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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Lana Lin

New York,
USA

Lana Lin is a New York-based artist whose films and videos have centered on the inadequacies of translating the complexities of language, culture, and politics into various forms of representation. Informed by experimental and documentary film, and extending her practice to digital media, installation, publications, and on-line projects, Lin investigates the intricate contradictions of national identity and democratic discourse as they are embodied in individual and collective memory.

Lin’s work has shown internationally at venues including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, China Taipei Film Archive, the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo, Merida, Mexico, as well as the Festival de Femmes, Creteil, France and the London Film Festival, among others. She has been awarded numerous fellowships, including support from the New York State Council on the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Fulbright Foundation, the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, the Princess Grace Foundation-USA, and the Jerome Foundation. She earned her MFA from Bard College, her BA from the University of Iowa, IA, and was a fellow at the Whitney Independent Study Program, NY. Since 2001 she has been working collaboratively as a member of the artist team ‘Lin + Lam.’

Feminist Artist Statement

My artistic practice centers on processes of identification and the implications of estrangement to language, nationality, or a set of cultural norms. My work raises questions about the inadequacies of translation and representation, and the politics of producing strangers–whether to each other or ourselves.

I am critically engaged with feminism, psychoanalysis and post-colonial studies, working with and against experimental ethnography. My work voices multiple perspectives, insisting that a single account of an experience is neither authoritative nor sufficient. The counter-narratives I advance de-stabilize a passive relationship to viewership, history, memory, and the present moment.

Since 2001, I have been a member of the artist team ‘Lin + Lam’ with H. Lan Thao Lam. We produce research-based projects that investigate social hierarchies and power relations, interrogating art and media’s potential for truth-telling and manipulation. We embrace collaboration as a political ethic that relinquishes total authorial control. Our projects integrate historical research and popular culture, assuming hybrid, interdisciplinary forms.

<p>I Begin to Know You</p>

I Begin to Know You

“I Begin to Know You culls from a global image bank to offer some elusive variations on the picturing of women in the domestic arena. Over contrasting images from Lin’s ready-made ethnography, we hear pieces of found audio saying: ‘I reach, I touch, I begin to know you.’ This concise, historical collage of images and image-making provides a remarkable interpretation on the idea of the ‘home-maker,’ where ‘home’ is the world and the maker is the feminine figure often looked at and rarely recognized.”

—Jason Simon, catalog for Unite d’Habitation le Corbusier, Firminy, France, May 1993

I Begin to Know You

“I Begin to Know You culls from a global image bank to offer some elusive variations on the picturing of women in the domestic arena. Over contrasting images from Lin’s ready-made ethnography, we hear pieces of found audio saying: ‘I reach, I touch, I begin to know you.’ This concise, historical collage of images and image-making provides a remarkable interpretation on the idea of the ‘home-maker,’ where ‘home’ is the world and the maker is the feminine figure often looked at and rarely recognized.”

—Jason Simon, catalog for Unite d’Habitation le Corbusier, Firminy, France, May 1993

Mizu Shobai (Water Business)

Mizu Shobai (Water Business) blends two stories, one of a geisha who is lost at sea and another of the first geisha to circle the world. The dual narratives collapse into a single female figure, a traveler through time and across cultures. Carried by the act of perception, the geisha drifts beyond the prescribed bounds of “her place” in the world. The Shogun’s Seclusion Edict (1637-1868), the historical period of Japanese isolation, states that foreign influence is punishable by death, so that the geisha’s passive observations become an active, fatal offense. “Mizu Shobai” literally translates as “water business,” which is the Japanese term for the entertainment world. Encompassing layers of meaning, the phrase refers to liquor and sex, as well as the geisha’s stereotyped maudlin lifestyle, which “flows like water.”

“Through lyrical images and narrative shards, Lin builds a critique of the ways in which the figure of the Japanese woman exists in the imaginary.” (Manohla Dargis, LA Weekly)

Stranger Baby

“Substituting sly metaphor for political rhetoric on immigration, Lin examines our world of ethical and racial complexities.”—LA Asian Pacific Film Festival catalogue

Moving between fiction, non-fiction, and science fiction, Stranger Baby features collaged micro-narratives and interviews that report on the multiple meanings of the term “alien.” The layered soundtrack is composed of viewers speculating on the film’s images. Their responses, marked by anxiety, gravitate toward ready-made assumptions. The voices elaborate an allegory of race and gender relations that exposes the dangerous inclination toward racial profiling. The film’s internal monologue addresses both the attractive and threatening aspects of alienation, confessing to its allure while constructing a critique that challenges viewers to recognize themselves as possible agents or recipients of the vilifying gaze.

No Power to Push Up the Sky

No Power to Push Up the Sky takes its name from a literal translation of the slogan 23-year-old student leader Chai Ling wrote on her clothes during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. In an interview conducted in Beijing on May 28, 1989, one week before the massacre, Chai Ling recalls this expression of the students’ sense of helplessness. For the video, fifteen people spontaneously translate excerpts of the original Chinese interview into spoken English. The video also features running headlines from major and marginal Western newspapers and journals that chronicle the Tiananmen Square events. Both forms of translation demonstrate the complex process of locating meaning across language, culture, and politics. By positioning translation as an interpretive act, the video points to the subjective motivations underlying any understanding and narrativization of history. To view an excerpt see http://www.seththompson.info/extrapolations.html

No Power to Push Up the Sky

No Power to Push Up the Sky takes its name from a literal translation of the slogan 23-year-old student leader Chai Ling wrote on her clothes during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. In an interview conducted in Beijing on May 28, 1989, one week before the massacre, Chai Ling recalls this expression of the students’ sense of helplessness. For the video, fifteen people spontaneously translate excerpts of the original Chinese interview into spoken English. The video also features running headlines from major and marginal Western newspapers and journals that chronicle the Tiananmen Square events. Both forms of translation demonstrate the complex process of locating meaning across language, culture, and politics. By positioning translation as an interpretive act, the video points to the subjective motivations underlying any understanding and narrativization of history.

everything is not the same

“everything is not the same” utilizes speech recognition software and psychoanalysis as colliding systems that categorize and condition human behavior. The case study of Anna O., whose hysterical symptoms included a unique speech disorder, is dictated to a computer that generates a transcript that is both frustrating and revelatory. This project examines the way subjects modify their behavior in order to be recognized by systems at large, from social interactions to confrontations with technology, when sometimes only the struggle to communicate remains from the exchange.

Mysterial Power

“Mysterial Power” is a personal pursuit through interactions with family, spirituality, and everyday life in Taiwan. The video documents the struggle between the filmmaker as observer and participant in the field of her Taiwanese family’s daily life and religious practice. Lin’s adolescent cousin, who communicates with one of the Taiwanese local gods, inspired the project and becomes its absent center. The figure of the spiritual medium acts as a translator between different categories of experience. As one who mediates between the strange and familiar, she offers a shifting vantage point from which to view cultural constructions of knowledge, belief, and reality.

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