Jean Shin: Common Threads at Smithsonian American Art Museum

This past December we publicized installation artist Jean Shin's request for Washington area residents' trophies (ones with figurines, only.) The designated drop-off location was the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the idea was that she would create a site-specific installation from the trophies for the museum.

Some 2,000 of the shiny plastic relics, from Smithsonian employees, local high schoolers and others, were donated to the cause. Shin has since altered them to depict ordinary people at work. Bowlers have become nannies pushing strollers, and tennis players have become laborers swinging hammers. And she's crowded them into a 45-foot-long space at the museum modeled after the National Mall, calling the piece Everyday Monuments.

The setup of her installations, as depicted in the photo gallery, is time intensive. "With the new pieces, like Everyday Monuments, you have no prior understanding of what the difficult nature of the work is," says Shin. "And how long everything takes is anyone's guessing game."

It took about two weeks to assemble Everyday Monuments, as well as seven other works she's created from people's castaways in the past decade that are included in "Jean Shin: Common Threads," an exhibition that opened Friday at the museum. For her work Unraveling, it meant literally unraveling skeins of yarn into a web hovering just below the ceiling. For Chance City, it meant stacking losing lottery tickets one by one into houses of cards, and Chemical Balance III entailed constructing stalactites and stalagmites of prescription pill bottles.

Shin uses hundreds, if not thousands, of a given type of found object for each of her sculptures and considers them group portraits of the donors of the objects. "I see every object as a part of that person's identity and personal history," she says. And yet she plays with the contrast of the individual and the collective, the micro and the macro being seen at once. "If I get 2,000 of them, then in a sense, I'm bringing together 2,000 people."

"Jean Shin: Common Threads" runs through July 26.

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