Born 1989, Liuyang City, Hunan. Lives and works in Beijing
In the rural area where Lin Zhi grew up, mud was part of the scenery. Houses were made from mud bricks, and unpaved roads turned to mud in the rainy season. But it wasn’t until he went to art school in Beijing that he started playing seriously with mud. By trial and error, he learned to compress clay-rich mud so it didn’t crumble or crack as it dried, and to polish it so it looked like fired pottery. Unlike pottery, of course, dried mud is not waterproof: it takes only a few splashes of water to turn it into slurry again. Mischievously, Lin Zhi decided to make a toilet with it. With its parched surfaces of dusty grey, Afraid of Water (2013) might be some ancient relic or a faded photograph; in fact, most Chinese homes contain an installation just like it. The artist reproduces every detail—squat toilet, pipes and taps, tiled walls, floors and sink, soap bar and face cloth—using muds from different regions to vary the colours, and different pressing and finishing techniques to vary the textures. Where real toilets flush and taps flow, however, the ones in this work will start sliding into formlessness upon contact with water. Lin Zhi says he chose unfired mud as his medium because it was “very simple—what you see is what you get”. But the work he made with it is a knot of contradictions: a toilet in an art gallery; a “water room” that must remain forever waterless; a cleansing site made out of dirt.