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FreePort [No. 005]

The Peabody Essex Museum
Salem, Massachusetts
March 22, 2012–May 27, 2013

Is meaning imbued by the vessel, by its maker, or by the contents within? Evoking the contained space of the porcelain vessels scattered throughout the Peabody Essex Museum’s (PEM’s) Asian Export Art wing, this installation by artist Michael Lin asks more questions than it answers.

Lin’s painted wall surfaces surround visitors with a series of anonymous silhouettes on the PEM’s Mellon Staircase. He inverts the traditional relationship between object and viewer as the spiral stair transcends its conventional identity and becomes a large vessel itself, providing an unexpected view from within.

Lin’s work provokes questions of cultural value, meaning, and the relevance of authorship surrounding the making of objects. With the advent of mass customization and machine-automated production, is the hand of the author needed in the formation of meaning, or can it exist in anonymity? As we all are participants in a consumer culture situated in an ever-expanding global marketplace, Lin’s questions are timely and necessary.