The following is an edited excerpt of a longer unpublished interview between Sharmistha Ray and Jean Shin in August 2021.
Sharmistha Ray: Your work foregrounds themes of obsolescence and “second lives,” and your social practice reframes the possibilities of an afterlife for objects that once had a purpose. It generates hope. I can’t help but tie that in with your family’s history of immigration. Can you talk more about cultural identity as it relates to your work?
Jean Shin: When I think of my cultural identity as an artist, feminist, immigrant, and Asian American, I recognize that labor through these perspectives is a powerful tool for creativity and transformation. The physical labor of immigrants is often intense, undervalued, or invisible to others, yet one's survival and one’s family’s livelihood depends on it, giving it a sense of purpose and urgency. Immigrants often end up with what’s leftover and unwanted in society. However, within this darkness, there is hope in finding untapped potential and an opportunity for reimagining a way of life. I come from a genealogy both artistic and familial of those who create something out of nothing. My parents' sacrifices were made on my behalf. Their hard work was for the next generation’s benefit, investing towards future generations, and thinking intergenerationally. The repurposing of materials and making do with what’s available is a way of being resourceful as well as economically practical. It’s also more sustainable long term. The accumulation in my work comes from recognizing strength in numbers and collective action. Community activists like Grace Lee Boggs have spoken about creating “the conditions for change” and I consider my work as part of these larger movements for social change and environmental justice. My work celebrates imperfections and the care that goes into repairing what’s been deemed broken by our society.