their hands.

de Sarthe Gallery

The loss of individuality in contemporary society has precipitated an attempt to seek happiness. With the airport as metaphor for living in the supermodern society, the work ‘This is the Beginning of My Desperation’ cuts to the core of the human condition. 12 coloured transparent acrylic empty boxes depict actual published self-help books for the pursuit of happiness, such as ‘Searching for Happiness’ by Martin Thielen and ‘A Fifty Percent Chance of Happiness’ by Gary Kuper.

The artist notes that the printing volume and sales volume of these books are shockingly high, and show us how much people yearn for happiness and how many feel helpless in this search. The urgency of the words on the colourful box juxtaposed against the emptiness of the box reveals the paradox that lies within our technicolour daydreaming and the abject disappointment that awaits us.

Other works at the exhibition include App 1 and App 2, advertisements of unrealistically powerful apps. App 1 tracks personal information of people passing through the airport to facilitate the check-in process while App 2 forges information as a form of check and balances for App 1, commenting on the blurred boundaries between fact and fiction in the digital world.

All in all, the exhibition is a hard-hitting look at the realities of living in a time of technological advancements that are both advantageous and potentially detrimental, and how life is fraught with occurrences that are largely beyond our scopes of influence, disrupted only by our valiant attempts, with varying success, to regain some semblance of control on constantly shifting ground.

The saying goes that “the unexamined life is not worth living”. The exhibition is a timely reminder for a reevaluation of living in contemporary society, and to answer the perennial big question of the meaning of life.

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This article was written for the upcoming issue of Art Republik. 

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