Nancy P. Lin, February 20

Nancy P. Lin, PhD candidate, Department of Art History

“‘That artwork doesn’t exist’: Productive misreadings of performance documentation and what happens when you find out the ‘truth’”

Thursday, February 20, 2020

12:30 to 1:50 pm, CWAC 152

Co-sponsored with Speaking of Art: Artist Interviews in Scholarship and Practice

Lunch will be provided


Abstract: Multi-media contemporary artist Song Dong’s Writing Time with Water (Lhasa) (1996) exemplifies the artist’s longstanding performance actions featuring water as an artistic medium. Standing on the shores of the Lhasa River in Tibet, Song used an ink brush dipped in river water to mark each year of Lhasa’s 1,300-year history on 1,300 found stones, tossing each into the water and taking a photograph each time the stone is thrown. Along with several other works the artist created between 1996 and 1997, Writing Time (Lhasa) exemplifies the ways in which Song understood the relationship between action and trace, performance and documentation, while also articulating an expanded site-specific approach that links Lhasa to Beijing and Hong Kong. These points, based on archival photographs and video footage, have all been argued in my previous writings about Song Dong and the work. One aspect that hasn’t been considered, however, is the fact that this artwork doesn’t exist—not no-longer-extant, but in fact, never made. My talk reflects upon an instance of accidentally writing about a non-existent work as a way to ponder the methodological issues concerning artwork, documentation, and the artist interview. Where all can we locate the performance “artwork” and what evidentiary role can the artist interview play?


Writing Time with Water Lhasa, color photograph, 1996. © Beijing Commune

Persons with concerns regarding accessibility please contact Zhenru Zhou ( and Yin Wu (



Nancy P. Lin studies modern and contemporary Chinese art and architecture. She received her B.A. with highest honors in History of Art and Architecture at Harvard University. Her dissertation focuses on the intersection of art, architecture, and urban visual culture in examining the spatial and site-oriented artistic practices of Chinese contemporary artists in the 1990s. She received the 2015 Schiff Foundation Writing Fellowship and, together with fellow collaborators, was a recipient of the 2016 Graham Foundation project grant for the forthcoming publication Building Subjects, a survey of collective housing in China. She is currently the Andrew W. Mellon Graduate Curatorial Intern at the Smart Museum of Art and was previously a fellow of the Mellon Sawyer Seminar on Urban Art and Urban Form from 2017-2018. Her article on the Big Tail Elephant artist group is included in the edited volume Visual Arts, Representations and Interventions in Contemporary China: Urbanized Interfaces (Amsterdam University Press, 2018).



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