“For me, bones are just like any other material; they are similar to the thread, silk, and fabric that I have used in the past and still use today. I believe that the bone is the only perfect object left in the world” - Lin Tianmiao
A 35,000 year old flute whittled from the wing bone of a griffon vulture is played in the company of a living griffon (a species now threatened with extinction). In the video by artist duo Allora & Calzadilla, the massive vulture looks on as a flautist struggles to make music from the prehistoric instrument, forged from one of the bird’s long-dead ancestors.
In Lin Tianmiao’s works, it’s human corpses that are transformed. Bones from a synthetic skeleton are wrapped in bright silk thread and arranged neatly on a spectrum of colour and scale. Skulls are affixed to various trade tools and everyday objects, bound by pink silk in perpetuity.
Animate/Inanimate, on show at TarraWarra Museum of Art until 6 October, deals with extinction and exploitation, the loss of species, sustenance, habitat and homelands. But when I suggest to Victoria Lynn, curator and TarraWarra director, that the exhibition is a little grim, she laughs in surprise. “No. I think it’s a positive show.”
“I get a great sense of exuberance from Lin Tianmiao’s work – in terms of the celebration of colour, making, weaving and threading – but having said that clearly there’s an underlying sense of confrontation.”
Of Amar Kanwar’s film, which considers the devastating encroachment of industry in the Indian state of Orissa, Lynn says, “Yes it addresses a really tragic set of events, but the fact he’s brought us the story and documented the majesty of that landscape - I see that as a really positive gesture.”
Animate/Inanimate touches on highly emotive themes but the exhibition avoids being didactic or prescriptive (human impact on nature = bad), as do each of the individual works.
“I think it’s really important that the artwork remains the most powerful force in the exhibition,” says Lynn, “...all of these artists steer away from didacticism. It’s not a message driven exhibition.”
Instead Animate/Inanimate explores a continuum of connections between nature, culture and animals (including the human animal). Some of these connections are positive, some are not, some are both at the same time. There are no easy answers but there are lots of feelings.
That, according to Lynn, is the point. “I see the artworks as opening up a dialogue or a conversation. They can open up a set of emotions in the viewer. And I think that’s a really positive aspect of what art can do, that maybe other forms of media that might be dealing with these issues can’t.”
>> Maura Edmond
>> Lin Tianmiao quoted in the Animate/Inanimate catalogue
GO SEE IT:
29 June - 6 October, 2013
TarraWarra Museum of Art
311 Healesville-Yarra Glen Road, Healesville
Tues - Sun 11am - 5pm
On the first Sunday of each month during Animate/Inanimate, TarraWarra Museum of Art and nearby Healesville Sanctuary are conducting combined behind the-scenes tours.
On Saturday 1 September, the museum is hosting an Animate/Inanimate Symposium, exploring the exhibition themes in more detail.