Amy Lin

End of INSTINC artist-in-residence exhibition : “Survival 2.0”  

What really strikes one about Amy Lin is her inner strength and resilience, transforming negative experiences into observations expressed through art, and her tenacity of spirit and resolve, in the face of obstacles that stood between her and her pursuit of art. Although she applied to art school and her application was accepted, her parents were not supportive of her going to art college, and so Amy made a promise to herself that she would not forget her dream, that she would spend the next 4 years learning something she had no particular interest in and learn to support herself, and “spend every single moment outside of your job working on your art until the day that you can finally save up enough and feel comfortable enough to leave.”

After graduating with a chemical engineering degree from Carnegie Mellon, Amy worked as a chemical engineer for 10 years before finally leaving to do art full-time. The INSTINC Artist-in-Residence Program is her first art residency and at the end of it she presented an exhibition titled “Survival 2.0” at INSTINC SOHO. Comprising a site-specific fabric and wire installation as well as a series of coloured pencil drawings and experimental works created during the residency, “Survival 2.0” marks a new chapter in Amy’s life in many ways, both personally and professionally.  

Excerpts from the interview with Amy Lin 

New Experiments 

“It was a little bit traumatic for me actually because these drawings take so much time they’re like my little babies you know, my nose is like two inches away from the paper and I slave over them and these drawings I thought they were done as is and I came up with an idea, I was talking to my fiancé on Skype and I was like ‘Oh my god I can’t even fall asleep I feel so sick because I know tomorrow I’m going to rip them up’ and I was like ‘Argh.. I have this idea of how they’re going to look, I think it’ll be really cool but... but boy if I rip them up for no reason I’ll just feel like such an idiot.’ [Laughs] So I’m glad it all worked out.” 

First Art Residency

“For this it’s my first residency and what I really wanted was to just, again, with the stream of consciousness, just see what happens… If you go into it thinking, oh I know everything I’m going to do then I could just do that at home, what’s the point of being here, so I really wanted to just come in, blank slate, no idea what I’m going to do… because I feel like I learn the most when I just go in not knowing anything, basically.”

An Analogy 

“If you look at them from over here they look like perfect circles, the same thing for humans… we all have 2 legs, 2 arms and the same number of fingers and toes, we’re all the same, right? But, when you get up close and when you actually get to know people, we’re all individuals, we have our unique personalities, and that to me is where the analogy with these dots comes in, because it’s all hand-done. I try really hard to make them perfect, but it’s always like, oh, that one’s a little lopsided, this one’s a little differently shaded than that one, and all those differences are what makes them special and unique, just like people.” 

Circles & Dots

 “… I took out a sheet of paper and I just covered the whole thing in red dots… In that very first one I didn’t know what they were, I just wanted to draw lots of them on the paper and that was when I noticed ‘Oh it’s very interesting, like when they’re closer together versus further apart.’ I kind of get a different sense of the tension and interaction between the dots and that was when I started seeing like ‘Wow it’s almost like a sky view looking down on planet earth seeing all the little heads of the people, from above.’ And that was when I started thinking – they’re like people in a society and so it all kind of built from there.”

 A Voice through Art 

“… it was really through my art that I kind of found my voice, literally, and this show right here (Amy picks up a postcard) – it’s my 5th or 6th show, but it was the first one with a commercial gallery that was representing me and I called it “Silence”, because I realised at some point that it was like a milestone for me. I went through my whole life never wanting to speak up, never wanting to call any attention to myself and for the first time in my life I was like – I have something to say, and I was doing it in a kind of a silent way, through my art... by having my art that I felt strong about that I could do on my own without having to talk to people while I’m doing it… By having my art that I was passionate about and I can stand up and fight for my art... that gave me the strength to think, wait, I have something to say, I have ideas, and start having a voice in the world after so many years of basically just trying to hide behind everybody else and be invisible and it was really at that point that wow, this gives me the courage to do things.” 

