Known for her large-scale installations and public sculptures, artist Jean Shin transforms accumulations of discarded objects into powerful monuments that interrogate our complex relationship between material consumption, collective identity and community engagement. Often working cooperatively within a community or region, Shin amasses vast collections of an everyday object or material—Mountain Dew soda bottles, mobile phones, 35mm slides—while researching its history of use, circulation and environmental impact. Distinguished by this labor-intensive and participatory process, Shin’s poetic yet epic creations become catalysts for communities to confront social and ecological challenges. As such, her body of work includes several permanent public artworks commissioned by major agencies and municipalities, most recently a landmark commission for the MTA’s Second Ave Subway in NYC. Born in Seoul, South Korea, and raised in the US, Shin works in Brooklyn and Hudson Valley, New York. She is a tenured Adjunct Professor at Pratt Institute and holds an honorary doctorate from New York Academy of Art. Shin’s work has been widely exhibited and collected in over 150 major museums and cultural institutions, including solo exhibitions at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC, and Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, where in 2020 she was the first Korean-American woman artist featured in a solo exhibition. Shin has received numerous awards, including the Frederic Church Award for her contributions to American art and culture. Her works have been highlighted in The New York Times and Sculpture Magazine, among others.
Using cast-off or donated materials, I create large-scale sculptures that draw attention to everyday objects, often underscoring their circulation and cumulative effect upon our live environment. My work often begins by observing a place, probing the indexes of a site’s physical reality to identify an object or material that is ubiquitous yet implies a deeply personal sensibility. Following this rigorous research phase, I initiate dialogue with community stakeholders, inviting local participants to donate a specific, ordinary item—from sports trophies and lottery tickets to obsolete or ever-upgrading technologies like mobile phones—and allowing them to share their stories behind them. In turn, these intimate objects become the foundational medium for my sculptures and site-specific installations. Though my process is driven by conceptual and site specific interests, I thoroughly consider formal questions of shape, space, scale and color in the creation of each sculpture. Once identified and amassed, each object or material undergoes a meticulous, labor-intensive process of dissecting, stripping, or deconstruction so that it can be recast, adhered to or reshaped into a new form that challenges sculptural techniques and pushes innovation. While each sculpture functions as a reflexive apparatus for a broader place, the work is also informed by my subjective experience. As a first-generation immigrant, bearing witness to racial, economic, and environmental injustices has inspired me to create value out of discards as a form of repair. I address these inequities by reimagining the material potential of our world, revealing forgotten histories and making visible the undervalued labor of minorities. Through this literal and figurative work, broad collections of objects become portraits of multitudes, their material reality impossibly suspended. Individual remnants act as surrogates to the original owner, referencing the physical body and metaphorically representing personal identities and behaviors. This process lends purpose to social exchange beyond monetary advantage, generating reciprocal cultural and social value. Current projects have focused more closely on sculptural forms that employ organic elements–namely fallen trees–or that exist within natural environments. Salvaging the dying maple trees at Storm King Art Center and a 140-year-old hemlock at Olana State Historic Site, I use the raw material, including the bark, from these once-magnificent trees to create public sculptures that also act as memorials. Both of these recent sculptures offer space for gathering where viewers may closely observe and physically touch the work, generating empathy with nature’s vulnerabilities while providing a place to reflect on what has been lost.