Michael Lin

Shanghai Gallery of Art

In Michael Lin’s first solo show in Shanghai—two years following his arrival in the city—his usual colorful flowers and patterns were nowhere to be found. Lin seems to have discovered a new formula with which to transform the vernacular into the spectacular, using ready-made objects, video, music, and performance as an ensemble in his new work, What a Difference a Day Made, 2008.

In his earlier work, Lin had appropriated ornamental flower patterns from Taiwanese or Japanese textiles and enlarged them to fit spaces of modern social engagement, and the work’s significance derived mostly from its temporal and cultural decontextualization as well as its often overwhelming visual presentation. In the current exhibition, too, the artificially insulated context of a gallery situated in an early-twentieth-century European landmark (renovated to house an Armani flagship store and a Jean-Georges restaurant) and the isolation and reinsertion of the chaotic streets into the acme of flashy capitalist cosmopolitanism reflects a level of discomfort born of socioeconomic friction—a sensation which must have been felt keenly by an artist who has lived in Paris, Brussels, and Taipei as well as Shanghai. When the artist relocates his objects from one context to another in his installations, the artist as cultural mediator flexes his metaphors by conducting them through different geopolitical settings.

The main exhibition space was darkly lit, with projections on hanging screens showing two Chinese performers struggling to juggle random objects from the same store; the act was performed live at the opening, in an attempt to assess the physicality of each object. Behind the screens were felt-lined wooden crates used as display cases for about seven hundred distinct kinds of objects—such as fifty-four types of bowls—carefully inventoried and spotlighted. Lin’s ritualistic treatment of these ordinary goods mocks the museological setting that invests relics of preglobalization with newfound nostalgia.

A humming sound track, improvised by Belgian sound artist Anton Aeki at the exhibition’s opening, created an uneasy tension and added to the dramatic impact of the installation. Its title, What a Difference a Day Made, derives from that of a love song in Wong Kar-wai’s 1994 film Chungking Express, set in the transitional state of Hong Kong just a few years prior to the transfer of sovereignty to China. The film is an apt reference for an artist whose inspiration is taken from continuous dislocation and the challenge of coming to terms with recurrent changes.

Shinyoung Chung