CAMBRIDGE, MA — Conceived during months of close companionship with her cat, Roger, Candice Lin’s Seeping, Rotting, Resting, Weeping at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts enacts a process of other-world-building wherein multi-species relations — earthbound and chthonic, human and nonhuman — are essential to our ongoing survival. Set in a realm where humans are no longer sovereign, Lin foregrounds the lives and deaths of felines, critters, microbes, and demons in a practice of making kin.
Near the gallery entrance, an animated video greets visitors, transporting them to the debris of a post-apocalyptic desert landscape. An open-structured canopy tent erupts out of earthen rubble, its base adorned with 3D-scanned ceramic palimpsests of Tang dynasty zhenmushou — amorphous multi-species tomb guardians. Inside, a cat demon commences the slow healing practice of qigong. As the feline lifts its paws above its ears and collapses into its knees, viral gifs of personified animals and spambot messages flare onscreen, inciting me to enhance my self-cultivation via paid subscriptions and bundle deals.
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The exhibition’s central installation, for which the show is titled, is an elaborate modular recreation of the animation’s digital canopy and its hybrid demon companions. Undulating sheets of indigo-dyed textiles recount real and invented multi-species stories through laboriously hand-drawn and stenciled images made using glutinous rice paste, a Japanese resist-dye technique. A woman is digested by burrowing worms and spotted frogs; three-headed canines snarl and snap; and mischievous felines dance with long-tongued demons.
The indigo plant, the exhibition’s central material, is embedded with its own multi-species narrative. Fermented by Lin in vats of broth, moldy fruit, and the artist’s urine, distinctions between human and nonhuman are collapsed as the plant digests microbes of human excess in order to produce indigo’s distinctive vibrant hue.
Beneath the lush drapery of this blue refuge, surrounded by multi-faced and multi-limbed tomb guardians, ceramic cat pillows lie on the carpeted floor. An animated feline by the name of White-n-Gray, based on a feral cat that lived on the artist’s porch, ruminates on its mortality from a small TV in the tent. As I lie on the soft, stippled rugs, my ear turns cold from resting on one of the ceramic cats. This emphasis on tactility continues in A Journal of the Plague Year (Cat Demon Diary) (2021), a browsable personal archive of the year’s collective terrors and Lin’s anxieties, hopes, and material processes.
Two sculptures composed of textured surfaces on table-like bases sit just outside the main space. “Tactile Theater #1 (After Noguchi)” and “Tactile Theater #2 (After Švankmajer)” (both 2021) are best experienced with another person. As Lin states in a video on the gallery’s website, viewers are intended to hold each other’s gaze as they sweep their hands across the dips and curves of the surfaces, which reveal themselves to be a mélange of ribs, ears, and nostrils. Here, the discovery of these obscured body parts can only be achieved by the softening of our own corporeal boundaries as hands crash into, loop around, and overlap each other.
While the porous relationship between humans and nonhumans spurs fears of contagion, Lin offers an alternate interpretation of multi-species proximity as we advance toward the dire ecological consequences of capitalist progression and human exceptionalism. Rather than constructing barriers and enforcing borders, Lin considers a form of multi-species well-being rooted in the myriad ways human and nonhuman cohabitation occurs in this messy, entangled affair called life.
Candice Lin: Seeping, Rotting, Resting, Weeping continues at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts (Harvard University, 24 Quincy Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts) through April 10. The exhibition was curated by Dan Byers, John R. and Barbara Robinson Family Director, the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Harvard University; and Victoria Sung, Associate Curator of Visual Arts, Walker Art Center.