Critics’ Picks

Lin Yilin, Golden Bridge, 2011, color photograph of performance, dimensions variable.

San Francisco

Lin Yilin

SFAI Walter and McBean Galleries
800 Chestnut Street
May 4 - July 28

Through performance, video, installation, and photography, Lin Yilin’s practice investigates how individual gestures challenge conventional norms of human behavior in public space. Pushing the existing boundaries of social and urban constraints, his practice constantly tests the political impact created by interactions between the human body and its surroundings.

The exhibition “Golden Journey” is the result of a three-month residency Lin did in San Francisco last fall, during which he collaborated with local residents and artist communities to create a series of idiosyncratic performances that would speak directly to the geographic, historical, and political context of the city. Video and photographic documentation of these events is presented here, along with an installation by the artist; graffiti by local students covers gallery’s interior walls. The key action in each performance involves the artist rolling sideways in an iconic location in San Francisco, including Powell Street, Lombard Street, Chinatown, and the pedestrian walkway of the Golden Gate Bridge. Seemingly an intuitive—if not logical—adaptation to the city’s hilly topography, the rolling action is actually discreetly choreographed. A group of participants walk in front of the artist in absurdly slow motion, and with each step they serve both as facilitators of and barriers limiting access to the artist’s action. The gestures are subtle, but when repetitively enacted, they approach spectacle. Intervening within urban space as well as with the general public, the artist and participants form a temporary community that absorbs its surroundings, creating an ephemeral monument, memorialized by the gazes of passersby and the cameras of tourists.

The paradox of the spectacular and the everyday, of the transient and the permanent, is perhaps best summarized by the site-specific installation Golden Lion, 2012, in which a traditional lion dance costume seems to have gotten trapped while traveling through a cinder block wall—only the head and tail are visible—and has been covered with a thousand one-dollar bills. Under the dramatic spotlighting in the center of the gallery, the lion transforms into a monstrous yet powerless creature that is detached from its original celebratory function. Moving it beyond just a symbolic reference to the city’s immigration history, Lin humorously and critically describes a limbo created by the tensions constantly pulling among the forces of cultural adventure, societal structure, and the greater monetary system.