et al. vol. 2 (2021) | Jeremy Sharma on Mengju Lin: Intimate Receptions

Mengju Lin, Years, 2020, acrylic paint, gesso and Chinese ink on paper envelope, 16.5 x 21.4 cm. Image courtesy of Wong Jingwei.
Mengju Lin, Intimate Receptions, 2019, acrylic paint and gesso on letter paper, 20.9 x 29.4 cm. Image courtesy of Jeremy Sharma.
Mengju Lin, May 2019, 2019, film photography, 1037p x 1565p, Image courtesy of the artist.
Inside look at Mengju Lin’s sketchbooks, 2019–2020, mixed media on sketchbooks, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of Wong Jingwei.
Inside look at Mengju Lin’s sketchbooks, 2019–2020, mixed media on sketchbooks, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of Wong Jingwei.
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After all, art is but an extension of our relationship to the world around us, among all these other things we must do in order to be. My sincerity and attitude towards my sketchbook is my integrity towards my philosophy and art. I owe myself and all that I love as much.

 

Mengju Lin, Years, 2020, acrylic paint, gesso and Chinese ink on paper envelope, 16.5 x 21.4 cm. Image courtesy of Wong Jingwei.

 

Jeremy Sharma: I have a work by you called Intimate Receptions (2019) hanging in my little apartment. At least those are the words on the canvas. I like how it gently catches the light from my window. I took some liberty to frame it in raw wood with a Superman- blue border. It picks up the contrast, and the right upwards slant of the pale yellow text set against a wispy textured background. It has an added layer of meaning for me as I am privy to the source material, which was a pamphlet from an art fair. In a way, as a receiver, I am personalising it as my own and do what the painting is saying. Not many artists in recent years have worked with text and painting quite effectively. It’s an elusive quality, something between a casual statement and a kind of je ne sais quoi and I was wondering, Mengju, if you could tell me what it is you look for in these text paintings on found paper surfaces? Is it important that I know where the text and the material come from?

Mengju Lin: I think with many things in my life I have that ambiguous sense of an object instead of a 1080p idea of it.

I look at text objects in the same anarchic way I look at ecology in jungles. It is impossible to look at a tree and isolate it from everything else that contributes to its tree-ness. Of course it is all very subjective what is an ethical method of working with any object. A landscape painter’s job is not to decide what to paint, but what to leave out, and that affirms my personal belief that it is not a depiction of text, or its function or feeling, that I am after, but a subjective response of how I experience it in the grand ecology of a modern world. To me, my paintings are as much about colour and found physical objects as it is about text, but understandably text is what people recognise the “New Radio” series for because we are drawn to the easiest reads.

For that same reason I choose words that get read less in cut-and-dry Singapore, a nation strangled by rules and regulations. We are plagued with signs and commands everywhere. “New Radio” was conceived before the pandemic, before the “tape measures” were introduced to our daily landscape. People are quite numb to the sensory overload already. In my dissociative state, some words, textures and gestures of my surroundings get suspended in slow-motion, disrespecting time, scorning at gravity—they chew my tongue with how they sound spoken, they make my fingertips cold from their touch.

I think in this quiet way of listening to objects and just being with them I demonstrate a world I would like to build. In the world of painting I get to imagine a tolerance for ambiguity as absolute things. Painting is a hypothesis put forth and should never be explained to the point a hole is burnt through.

 

Mengju Lin, Intimate Receptions, 2019, acrylic paint and gesso on letter paper, 20.9 x 29.4 cm. Image courtesy of Jeremy Sharma.

 

Jeremy Sharma: I really like how you say painting is a hypothesis put forth but should never be explained. In a way this call for ambiguity and resisting fixed identities is something that I strive for in my own practice. It is also a way of being in the world, especially in a place where everything is over-prescribed, marketed and regulated. It’s also interesting you refer to them as “things” or “text objects” in an ecology, as opposed to pictures or images, or just painterly terms and expressions.

 

Mengju Lin, May 2019, 2019, film photography, 1037p x 1565p, Image courtesy of the artist.

 

So in coming back to these particular text paintings again, and their provenance. You pick them up as found paper and cardboard after they have been discarded, dress them up and give them a new life. You give them agency to talk about a renewed term of lease where the text extracted expresses itself through the truth of materials and everything coming together. These pieces become something that the former world you described has no sway over.

Tell me about your sketchbooks; I remember they captured the attention of your peers and tutors even before the text paintings. Sometimes younger artists I have observed do not work with sketchbooks in a way academia and contemporary art practice have shaped research, sometimes they are even deemed traditional. How do they serve in your practice? What are the influences that go into your paintings?

Mengju Lin: I remember that in the first year of college, which is also my first year into art, we had to keep sketchbooks as part of our assessment criteria. Our general expectation of these “process journals” was to justify and supplement the information embedded in our final deliverable works. Back then, they taught us drawing in the first semester and asked to look at our sketchbooks. Many of us rushed to put information in it. They said that a sketchbook is something that stays close to you and is done for you and no one else. It was liberating for me to be allowed to take up a space in which I had every say in how it’s created, and in a way that was good practice for me to get used to carving out my own corner of this world, art and beyond. It is ground zero for an abandon of established orders and the beginning of not making sense and not needing to seek permission to be so. That means a lot to my traditional Asian upbringing and my formative years growing up in soft- authoritarian Singapore.

 

Inside look at Mengju Lin’s sketchbooks, 2019–2020, mixed media on sketchbooks, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of Wong Jingwei.
Inside look at Mengju Lin’s sketchbooks, 2019–2020, mixed media on sketchbooks, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of Wong Jingwei.

 

I see it as a lot of catching up with all that I missed out in my girlhood and teenage obsessions, learning from my inner child, speed- running through hyper-fixations and obsessions that I could finally have. I was forced to grow up really quickly as a first generation migrant and a designated third parent to our young family during the early years of our move. Systems of organisation and understandings have been strictly combed through, and I did not get to accumulate experiences and thought messily like a family home passed down through generations—a luxury that I could visit only once a year as a tourist to my grandparents’ place back in Taiwan. Even the slant of my handwriting and my jotter books in school were monitored and corrected if it strayed. Keeping a sketchbook now is not only getting to do these things, but an exercise in different thinking pathways and logics and getting used to alternative ways of being and processing, much like how art practices evolved from surrendering old ways to leap into the unknown new.

My sketchbooks are angsty, they hold earworms of phrases, words, motifs and sounds that won’t leave my brain until I put them down and manifest hem. They hold shopping lists, trails of stickers that have followed me throughout the days, delivery stamps, notes from acquaintances to lovers and so on. I believe drawing and collaging is an important daily ritual for visual-based work. It’s almost like how one has to stretch before an exercise or squint your eyes before you exhale. A holistic way of living and being nourish a holistic way of seeing, listening and making. After all, art is but an extension of our relationship to the world around us, among all these other things we must do in order to be. My sincerity and attitude towards my sketchbook is my integrity towards my philosophy and art. I owe myself and all that I love as much.

 

Mengju Lin (b. 1996, Taipei, Taiwan), is an artist living and working in Singapore. Her artistic practice revolves around the agency of non-human things and how they protest. She is a co-conspirator of collective @radioriotgrrrl with Nadhirah Khalid, and plays in a band called Terrapin with artists Jeremy Sharma and Lai Yu Tong.

 

 

 
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