Candice Lin: The inscrutable speech of objects
through April 5
Weingart Gallery, Los Angeles
By Lorraine Heitzman
For an artist whose work is often rooted in history and science, who discusses eugenics and biological functions in the same breath, Candice Lin is also something of a romantic. This anomaly pervades whatever she touches and is very apparent in her installation at the Weingart Gallery. Created during a residency at Occidental College, The inscrutable speech of objects is reminiscent of the Museum of Jurassic Technology, the pseudo-museum in Culver City that replicates the eighteenth and nineteenth century collections borne out of the Enlightenment. And like that museum, Lin also shares a passion for the quest itself and what it tells us about our propensity to qualify and sanitize our past. The way she expresses herself may be romantic, but racism and the effects of colonialism are never underestimated, and her personal interpretation of history is clear-eyed.
Throughout the rooms of the Weingart Gallery, Lin displays research materials and medicinal remedies along with found and original objects that have the veneer of antiquity. Also included are several small drawings made with parasitic wasp and oak gall ink on blotting paper with plant remnants. The drawings are very beautiful renderings of men battling with mythological creatures and one of a woman engaging in a less adversarial encounter. In both content and style they are steeped in nostalgia, evoking medieval manuscripts and Hieronymus Bosch paintings that depict the horrors of hell and humanity.
All of the drawings and reference materials support the largest object in the gallery, an arcane Rube Goldberg-like contraption that Lin calls, The Slow Erosion of a Hard White Body (Chinese water torture). The installation originates on a tabletop of clay tablets imprinted with a text, disguised in cuneiforms and lifted from an essay by John Searle about language and consciousness. Atop the tablets, the crops of colonialism: poppies, sugarcane and tobacco are distilled and funneled through plastic tubing that runs around the room. The mysterious brew ends up trickling down onto an unfired porcelain block held within a crude wooden scaffolded structure replete with iron chains that suggest punishment and restraint.
The symbolism of distillation, the process of purification at the heart of Lin’s work, encompasses many of the artist’s interests. She uses the process to symbolically extract or break down ideas about slave labor. It is an apt metaphor for artwork that gathers and analyzes. In Lin’s conversation with Beatriz Cortez in the Oxy Arts Speaker Series, she spoke about her choice to use porcelain in her work. Having learned that fired porcelain is a material that is extremely hard and impervious to decomposition, she discovered that in its unfired state it could decompose. Using the acidic content of the distilled plants (in other sculptures she has used distilled urine) Lin initiates the process that will ultimately weaken the porcelain. Similarly, the torture devices conjured in her installation implicate the destructive forces of colonialism and racism in no uncertain terms. Lin balances her science and history with a poetic expression that makes The inscrutable speech of objects a curious display of beauty that tells a dark story worth revisiting.