“Ever since I started, everyone around me has been giving me ideas for the last day,” writes Zhong Lin on April 22nd, 2021. This day marks the end of Project 365, her photography series depicting a daily portrait in her signature, warped, surrealist style. Lin, of Malaysian and Chinese heritage, has taken the internet by storm with her captivating depiction of an inner world of life in quarantine. “It wasn’t easy,” she admits, “other projects, 365 and life happening concurrently. […] I wouldn’t have made it without all the encouragements and kind words.” Lin joins a chorus of admissions that has characterized a year of struggles for many. A daily, regimented project is certainly ambitious, and at the level that Lin executes her work, even daunting. However, it is through her process, not only her products, that Lin’s shared strangeness has found its way into the hearts of the masses on instagram.
Above is Lin’s first photograph from the then-unnamed series, #001. “I want to rediscover what it means to start from nothing,” she captioned it. “No Limits, No Boundaries and No Definition.”
“I have learnt that there is no right or wrong in creativity and with this vision I invite you to take on this journey with me to title what is yet to be named. Throughout this project I will be stretching beyond borders, posting different angles […] Since all possibilities are mine to find out and yours to relate, I will be laying my work in your hands and hoping my perspective would become yours / ours.”
“Much like every visual emerges from nothing, this project may become something limitless for everything that we hope for.”
By mid-April of 2020, the cumulative number of confirmed COVID-19 cases hovered around 430 in Taiwan, where Lin is based. The cases have been steadily climbing, with 1,090 recorded on April 22nd, 2021. As of that date, 42,523 people in Taiwan have been vaccinated. While the hope that Lin evoked on Day 1 of Project 365 has certainly begun to creep into the realm of reality, much of the world, along with Lin’s photographs, remains firmly in the surreal experience of isolation.
Lin’s photographs pull from many personal references, and also echo a historical approach to feelings of loneliness and containment. Her closest companion in this pursuit may be Ana Mendieta (1948-1985), a Cuban-American artist known primarily for her Silueta series, who Lin mirrors in both style and tone. Both women establish an almost playful take on the desperation of entrapment, and blur the lines of social constructions of beauty and femininity by quite literally pressing the female form to its limit.
Mendieta, who is thought to have been murdered in a domestic dispute by her former partner, artist Carl Andre, established a profound connection between her body and the earth in her short career. “My art is the way I reestablish the bonds that tie me to the universe,” she said. Her friend Mariana Gaston described her work this way: “art was a biologic need … her way to save her soul.”
Lin certainly seems spurred on by this same ethos, even if she isn’t coming from the exact same perspective. While her work typically allows her to travel the world, to meet different people and constantly shift her subjects, her perspectives, and her artistic goals, Lin, like the rest of us, has been all but stuck for the past year. Cut off from the bustling fashion industry, where much of her work occurs, Lin has explored the limits of the self and of the mind. In her bewitching and at times unsettling portraits, she has put words and images to the feelings that have grown, gnarled and unnamed, in many of our hearts as we watch the pandemic unfold from behind closed doors.
“I am not stopping here, I will continue creating beautiful images, there are more to come,” writes Lin in closing. “No matter which stage of my 365 you have joined, be it day 1, day 183 or today, you are part of the journey, and I welcome you. Now, if you excuse me, I am going to take my first 24 hours of sleep in a year.”