Peer in the window of Galerie Lelong in New York and you’ll see visitors standing reluctantly near the entrance, unsure of how to proceed and afraid to touch the art that lies at their feet. But Lin Tianmiao’s Protruding Patterns, now on view at the gallery, is meant to be touched—in fact, it’s designed to be walked all over.

The Chinese artist has created a gallery-filling installation made entirely of antique carpets. Stitched together, they are embroidered with dozens of words about women in Chinese, English, French, and other tongues—a selection of some 2,000 phrases the artist has collected over more than five years.

“The negative words are obviously more pronounced,” Lin admits to artnet News of the often-sexist lexicon, which ranges from obscure sexual slang (“hamburger”) to terms of endearment (“goddess”).

Each word is embroidered in chunky bubble letters—a specially designed font—that jut out from the surface of the surrounding rugs, making the piece somewhat awkward to traverse. Lin previously showed Protruding Patterns at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing and the Long Museum in Shanghai. She claims the letters were even more voluminous before being trod upon by museumgoers.

When Lin set out to turn her collection of words—culled from novels, newspapers, the internet, pop culture, and everyday conversations—into an artwork, antique Chinese carpets seemed a natural backdrop. She appreciated the cultural importance of carpets in her native country, and wanted to imbue the work with a sense of history—a nod to the way in which language evolves over time. Read more