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River Lin, River Walk, Liveworks 2016 River Lin, River Walk, Liveworks 2016
photo Alex Davies

Opening night of Liveworks, I descend the stairs from the street and approach the large glass windows of Carriageworks. The first sight, framed behind the glass and greeting all comers, is a pair of bare buttocks. They seem a fitting start for a festival of experimental arts. They are the shapely haunches of Taiwanese performance artist River Lin.

Inside the building, I see Lin is bent double over a rectangular expanse of white sand, his dry river bed, his trailing fingers delicate, leaving incremental tracks as he moves. In a noisy foyer filled with people who drink and talk, I observe his quiet progress over the coming hour. Lin’s River Walk is circuitous; rarely upright, the artist navigates a slow, repeated shift from bending down onto haunches, then on all fours, finally prone and pressed into the fine granular surface. With each of these repetitions another portion of his skin changes colour with the imprint of sand. The naked figure gathering pale markings puts me in mind of a Sadhu in the market place and this process could be read as a kind of supplication. Alone in the crowd on his sacred patch, River Lin carries out his concentrated procedure. It’s a tough gig this, to be the ascetic sideshow attraction amid a profane wash of free drinks, but his focus never leaves the river.

A few days later I arrive for a private performance. Again in the foyer, but this time in a square of shelving lined with clear plastic water bottles, River Lin conducts his other work, Cleansing Service. He greets me warmly and invites me to choose a bottle from the shelves. Each one has a label with a single word, including names of cities, feelings, colours, objects; some words are innocuous, some have more weight. I wonder at their inclusion; where have they come from? I forget to ask. I think about research into the information-carrying ability of water and the vibrational qualities of words. Swimming in choice, I take the word that draws my attention more than once.

River Lin, Cleansing Service, Liveworks 2016 River Lin, Cleansing Service, Liveworks 2016
photo Alex Davies

“You have chosen MOTHER. You wish to be cleansed of mother?” I mutter something in reply about recent death and grief and he nods slightly. We sit together on the floor in the centre of the square, eyes level. Lin has a basin and a cloth. The room becomes a contemplative space. While he carefully washes each of my hands with the chosen ‘mater water,’ I have time to consider my own skin and its condition, the scars and their history. After the gentle water treatment and hands-on cleansing and drying, there is a remnant bowl of water. I get an inkling something is about to happen to that water. What I least expect is that Lin will drink it. Suddenly his name—River—takes on an entirely new meaning. The baptism is sealed with his taking the residual water into his own body. I am quietly astounded by this brazen yet tender act. River Lin hands me the remaining unused water and I carry the bottle home and sit it on the kitchen bench.

I am left to ponder in what way this act constitutes a ritual. Is it a shared agreement in a context where two or more people concur as to the special nature of an action or transaction? A series of actions where something is exchanged or elevated, where what is produced is greater than the sum of its parts and that changes/ heals/transforms a pre-existing condition? I am not sure about the healing, transforming efficacy of this experience, but I appreciate that Lin’s works are deceptively simple, and in Cleansing Service he does what he sets out to do. The artist’s act of care, of purification, for me evoked stray memory and my body’s history and provided a rare moment of intimacy between strangers.

Later that week my son unwittingly drank the rest of the water in the bottle. It seemed a fitting end for MOTHER.


Performance Space, Liveworks Festival of Experimental Art: River Walk and Cleansing Service, artist River Lin; Carriageworks, Sydney, 28-30 Oct

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016 pg.

© Nikki Heywood; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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