Sculptures molded from the mundane

Exhibit: A Columbia artist finds inspiration - and materials - in her everyday chores.

May 14, 2002|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

Women's work - knitting, sewing, cleaning, raising kids - is menial. It's trivial, marginal and undesirable. It has no value.

That's what Columbia resident and artist Shin-Hee Chin says many people think, and that's what she's trying to debunk with her exhibit, Realm of Bliss, showing at Columbia Art Center through June 2.

"I want to show that seemingly menial female work can be a source of pleasure and power for women," says Chin, 42. She says it can be a means to "inner joy through converting the physical oppressive condition into the stimulating and dynamic resources for her own creative life."

That was Chin's experience. She was in her late 20s, new to America from Korea, taking care of two small children while her husband studied sociology. She spoke no English and tired of the repetitive nature of chores. Then she had an epiphany.

"It was so hard. I was isolated and just raising my kids and working for my household. I thought it was silencing," she says. "But then I realized when you stop talking, you think more. Then it became an energy, a source of ideas I could transfer to art making."

And she did, drawing on the materials she used to keep house for inspiration: her kids' old clothes, dust rags, yarn, thread, needles. The result is a collection of soft and serene sculptures, many of women, that embrace the smallest parts of daily life.

"For me, that means the house chores and all the things I think about while I am doing the house chores," Chin says. "Mostly it's my personal life as a woman, but I think many people - even men - can relate to it."

Chin says the art center exhibit reads almost like a scrapbook of her development as an artist, which is continuing. "It's a never-ending process," she says, "like housework."

Here's more about Chin's art and the process of making it:

What is women's work?

It's all the things that women used to do at home related to their house: knitting, sewing, cleaning, raising your kids and mending the clothes, that kind of stuff. But I utilize all those things to make my art form. When I think about women's work, I think about it as art.

Why can it be art?

At first, it was hard for me to claim that it's an art form. It's not bronze, not traditional materials, but art is not about the material or the technique. The important thing is what the artist thinks about the material and how the artist transforms the material to the artwork.

When did you work on your sculptures?

Often, when I took my kids to the playground or beach or library, I carried the yarn and needles with me and worked on the figures. It's like a woman can knit at the park or the beach. It is the same thing. I did it because I had to; I was a mom [of] energetic kids, and it was [practical]. Now my kids are in school [they're 10 and 13], and I can work anytime, but finding space is difficult. I live in a small apartment.

Why is the show called Realm of Bliss ?

Even though house chores seem trivial and menial, if you put your spirit into it, it can be a spiritual thing. You can accept it as a gift, a state of being blessed.

Are you more mom or artist?

I tell people I'm a full-time mom and a full-time artist. But honestly speaking, I'm just mom.

What do you hope people will take from your exhibit?

This exhibit shows the voices of silent woman, of myself. I wanted to translate the experience to other people. Some people relate it to their life, some might not, but I hope people will just feel the warm environment inside the gallery.

Realm of Bliss is in Gallery I at Columbia Art Center, 6100 Foreland Garth. Admission is free. Center hours are 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Information: 410-730-0075.

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