Michael Lin is internationally recognised for his large-scale architectural interventions that appropriate motifs from traditional Taiwanese textiles. Transforming the institutional architecture of the public museum, his installations invite visitors to reconsider their usual perception of those spaces, and to contribute meaning to its potential as an area for interaction, encounter and re-creation. Federation, 2017, is a floor piece newly commissioned for the National Gallery of Victoria. Lin has created an immersive environment that invites visitors to reconsider the architecture of Federation Court at NGV International. For this site-specific project hand-painted in collaboration with local Melbourne artists, Lin has interspersed an ornamental floral pattern with designs adopted from a 1880s coverlet included in the NGV exhibition Making the Australian Quilt: 1800–1950 (2016). Lin’s work has been exhibited widely in major institutions and biennial contexts, including the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, Manila, 2016; the 5th Auckland Triennial, 2013; the 2011 Singapore Biennial and the 10th Lyon Biennial, 2009. Lin currently lives and works between Taipei, Shanghai and Brussels.
JD: Could you please describe your work for the NGV?
ML: During my site visit last year, I chanced upon the exhibition Making the Australian Quilt: 1800–1950. I was fascinated by how quilts were able to speak so beautifully about friendships, social relations, communities and nation building, all of which my work in the past has engaged with. I am proposing to make a large-scale painted patchwork that will cover the entire area of Federation Court.
JD: How did you come to use the floral motif that dominates much of your artistic output? What was the genesis?
ML: Initially the floral motifs that I appropriated for my works came from textile designs from Taiwan’s recent past. At the time I was searching for a way to establish a dialogue with my audience. The motifs, which are immediately recognisable, allow me to communicate in a common language. They are also remnants of the traditional culture of Taiwan that allow me to address issues of cultural identity, modernity and locality.
JD: Do the patterns ever have specific personal associations?
ML: The motifs were personal in the sense that they appeared on cushions in my living room, but what interested me most was that they spoke of a collective past. Coincidentally, my reflections on the relationship between contemporary art and the traditional cultural heritage of Taiwan occurred at the same time as unprecedented political and cultural changes in the country. I had just returned home after living for twenty years in the United States, and was in the process of coming to terms with my personal relationship to tradition.
JD: Textile and craft traditions are ongoing points of reference in your works. What importance do you place on these kinds of practices?
ML: What most interests me about craft traditions is that they are a form of collective expression. Rather than the expression of an individual’s craft, traditions speak of shared experiences and collectivity. It is an art that occupies our daily lives and engages our habits.
JD: There is a tension that arises from the positioning of the domestic within the context of large-scale public institutions in your works. Can you comment on how the private versus public dynamic operates in your works?
ML: This approach was a way to bridge the gap between the audience and contemporary art at the time in Taiwan. This familiar language allowed my work to speak to an expanded audience. It was also a way to temporarily reclaim public and institutional space.
JD: If I am right, your earliest use of the flower motifs appeared in paintings in the 1990s. Do you see the same concerns playing out in your immersive large-scale installations, such as the one you have produced for the NGV? Do you consider these works paintings in a sense?
ML: The paintings from the 1990s you are referring to are from a series titled Pillow Paintings. The works began as paintings of pillows in my home, before transforming into pillows I made using selected textiles that I subsequently featured in paintings. I was interested in the point of contact between the work of art and the audience. The pillows and pillow paintings were surfaces that marked the physical exchange between art and body. In my solo exhibition Interior (1996) the pillow paintings were shown simultaneously with carpets, a collection of CDs and the stereo from my living room. From the start, I always saw my paintings as part of the wall, the exhibition space and the architecture.
JD: The relationships your works have to specific architectural spaces and institutional contexts is important: different contexts engender different experiences and also meanings. Can you talk about this, and perhaps about how you anticipate this might work in the NGV?
ML: For my project at the NGV I am interested in issues of alliance and nation. The quilt that I appropriated for this project was made to celebrate a union; the central medallion is that of a handshake and/or a commemoration of the Federation and formation of the Commonwealth of Australia. The Taiwanese motifs, which are patched together with the Australian ones, also come from a tradition of weddings. These colourful floral motifs usually cover the duvet that is presented as part of the dowry from the bride’s family to the groom. Since the 1990s these floral motifs have become a symbol of Taiwanese cultural identity. Unlike some of the historical Australian quilts that were made as wall hangings, the Taiwanese duvet covers are a central feature of the wedding night bed.
JD: Collaboration has been a feature of a number of your projects. I am thinking of the work you made in Auckland with Atelier Bow-Wow which involved collaborators and was not attributed to a single artist/author/architect. It would appear to me that the process of making your works is as important as the outcome. Would you agree, and could you elaborate on this?
ML: Collaboration is an important aspect of my work. Sometimes this is made explicit, as in the project you are referring to titled Model Home, 2013. Collaboration is usually implicit, however, due to the large-scale of my projects, which are produced by crews of painters and installers. Authorship has always been questioned in my work from the start. All the floral motifs in my work are appropriated from existing textile designs.
JD: Following from this, many of your spaces encourage social interaction. Your work, since the 1990s, has been associated with relational aesthetics. Could you talk about the importance of this aspect of your practice?
ML: Although I have worked with critic and curator Nicolas Bourriaud on many occasions, my work mostly grew out of a specific political, economic and cultural condition that existed in the early 1990s in Taiwan. Questions of exhibition, audience and locality where all part of the development of contemporary art in Asia at the time.
JD: You are an artist who has lived in many cities around the world, including Taipei, Los Angeles, Honolulu, Shanghai, Paris, Brussels, among others. Would you say that being in these different locations has influenced the nature of your work? If so, how?
ML: The development of my work coincided with the proliferation of large-scale international exhibitions, such as biennials and triennials. It was a time when the contemporary art world was being redefined from the margins. Rather than being centred in the United States and Western Europe, these centres where being challenged from all sides. I was moving across cultures, between the United States, Europe and Asia, as a result of invitations to exhibit and take up artist residencies. I would say that this condition in some ways defined my work. This movement back and forth between centre and periphery allowed for a more detached and critical relationship to the institution of art as a whole.