What you need to know
Two completely dissimilar people bond over a common project. The result is a radical story of artistic creation.
One is a Vietnamese American wheatpasting street artist in his twenties. The other is a PhD-wielding movement performer, healer, and guru in her seventies. INKSAP and Linda Lack crossed paths when he pasted a work over a board covering the glass streetfront of her studio in Los Angeles, which had been shattered by a drunk driver. She loved the piece and DMed him on Instagram.
Cowritten (with editor Heather Mathews), directed, and shot by Stuart C. Paul, documentary Ink & Linda tells how they got from that chance encounter to putting on a gallery show together in Budapest. (The film premiered at , in LA.)
Their lives, backgrounds, and artistic approaches and mediums are different — so, it turns out, are their approaches to their collaboration. This is the hidden kernel of the film: how two completely dissimilar people can still bond over a common project.
The film adheres to the traditional narrative arc of presenting each artist separately before following the results of their union. We see Linda teaching movement in her studio, performing in the desert, and talking about her past work. All quite interesting. But the magic truly happens in an extended scene of her in a shiny green full-body leotard, channeling the movements of various birds. In the same way that a great biopic actor conveys the essence of their subject without having to resemble them, I suddenly found myself believing that Linda was embodying the essence of eaglehood as she soared on the wind, even with both feet on the ground.
Ink (as I’ll call him) sees something in Linda’s work as well. Before meeting her, he most often put up pieces related to immigration and family, reflecting his background as the son of refugees from the Vietnam War. Or he’d painstakingly paint (rather than graffito) his tag in prominent places, such as on the sides of rooftop water towers.
Wheatpasting and street art are technically illegal in LA, so Ink does most of his work at night while evading the cops. Clambering around behind him, Paul becomes a guerilla filmmaker. To heighten the excitement and complement the handheld camerawork, the score (by Mandy Hoffman) adds a driving drumbeat to many of these scenes. It’s probably for the best that the only encounter with the authorities we see is when Ink is stopped mid-paste by a friendly security contractor — friendly, I’m sure, because Paul is still filming.
Linda’s DMs led to a meeting and five-hour conversation. We’re not told exactly what they talked about, but one surmises that art, process, and practitioner demonstrations were likely on the agenda. Ink creates by silkscreen printing line sketches onto collages of bleached newspaper and brown paper packaging. The intentionally imperfect results vibe well with the installation environment — the streets — thereby preserving what would’ve been deprived by a white cube gallery. (The Budapest gallery features whitewashed brick walls.)
In a process that’s briefly shown twice in the film, the second time as part of the Budapest show, Ink sketches Linda in various poses as the muse strikes her. His talent is evident in the energy and kineticism of these sketches, only strengthened by the intentional imperfections of the underlying material collage. Dance choreography is to get onto paper, yet Ink makes it look downright easy. His wheatpasting of her isn’t meant to be admired for its lines and contours, but felt in one’s body.
We do get to see the two discuss their collaboration in a scene that feels like it had heavy prompting from Paul. Fascinatingly, they approach it from diametrically opposed directions. Linda is more easily moved by art, and her work is entirely improvisatory and inspired, tours de force.
Ink has a more complicated production process. He thinks and plans more, and his primary motivation is to survive as an artist uncompromised. In what we might call a Freudian maneuver, he infuses his ambition into his art, foregrounding his need to leave a mark on the world. The two artists eventually agree that this difference between them perhaps stems from being at different stages of life, and that being more open to his emotions, himself, and his place in the world is something that Ink wants to work toward.
He connects his relative emotional detachment to the repression of traditional Asian masculinity, but it seems to me to have more to do with his parents’ refugee trauma. So many Western stereotypes of Asian immigrants reflect not the people themselves but the effects of immigration, especially under the racist immigration policies of most of the 20th century. The (unconscious) pigeonholing of immigrant identities is but an extension of that same illogic, so I was especially thrilled when, after the successful Budapest show, Ink could confidently declare that he is not a Vietnamese American street artist, but an artist tout court, able to present his work anywhere he wants.
The film conveys this message organically, by showing him doing the work and earning his accolades. Linda is proud of him — they’re proud of each other. When who they’d most like to collaborate with, they each answered with the other’s name. It may be conventional in form, but Ink & Linda tells a radical story.
Ink & Linda is currently playing in festival.
TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)
If you enjoyed this article and want to receive more story updates in your news feed, please be sure to follow our Facebook.