 A Full-Time Job + Art

“I know so many other people who have full time jobs who ask, ‘How do you do that? When I get home I’m so tired I just want to zone out in front of the TV…’ ‘Cause I love my art; it’s what I live for.’ So when you have that, no I’m not tired, I mean yeah I’m tired but I’d start working and I’d be up till 3 or 4 in the morning not wanting to go to bed because I’m drawing... I feel you really have to prioritise in life if you’re trying to make something happen and you don’t have outside sources of support.”

 ‘I care about the integrity of my work always’ 

“…it’s so easy for people to go ‘Oh what’s the big deal, you’re just putting in hours at work and check out at the end of the day’ but it’s like… you have a lot of pride in your work and quality of your work and even if I don’t like doing chemical engineering, if my name’s on it, I want it to be good, I care about my projects... It was very stressful and I do care about the integrity of my work always, regardless of it being chemical engineering. If my name is on it I want it to be good. If people are counting on me, I want to deliver, so it was very stressful and you do invest a lot of your time and energy into it...”


“So that Survival series that I started in 2005 probably, that I showed in 2006 – that was very therapeutic, my art has been showing all these social situations – yeah, that was me and that was me and that was me – and I’ve always been the outcast my whole entire life and there was something almost empowering about putting that on the wall and, yeah – that happened to me, I’m showing it to people and it was a way of working through a lot of that hurt by displaying it on the wall, almost like – I don’t want to be the victim anymore.”   

Before Survival 2.0 

“The reason the show is called Survival 2.0 is because I had a show back in 2006… that was just called Survival, it didn’t need a version number at the time [laughs] and at that time I was drawing these sorts of dots but it was much more literal – I was showing literal depictions of certain social situations and usually they were kind of unpleasant where the dots would be like ‘Oh, all the dots are partnered up and this one person doesn’t get a partner’, or like all the dots are facing these way and shunning this one poor little dot and they were all kind of hostile social interactions about being an outcast and things like that so that’s why I called it “Survival”, because I thought people aren’t always nice to each other.”


“It was hard actually having to live through it all but in hindsight it really has made me… I feel like part of the reason that I try to be very considerate towards others is because I know how it feels... It makes me very empathetic towards other people and how they’re thinking and feeling, because I know how bad it feels to be an outcast.”


“... growing up [in upstate New York, in a tiny remote town by the Canadian border where there was a lot of racism and prejudice]… once I joined the middle school and high school system, boy those kids were really mean. They would write racial slurs on my locker, throw things at me, call me names in the hall and stuff like that… somebody told me, yeah you were one of the easy targets – I looked much younger, I’m small, I’m kind of timid and shy, especially back then, so I was a very easy target because they knew you could pick on her and she’s not going to fight back. So I was constantly bullied for 6 years straight and I hardly talked to anybody all day long every single day for those 6 years… I was very, very isolated, hardly spoke to anybody for 6 years and a lot of days I would just go home and cry, like every single day.” 

Fast Facts 


Amy Lin, a self taught American artist, has had numerous solo shows in the United States including one curated by Smithsonian curator Dr. Anne Collins Goodyear. Lin has been published in New American Paintings, reviewed in the Washington Post and American Contemporary Art magazine, and chosen for art critic Lenny Campello's "100 Artists of Washington, D.C." book. Lin is represented by Addison/Ripley Fine Art in Washington, D.C.


Artist-in-Residence at INSTINC February – March 2012 

Exhibition period 30 March – 1 April 2012


“Survival 2.0” shows Survival of the Fittest as thousands of circular dots are painstakingly hand-drawn on paper with colour pencils, only to be mercilessly ripped and destroyed so that other dots can have the limelight. It's through this process that Amy Lin explores social interactions and natural selection – the concept that based on the environment, different characteristics will give a person better or worse chances at survival. In each piece, Amy Lin illustrates social situations by using different criteria for determining which dots "survive" and different ways of banishing the other dots from the forefront of society. 

Review :

"This duality of Lin’s creative stream-of-consciousness and subconscious forethought emerges visually in her work, with the dots taking on their own pictorial logic, but one that’s only subtly apparent upon closer inspection"