Leo Xu Projects (49 Fuxing Road, Lane 3, Xuhui District, Shanghai) Mar 5–Apr 5, 2016
At Leo Xu Projects, the artist Michael Lin’s most favored themes—inquiries into notions of hometown and elsewhere, dialogues between works of art and architecture, and his own particular critiques of consumerist society—were condensed within the exquisite layout of an old Shanghai villa. From the living room walls to the corner of the stairway landing, up and down this small three-story building, a row of FOREVER bicycles are placed in a minimalist order along with the intricate patterns and gilded playful fonts taken from the bicycle frames, commingling with the sweet air exuded in a leisured home. Along with the sudden temperate warmth of a spring evening the show tells, across time and the passage of seasons, “A Tale of Today” in that very particular Michael Lin way.
Those who are familiar with Michael Lin’s work will be aware of his complex, nomadic origins. Born in Tokyo and having grown up in Taipei, Lin now lives and works between Shanghai and Europe. But for those without an understanding of his identity, when they look at his works—the pink and gold characters spelling out “Shanghai” (in Chinese) painted directly onto the white walls and the word “FOREVER” in gold characters—what might they imagine? Over the last few years Lin’s work has mostly been committed to a sense of nostalgia which he seeks, as it were, to tidy up. He takes whatever is old and beautiful left over from the past and condenses this within objects before magnifying them and placing them on the wall. These historical residues then overgo a further layer of fermentation in this European-style home in the former French concession.
The FOREVER bicycle brand runs as the thread from beginning to end; the fractured word-play all around deploys readers’ disorientation as a trap to lure them into the maze of commercial advertising. With Michael Lin, even this experience becomes embedded within the frame of nostalgia and transformed into another enticing commodity in a consumerist society. His fascination with old things—from the patterns on Taiwanese folk cloth in his early works to his last solo exhibition in Shanghai, “Model Home: A Proposition by Michael Lin”, in which he collected archival images of residential architecture in Shanghai—means that Michael Lin’s palette always evokes in the viewer, a sense of having fallen into a day that has whirled its way to a separate age. Merely through the brilliance of bright pink or gold, the set of locally produced Chinese bikes suddenly brings us back three decades in time. The magic of time renders the everyday strange and the alien, familiar. Such is the charm of the Michael Lin’s gaudy colors.
The ongoing commercial onslaught in China has resulted in a mode of consumption that fabricates this gilded, surface gloss in contemporary society. Memories are first and foremost products of consumption for the xiaozi (the Marxist term for “petty bourgeoisie” now generally applied to a twee, emerging middle-class taste in China). In Shanghai, a place so particular about ambiance but even better regarded for its pragmatism, the colonial memories of Yongfu Road and Anfu Road have already been bottled up by young, middle-class artsy types (“art and literary youths”) into articles of nostalgia for casual consumption. Any given sunny afternoon, this tribe idles in cafes with French names while FOREVER, the Shanghai-manufactured bicycle brand everyone in China once dreamed of owning, has now become a new collective memory under the plane trees in the shady lanes of Shanghai.
This time, by reflecting on collective memory, Michael Lin confronts life today more precisely than before. FOREVER bikes are how he gets around in Shanghai; these bikes can be refitted with off-road racing gear used to gauge the distance and relationship between him and the city. The row of nine FOREVER bikes in the gallery he had bought and brought in from the Shanghai streets were selling for 800 yuan a piece, with a “FOREVER sale” commercial contract. This allows the transaction to continue within the constraints of the play of consumption he has forged. A few years back when Lin, drifting between Shanghai and Taipei, moved a whole street of Shanghai convenience stores filled with various appliances into a gallery to create the exhibition “What a Difference a Day Made,” it was with the novelty-seeking gaze of an outsider. Now, this gaze has been transformed into that of someone who has truly touched down in French-concession Shanghai, even if life elsewhere may still be calling him to jet off once more. The third floor wall at Leo Xu Projects is filled with the times and destinations of flights leaving Shanghai’s Pudong airport over the course of one day. All that is missing is the word “Shanghai.” For this artist wandering through a noisy world, his hometown is always elsewhere.