Lana Lin, review by Yvette Greslé
Discontinuous juxtapositions overlay and move across our field of vision. Female protagonists speak animatedly of a much-loved pastime: the recording onto videotape of treasured television programmes. ‘Taiwan Video Club’ (1999) - by New York based artist Lana Lin - stages a world as familiar as it is removed. Any of us who lived in the age of videotape can relate to the practices and social rituals attached to it - the recording and over-recording of favourite programmes. We have all felt the perhaps misguided despair at missing or accidentally recording over a key episode. Lin turns her medium - video and film - inside out; its seams visible to all. But the critical potential of this visual strategy depends on how it is deployed and when. Stretched videotape and jumpy film credits lay bare what are ordinarily presented as seamless representations of fact or fiction. We are unsure whether Lin’s characters against the backdrop of banal settings are actual people in everyday life or actors performing a scripted part. Her work appears acutely aware of the politics inherent in looking and being looked at. Sometimes characters look at us, or we watch them looking at a figure on a screen or at someone we cannot see.
The exhibition’s location, at Gasworks, is important to how we interpret the work. Gasworks is a site of international exchange - one of many shaped by the contemporary art world. It is also a space situated in a city we imagine to be cosmopolitan and global in orientation and reach. Simultaneously opaque and legible, Lin’s work produces a visual language that draws from her own heritage and a personal relationship to migration. She was born in Montreal in 1966 to Taiwanese parents. The idea of translation - so wound up in ideas about language and culture - is an especially interesting aspect of the exhibition. Here translation is not a stable concept, the process of passively transcribing from one spoken language to another: it can produce dislocating effects that are traumatic and alienating. The 4-channel video installation ‘Mysterial Power’ (1998-2002) documents through apparently disconnected images the constraints of interpretation: sometimes words and concepts are simply untranslatable.
‘Stranger Baby’ (1995) plays with multiple genres and the idea of black and white film. We hear the projector whirring behind us as we find ourselves drawn into dream-like sequences (including flying saucer). But we are jolted by the words that narrate the birth of a baby brother - ‘the only biracial person that I knew’. This is no innocent science fiction of alien invasion. Lin’s staging of extra-terrestrial invasions, and themes of birth, race and country are interwoven. The loss of stable meaning and cultural dislocation registers across the surface of the film. Video tape or projected film carry unexpected marks of digital pixilation. Looking at Lin’s films, we are made aware of our own assumptions and inherited notions of strangeness. The visual ambiguities that disrupt our vision are their critical point.