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A stronger example of Ms. Shin’s architectural interest is “Penumbra,” a quiltlike membrane made of lost and broken umbrellas. Shown in the exhibit’s only video, the 2003 piece was strung between trees in the Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens, N.Y., to resemble giant flower petals floating in the breeze.

More recently, the artist has combined fabric with more than 22,500 discarded computer keys to create “TEXTile.” This mosaic of letters and words highlights daily communication through e-mail and other digital means. Visitors can type messages into the first few rows of the keyboard so they appear on a screen at the opposite end of the 20-foot-long scroll.

From this viewer participation to the trophy figures and clothing, the installations reveal the human body to be a constant theme of Ms. Shin’s work. “Chemical Balance III” is no exception in alluding to our internal well-being through medicine.

For this installation, the artist gathered thousands of empty plastic pill bottles, clustered them into towerlike arrangements and illuminated the constructions from within so the containers glow with amber light. Three hang from the ceiling like chandeliers and two rise from the ground like floor lamps. This decorative appearance somewhat diminishes the installation’s seriousness in alluding to prescription drug abuse.

Time-consuming, handcrafted assembly is another hallmark of the artwork by Ms. Shin, who credits her parents as the model for her tenacity. They ran a grocery store in the District after leaving South Korea in 1978.

The intensive process required of the artist’s pieced-together installations is particularly apparent in “Untied,” an assembly of hundreds of thrift-store neckties hand-knotted onto a chain-link fence. Ms. Shin first created the colorful piece on a street in New Haven, Conn., as a commentary on the divide between wealth and poverty in the city. Unexpectedly, some of the ties were taken by passers-by to adorn their own suits.

The artist approves of such personal appropriation and sees it as part of the public engagement encouraged by her work.

Visitors who are tempted to mess with “Chance City” may find it collapsing in a pile on the floor. The clustered towers are made from $25,382 worth of discarded instant lottery tickets collected over three years.

Each printed square is stacked on top of another to form a house of cards. No glue or fasteners are used to secure the structures.

The precariously balanced artwork suggests the illusory promise of fast money, a fitting metaphor for today’s shaky economy.

WHAT: “Jean Shin: Common Threads”

WHERE:Smithsonian American Art Museum, Eighth and F streets NW

WHEN: 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily through July 26


PHONE: 202/633-1000

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