What Old/Castaway Object Embodies You?

Jean Shin, "Chemical Balance. Smithsonian

Jean Shin, “Chemical Balance,” 2005. Mixed-media installation of prescription pill containers

I think it’s cool that Jean Shin’s sculptures and installations are made out of castaway objects. Her work on the right, Chemical Balance (2005), is made with prescription bottles, mirrors, and epoxy. Other sculptures are made out of broken umbrellas, old lottery tickets, worn shoes, etc. You should check out Shin’s work on her website – it’s really neat. I really like her Sound Wave (2007, made out of records) and Worn Soles (2001).

This month’s edition of Smithsonian has an interview with Shin (to promote the show “Jean Shin: Common Threads” that is at the Smithsonian American Art Museum until this coming Sunday (July 26)). During the interview, Shin mentioned how she collects objects from people, starting with her friends and family members. The interviewer brought up the point that Shin’s sculptures can be seen as group portraits. Shin mentioned how she views each object as part of an individual’s history and identity, and she wants her work to “embod[y] people’s lives.”

I really like the idea of Shin’s work as group portraits. It made me think about what kind of objects could be considered as my own portrait. I thought of all the buttons in my sewing box. They are all of the extra buttons that came with the different shirts, pants, and shorts that I have owned. Some of the clothing has been long-gone, but I’ve never taken any of the old buttons out of my stash. I guess if there was a Jean Shin-esque sculpture made as my portrait, it could be of buttons.

What about you? What old/castaway objects could be your portrait? What works by Shin do you like?

  • E says:

    The American Art Museum is at the Reynold's Center, isn't it? The same building at the NPG, correct? I'd really like to go see her exhibit. I think it sounds really cool. I know the NPG has summer hours that go until 7:30, so I could definitely make it there after work. What a neat opportunity.

    I was thinking about your question as to what object might be something that could define us, or that art could be made of from us. For me it would be:
    Day planners. I use, use, use day planners! Not only are they filled with lists and appointments, I also draw excessively in them and record exciting events. I also keep them long after the calendar year expires because I can't bear to lose the quotes I've written in them, or even the memories associated with them. A day planner is definitely a journal to me. I can imagine a piece of art created from thousands of day planners. Might be cool.

  • E says:

    Oh, P.S. I've been meaning to ask you what you think about the controversy surrounding Kenneth Behring over at the American History museum. He sounds like a real piece of work. I wonder if the Smithsonian kicks themselves in the foot everyday for accepting his money and all the strings attached to it.

    My roommate (who works at the NPG) says that he has sexually harassed so many of the staff at the American History museum, that they've arranged for staff to no longer be present in meetings with him.

  • joolee says:

    I'm not sure about me…I'll have to think about that one, but I know EXACTLY what my brother's sculpture would be made out of – anything having to do with candy -wrappers, bags, empty Altoids tins, you name it, he saved it!! Don't have the slightest clue why. Wonder if he still does…

    I just got an idea – I love to sew, so maybe my sculpture would be of fabric scraps…I just can't bring myself to throw any away, especially if it was spendy fabric!

  • heidenkind says:

    Post-it notes, probably. I'm addicted to them. There's at least a does floating around with random thoughts and pieces of information on them.

  • M says:

    Hey, these are great suggestions! I think that they all would make really interesting sculptures.

    I also thought of all of the receipts that I have saved (I always balance my checkbook after I've accumulated a huge mass of receipts on the top of my dresser, and then I recycle all of the paper afterward). If I compiled all of the receipts that I've received during my lifetime, I bet they could make a nice-sized installation. Wow, that's kind of crazy to think about in terms of paper consumption. (And how cool is it that Shin really is using recycled materials for her art?)

    And yes, E, the SAAM is in the same building as the NPG. You totally should go see this show – and then tell me all about it! 🙂

  • M says:

    Oh, E, I also don't really know much about the Kenneth Behring situation. I just read an old article from the NY Times that criticizes how Behring was given too much power to control the nature and content of the museum's exhibitions.

    Is there more recent controversy than this?

    I think sometimes it is hard for museums to find a good balance between fulfilling their mission statement and also complying with the requests of donors. Museums are ALWAYS strapped for money (okay, I think the Getty is probably one of the only exceptions), and therefore are ALWAYS willing to accept donations. It's just hard when the donor attaches too many strings to their contribution.

  • ixoj says:

    Old books? Old book covers? Pages that have been torn out of books (not that I would ever tear them out, but if they HAPPENED to have been torn out already).

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.