Lin Tianmiao

林 天苗

Sculptor, *1961 Taiyuan, Shanxi, studio in Beijing

Lin Tianmiao with one one her signature silk sculptures,

If any woman qualifies as a power-artist on the current male model, Lin Tianmiao probably comes closest. She was born in 1961, and like many artists of her generation, who were raised during the Cultural Revolution but came of age professionally in its rocky aftermath, she had a difficult start. In the mid-1990s, her work was made from used household utensils that she laboriously wrapped in layers of cheap white cotton thread to create inventories of domestic life that looked both threatening and precious.
In the West she is considered a feminist – which she calls an inappropiate epithet in Chinese. Ironically, it is in China where her work is most commercially successful, a woman of great prestige in a society dominated by men.

In 2012 Lin and her husband, video artist Wang Gongxin, had a retrospecive exhibition: “Lin Tianmiao, Bound – Unbound” at the Asia Society in New York City, which I will use extensively to describe her work.

“The Proliferation of Thread Winding', 1995
White cotton thread, rice paper, needles (12-15 cm in length), bed, video player, television monitor in pillow.

One of her earliest works, “The Proliferation of Thread Winding” consists of a metal-framed bed with an oval cut out of its mattress filled with 20,000 industrial-size needles. A torn nightgown hangs on the wall. Hundreds of strings radiate from the bed to ping-pong-size balls of string on the floor. It has an atmosphere of horror and madness that she regrettably suppressed in later works.

Here? or There?”

A refreshening breeze from the real world can be found in “Here? Or There?,” an installation that Ms. Lin created in collaboration with Mr. Wang in 2002. Her contribution is a set of eerie, heavily veiled figurative sculptures like mannequins modeling outfits. Behind these is a set of six oval screens onto which Mr. Wang’s videos are projected: peaceful rural scenes intermittently interrupted by the noise and rushing imagery of big-city traffic. Like the sounds in “Chatting” these glimpses of reality are a relief from the overwrought Gothic romance of Ms. Lin’s sculptures.

“Here? or There?” 2002

Veiled Bride


“Chatting”, 2004

Around 2002 Ms. Lin began to integrate naked human figures into her installations using body casts of herself and others. “Chatting” (2004) is a gathering of six, corpulent, middle-aged women. Instead of a head each has a rectangular video screen on the end of a curved stem. Audio speakers emit the sounds of women’s voices as well as their laughter, weeping, muttering and sexual panting. These sounds have a feeling of reality that offsets the ponderous weirdness of the tableau.

In an interview in the Asia Society's exhibition catalog (2012) Ms. Lin explains that she does not consider herself a feminist artist. She was more interested in psychoanalytic depth than in women’s social circumstances. Feminism wass practically unknown in China.

Endless” and “Initiator”

“Endless” 2004

“Initiator” 2004

In “Endless” three muscular men(!) stand around a heap of chaff all in hot pink. The meaning of this is less than obvious; is the chaff the last leftover of woman? Whilst “Initiator” was sold in the West and is one of the best-known sculptures of Ms. Lin.


The most complete work of Lin Tianmian's psychological musings is a ghostly walk-in installation called “Mothers!!!” (2008). It is an all-white womb of a space with walls, floor and ceiling covered by an allover patchwork of big squares of heavy silk. Within this ethereal environment, half-life-size, headless and otherwise violated and distorted female bodies appear along with hanging tangles of fabric and tumorlike balls.

Mothers No. 2
The most charitable sculpture of this installation is a body which has its legs entangled in a gnarled tree

Mothers No.1
Two emaciated dogs siniffing a female body covered by a thin sheet of silk brocade

The disembodied Woman

2001 - 2007

Lithographs, screen prints and C-prints with overlays


Lithograph and screenprint with thread additions, 127 x 101 cm


From 2001 onwards Lin experimented with lithographs and screen prints, mostly faces, which she then “disfigured” with random punctures, silk threads, or styrofoam spheres. In an abstract way they are some of her more interesting works.

All the Same”

Lin Tianmiao's most recent work has taken a turn toward the decorative. “All the Same” (2011) displays 180 of the 206 bones of a synthetic human skeleton arranged in a horizontal row. Each is wrapped in colored thread. Together they create a continuous rainbow of colors.