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“Links” Installation Uses Bethel-sourced Materials

Jean Shin’s “Links” on display in the Olson Gallery. (Photo credit: Nathan Klok '17)

Artist Jean Shin visited campus in April to install and unveil a community-based and community-sourced installation piece, Links. The installation, which is on display in the Olson Gallery through May 23, features a series of chains and metal items that were gathered from Bethel community members and suspended in the open space. The gallery walls are adorned with Bethel-sourced photography and mirror-like pieces designed to visually bring the viewer into the story.

The chains in the piece “vary from industrial to artisanal,” writes Shin. “They explore the inherent contradictions of its historical and contemporary use. At one scale the chain is a precious object, a delicate and refined accessory of fashion. Change the material and the scale, and the joined links become heavy and take on the attributes of confinement, burden, and restraint.”

Emily Swanberg ’16, a psychology and art double-major, heard about Shin’s visit from Ken Steinbach, professor of art. She brought her growing interest in sculptural art—and keen organizational skills—to join a team of Bethel students, staff, and faculty members who secured item donations from the Bethel community and contributed to the installation process.

“I think one of the best things about working with Jean was the way she approached the fabrication process,” says Swanberg, who had stained, greasy hands—and even a few bruises—during the long and tedious three-day installation. The hazards of working on such a piece are well worth the opportunity to work closely with such a well-known artist. “She had a very specific way she wanted the chains to link and hang, and she could tell you exactly where to put each one…once I, and several other students, learned her process and learned how to work with the chain, she let us make a lot of decisions ourselves. She really trusted us to maintain the integrity of the piece.”

Krista Anderson ’16, an art major, was on the team with Swanberg since last October, when plans for Shin’s visit started to come together. The students met Shin during a subsequent site visit, where she saw the gallery space and cast a vision for the piece. Links would be a Bethel-specific work similar to a smaller piece she had created last year in Brooklyn, New York. Shin is known for interactive works that function as commentary on certain communities and often invites local residents to contribute their materials. Her pieces often reuse large quantities of personal items that together visually celebrate or emphasize issues at play in a specific community. 

“What inspires me most about Jean's work is the way that she engages community and materials in such a unique way,” says Anderson. “Working closely with her was so inspiring, and I found myself a bit star struck at times. She and I had a remarkable connection in the way we worked together, always one step ahead of what the other was thinking. It is an experience I will never forget.”

“After listening to Jean speak about this work and some of her previous work, it's very clear that every single decision she makes is extremely intentional,” says Swanberg. “She considers all of the implications of a material, a site, a composition, and so on. She speaks to such large issues in a profoundly intricate way and I think that's why her works have such an impact on viewers.”

Links is on display in the Olson Gallery, on level 2 of the Community Life Center, through May 23. It is free and open to the public Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-8 p.m., and weekends, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Find out more about the installation.

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