Interview with Kristi Lin 3/14/2021
Kristi Lin is an artist and landscape designer in San Diego, CA. She got her Bachelor’s degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of California Davis and combines art and landscape design to tell the stories embedded in historic sites and inspire social change. She is a member of the Historic American Landscapes committee of the American Society of Landscape Architects- San Diego chapter where she helps document and advocate for historic sites that tell the lesser-known histories of marginalized groups. Kristi also designs residential landscapes and integrates her understanding of home design into her place-based sculptural storytelling practice.
Tell us about a project (or projects) you are working on.
Most recently, I had the opportunity to work with the AjA Project as a Civil Liberties Fellow. With funding from the California State Libraries, the Fellowship gave me an opportunity to explore the incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans, including my grandparents, during World War II. All Japanese Americans on the West Coast were suspected of being spies and imprisoned without a trial from 1942-1945. Because of the racism they faced, my grandparents and many in my community tried to distance themselves from their Japanese identity. Exploring my own relationship to my 4th generation Japanese American and 3rd generation Chinese American identity, I created an autobiographical landscape installation currently on view at the Japanese Friendship Garden of San Diego (see website for visiting information).
For the piece, I designed a landscape using an ancient Japanese and Chinese garden design technique called 借景 shakkei (Japanese), jièjǐng (Chinese), or “borrowed scenery” where a designer takes a distant view, such as a faraway mountain, and incorporates, or “borrows,” it into the garden composition. Although the distant mountain is outside of the garden and far in the background, the designer features it as a continuous part of the garden itself. Using the borrowed scenery technique, I created woven screens to frame, or borrow, views of the historic Garden. The screens represent the world I live in with my clothes dyed in my food scraps of onion skins, turmeric, avocado peels, purple cabbage, pomegranate, black beans, and kuromame beans.
Over the last month, with the natural dyes fading, the Garden’s cherry blossoms opening, and exposure to the rain, the piece has changed colors to become an entirely different piece. As a metaphor for how cultures change from one generation to the next, the piece reflects the shaping of a new multicultural identity that naturally casts shadows, fades, and sways with its borrowed scenery.
How has this ongoing pandemic affected your work/practice?
I am lucky to have steady work as a residential landscape designer, and the stay-at-home orders have actually increased people’s interest in garden design. My heart goes out, though, to the artists who have struggled to work during this time.
When did your journey as an art maker/administrator/etc. begin?
Some of my earliest memories are spending all my time alone in my own world building perilous towers out of blocks, drawing, and playing the piano, so I’m glad to have found architecture and art as an outlet.
What/who are some of your greatest influences?
One of my greatest influences is nature and how natural movement can mirror and inspire social movement. I feel that part of what is holding us back as a society is a fear of change. Changing our routines can be scary, but it is also natural, just like ebbing tides or the shifting shadows during the day. As I reflect on society needing to make seismic shifts to address racism, climate change, and other issues, I think about using my art and landscape practice to connect us to the ways that nature changes and renews itself in monumental and beautiful ways.
Lastly, is there any advice or wisdom you’d like to provide to rising artists/arts leaders?
I often find myself in historic advocacy groups as the youngest person in the room and landscape architecture meetings as the only Asian American female in the room. I used to feel uncomfortable, but now I find it more interesting to think about how I can bring a different perspective. My advice is to not leave any part of your identity at the door. Creative ideas come from people who see things differently.
You can find Kristi:
social media: IG @kristimlin.art