A Different Light: Candice Lin's Sensual Elsewhere

Questioning the way that we interact with violent colonial histories at Portikus, Frankfurt

‘A Hard White Body, a Soft White Worm’, Candice Lin’s solo exhibition at Portikus, drops us into a sensual elsewhere, the space dim, humid and heavy with the odour of vegetation. We are, it seems, underwater: a dark plastic sheet marked with floral motifs stretches overhead, while another shimmers beneath projected lights, like the surface of the sea. Throughout the space are several low-rise archipelagos of bricks, wood and cardboard. Lit by faint bulbs, they function as makeshift display platforms for texts, objects, fluids, organisms and other materials associated with colonial history.

On one such display, an underlined passage in an open book reads: ‘Life in that room seemed to be occurring underwater.’ The extract is from James Baldwin’s novel Giovanni’s Room (1956), which revolves around precarity, social alienation and the politics of race, class and sexuality. Baldwin’s text inspired this show’s previous iteration, which was presented at Bétonsalon in Paris last year, and included a bed of unfired porcelain (A Hard White Body, 2017). Porcelain sustains Lin’s interest in multilayered inscriptions of colonial legacy, attached as it is to a history of exoticism, Western desire and global trade. 


Candice Lin, 2018, installation view, Portikus, Frankfurt. Courtesy: Portikus, Frankfurt; photograph: Helena Schlichting

This bed re-emerges at Portikus, although here it has been fired, broken into pieces and scattered. Its hard, white body is now fragmented, thereby conjuring the longing and loss of Baldwin’s novel, as well as the fear of a life that will never comprise a whole. Within this same display is a drawing, Here They Drown Algerians (2017), based on a photograph of graffiti scrawled on the St Michel Bridge in Paris, which denounces the bloody repression of peaceful Algerian demonstrations in 1961. Amid the ambiance of the show, such affinities of intimate, isolated questioning and covert violence appear even more suffocating.

Other characters are summoned through texts, drawings and objects, such as Jeanne Baret: expert botanist, the first woman to circumnavigate the globe and another who, like Baldwin, was entangled in complex negotiations of power. A draft text, co-written by Baldwin and Bobby Seale in 1975, proposes the publication of a ‘fantastic, analytical, almost blasphemous dialogue’ on topics connected to black liberation, women’s liberation, sexuality and pan-Africanism. Despite his politically active role, Baldwin was dismissed by the Black Panther Party for his homosexuality. Baret, in turn, was forced to borrow identity and dress as a man, as women were forbidden from boarding French naval ships. Her botanical knowledge was overshadowed by that of fellow botanist Philibert Commerson, both her employer and lover.


Candice Lin, 2018, installation view, Portikus, Frankfurt. Courtesy: Portikus, Frankfurt; photograph: Helena Schlichting

Lin questions the way that we interact with the past, something visualized by the video The Beloved (2017), which comprises images captured by the artist in various museums. History, here, is usurped by speculation, and additional components further stretch the potential of the exhibition as an apparatus to produce new genealogies. In one corner, a detox herbal tea is boiling, linking the idea of purity of body to race and class. Silkworms, another colonial good that in the 19th century fell victim to a disease that threatened to destroy one of the major French industries, crawl everywhere, raising a whole ecosystem that is in need of constant maintenance.

Lin places a high level of importance upon cycles, accentuating constant exchange between environments and bodies while simultaneously forbidding hierarchies and classifications. ‘People are out there today,’ reads an exhibited text, which goes on to claim that a drowning body will never make it to the seafloor intact, as it will be eaten and processed, again and again. While such exchanges might prove as perilous as they are potentially supportive, presented here, within Lin’s world of questioning, they bring solace. They suggest that, in spite of everything, dominant structures will continue to be challenged; that speculative thinking will forever represent a sensual elsewhere within which we can assess things in a different light.

'Candice Lin: A Hard White Body, a Soft White Worm' in on view at Portikus, Frankfurt until 8 April.

Main image: Candice Lin, 2018, installation view, Portikus, Frankfurt. Courtesy: Portikus, Frankfurt; photograph: Helena Schlichting

Viktoria Draganova is an author and curator living between Frankfurt and Sofia, where she is the director of the project space Swimming Pool.

Issue 194

First published in Issue 194

April 2018

Most Read

In further news: white supremacist vandals attack Rothko Chapel; Israeli minister bans art produced in solidarity with...
To experience the music of the composer, who passed away last week at the age of 69, was to hear something tense,...
In a year charged with politicized tensions, mastery of craft trumps truth-to-power commentary
The US writer, who died last week, brought a quality of inestimable importance to the modern novel: a mind that was...
The $21M painting was the highest price ever paid for a work by a living African American artist at auction
Royal bodies, the ‘incel’ mindset and those Childish Gambino hot-takes: what to read this weekend
In further news: women wearing rainbow badges beaten in Beijing’s 798; gallerists Georg Kargl and Richard Gray have...
‘Coping as a woman in France is a daily battle: the aggression can be subtle, and you always have to push harder to...
The rapper and artist have thoughts about originality in art; Melania Trump tries graphic design – all the latest...
The dilapidated Nissen hut from which Rachel Whiteread will take a cast
Yorkshire residents complain that the concrete sculpture of a ‘Nissen hut’ will attract excrement, vandalism and litter
Poul Erik Tøjner pays tribute to Denmark’s most important artist since Asger Jorn
Toyin Ojih Odutola’s portraits of a fictional aristocratic Nigerian family push toward an expanded definition...
Photographer Dragana Jurisic says her account was deactivated after she uploaded an artwork depicting a partially naked...
In further news: open letter protests all-male shortlist for BelgianArtPrize; Arts Council of Ireland issues...
From Sol Calero’s playful clichés of Latin America to an homage to British modernist architect Alison Smithson
Everybody’s favourite underpaid, over-educated, raven-haired art critic, Rhonda Lieberman, is as relevant as ever
‘Prize & Prejudice’ at London's UCL Art Museum is a bittersweet celebration of female talent
The curators want to rectify the biennale’s ‘failure to question the hetero-normative production of space’; ‘poppers...
A fragment of the brutalist Robin Hood Gardens will go on show at the Venice Architecture Biennale
‘Women's role in shaping the history of contemporary art is being reappraised’
Three shows in Ireland celebrate the legendary polymath, artist and author of Inside the White Cube
The legendary performance artists will partner up again to detail their tumultuous relationship in a new book
An open letter signed by over 100 leading artists including 15 Turner prize-winners says that new UK education policy...
Naturists triumph at art gallery; soothing students with colouring books; Kanye’s architectural firm: your dose of art...
Avengers: Infinity War confirms the domination of mass culture by the franchise: what ever happened to narrative...
The agency’s founder talks about warfare in the age of post truth, deconstructing images and holding states and...
From hobnobbing with Oprah to championing new art centres, millennial crown prince Mohammed bin Salman is following a...
A juror for the award last year, Dan Fox on why the Turner Prize is and always will be political (whatever that means)
The argument that ancestral connection offers a natural grasp of the complex histories and aesthetics of African art is...
One of most iconic and controversial writers of the past 40 years, Tom Wolfe discusses writing, art and intellectual...

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

March 2018

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018