In the photo, the man’s forearms are muscular and glisten with sweat as he grips a cement block with one hand. He wears plain, loose clothing. He focuses intensely on his task, building a wall. In the background, the frame of a building looms and next to it a poster illustration of what it will someday be: the tallest skyscraper in Guangzhou, China.
This photo of a construction site does not depict a moment of urban industry, but rather a work of art, according to art historian Nancy P. Lin. In 1995, she said, artist Lin Yilin performed “Safely Maneuvering across Lin He Road,” an ephemeral piece of performance art, by constructing a cement block wall on one side of a busy road, then moving the wall brick by brick across the road.
“The work is deceptively simple,” said Lin, a Klarman Postdoctoral Fellow in history of art and visual studies in the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S). “It’s not extravagant or spectacular. You can see he’s dressed almost like an everyday laborer. I’m interested in what kind of impact this work has on the site and the social context.”
Lin, a New Yorker who was born in Taiwan, brings her fascination with urban spaces to her work as an art historian. She is using her three-year Klarman Fellowship to study artworks that take place on-site in urban spaces like city streets and construction sites. Her work in the Wen Pulin Archive of Chinese Avant-Garde Art, a Cornell Libraries collection, and conversations with scholars in diverse departments across the university will contribute to the book she’s writing about on-site artworks created in China in the 1990s, a time of unprecedented urbanization and social change.