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Interview: Candice Lin

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With challenging subject matter and blood-like fluid dripping onto the gallery floor, A Body Reduced to Brilliant Colour at Gasworks, London, might not be for the faint-hearted.

In her first solo art exhibition in the UK, LA-based artist Candice Lin explores how the histories of slavery and colonialism are “echoed in our contemporary times”.

Lin considers the reverberating effects of these histories by exploring how the human attraction to particular colours, tastes and textures fuelled the colonial trade of goods such as tea, sugar, opium, cochineal and silver.

“I wanted to look at the... lesser known aspects of the histories of these different goods,” Lin tells me. “Even before the moment of thinking about labour or slavery, there is this kind of primal urge or attraction towards these objects”.

Lin is interested in “the way that these [colonial trade goods] have shaped human history, while seeming to be these inert objects… that are being traded”, thinking of them as “almost like living agents acting out”.


Candice Lin, System for a Stain

Candice Lin, System for a Stain, 2016
Gasworks, London. Photo: Andy Keate

 

In the gallery space, living works such as a circulatory sculpture and tanks filled with cockroaches and silkworms contrast with other still, inanimate, lifeless objects.

As the title suggests, the human attraction to colour is a particularly important aspect of the exhibition. Lin says, “I was really interested in the way, when I was reading some of these older accounts of [colonial trade goods], the language seemed really racialised”.

Lin continues, “In particular they would talk about porcelain and how it was prized for its pure whiteness that… was ‘impervious’ to staining by exotic liquids such as tea or coffee… it was almost like this metaphor for this fear of contagion”.

Central to A Body Reduced to Brilliant Colour is a consideration of “our desire for certain colour, or a glittering surface, or the desire to be inebriated and not in our usual sober state”. These seemingly innate human attractions and desires can be seen as driving forces behind historical colonial trade.

The polysemic title of the exhibition, A Body Reduced to Brilliant Colour, partly refers to this seemingly innate human interest in colours. The title also references the “idea of an abstracted body within the proportions of the system and then the colour is the stain that is produced from that system”. Throughout the exhibition, Lin considers “the way objects stand in for human bodies”.

Candice Lin, System for a Stain

Candice Lin, System for a Stain, 2016
Gasworks, London. Photo: Andy Keate

Interested in how the histories of slavery and colonialism “get circulated… there’s a circulating sculpture in [the exhibition]”.

The circulating sculpture, or “flayed circulatory system” as the artist also refers to it, feeds in colonial trade goods such as tea, cochineal and opium into the central system. This produces a red liquid that is pumped through pipes and dripped onto the gallery floor of an adjacent room.

Lin says, “I was interested in thinking about the main installation as a kind of pumping circulation fermenting system”.

The red liquid dries to create a stain “so there wasn’t any sort of product, just this remnant.” As such, Lin tells me “it’s more about the circulation of each thing affecting the next thing” and that it is “a metaphor for these… fraught histories”.

Visiting the exhibition, I found myself simultaneously shocked and intrigued by this blood-like fluid that stained the gallery floor.

Regarding how Lin expects visitors to react, she says, “It depends on the type of visitor!”

Lin continues, “I think there’s a lot of elements [of the exhibition] that hopefully will provoke curiosity, especially when… people want to go and... look at the cockroaches.”

Candice Lin silkworms

Candice Lin, The Worm Husband (Our Father), 2016
Gasworks, London. Photo: Andy Keate

Colonialism and slavery have been explored in Lin’s art “since about 2010”, and she tells me “all my work deals with the kind of politics of power and how that plays out in terms of race or gender or sexuality.”

An important concept considered in the exhibition is the role that plants and substances had in the histories of slavery and colonialism. In the exhibition, Lin explores how plant knowledge could be empowering, particularly for female slaves.

With an understanding of poisonous and abortifacient plants, female slaves could use plants to abort their unborn children to take back control of their own bodies. Exploring how plant knowledge could invert power relations, Lin considers an interesting and often underexplored side of the histories of colonialism and slavery.

The works in the exhibition all present different aspects of the complex multiplicitous power relations within the histories explored.

When visiting A Body Reduced to Brilliant Colour, I was struck by my own struggle to pinpoint the focused idea of the exhibition. However, talking to Lin highlighted the naivety of my assumption that there would be a simple presentation of the complicated issues discussed.

I asked Lin if there was a particular message or concept that she would like visitors to leave with, but she said, “I don’t know that there’s… one particular message.” Instead, the exhibition encourages a multi-layered understanding of the histories’ equally multi-layered narratives.

“I definitely learned a lot,” Lin tells me about creating the exhibition. “I sometimes think I make art to learn about things I’m interested in”.

A Body Reduced to Brilliant Colour is an eye-opening, thought-provoking and hard-hitting show that is not to be missed.

Candice Lin: A Body Reduced to Brilliant Colour runs from 22 September - 11 December 2016 at Gasworks, London. For more information visit the Gasworks website here:  http://www.gasworks.org.uk/ 

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