A Close Look at Michael Lin’s Relational Artwork ‘Untitled (Cigarette Break)’
The experiential possibilities of painting—approaching it not as something to revere or behold but rather to engage with—runs deep in Michael Lin’s work
Created in 1999, after he had returned to Taiwan after studying abroad, Untitled (Cigarette Break) is one of Lin’s most concise statements on the relationship between paintings and installation, ornamentation and modernism, and two-dimensional and three-dimensional space. The installation consists of two LC2 armchairs—an icon of international modernism initially designed by Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret, and Charlotte Perriand in 1928—placed at a ninety-degree angle, with a standing metal ashtray positioned in the corner.
A cheery pattern spreads across varying ‘surfaces’, linking upholstered sofa cushions with paintings hung on the adjacent walls. Lin’s proposal is deliberately circuitous and double-edged; paintings come down from the wall to merge with the everyday, living room–like space, while household textile patterns are transformed into works of art to be hung on the wall. In both cases, the work is shown not as distant but to be experienced up close, often through tangible means.
With Untitled (Cigarette Break), Lin stages a multilayered conversation between ornamentation and modernist design, contrasting clean lines and stark geometries with bursts of floral colour. But almost as indispensable as the presence of pattern is the addition of the ashtray—an object plucked from daily life that signals a human element, and more specifically, the aimless banter associated with a cigarette break. The installation speaks to Lin’s unique approach to Relational Art, which seeks to create spaces of social interaction while also addressing the connection between design and art, and painting and furniture. Emphatically human, this work also sets the stage for Lin’s more monumental spatial interventions involving textile patterns to create ‘situations’ whereby viewers are invited to walk, sit, or recline on the work. As with his other installations, the injection of pattern and decoration here is designed to disrupt and infuse ordinarily bland spaces with exuberance.
The space of relaxation that Untitled (Cigarette Break) represents suggests an echo of Imported, a work Lin made one year earlier. In this work, he transported 600 bottles of Taiwan Beer, 200 cartons of Long Life cigarettes, and tables and stools to Paris, inviting audiences to sit and enjoy ‘local’ Taiwanese products. Both works speak eloquently to art-making as a form of generosity and creating spaces for interaction and exchange, aided by the social lubricants of alcohol and tobacco. With these projects, Lin reveals the ways art mingles with the contours of human activity.
This text is a reprint of Pauline J. Yao’s essay on Michael Lin’s Untitled (Cigarette Break) from the M+ Collections Highlights book, available from the M+ Shop. Untitled (Cigarette Break) is currently on view in Individuals, Networks, Expressions at M+.
All images: M+, Hong Kong © Michael Lin