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Jean Shin: Home Base
New York state-based artist Jean Shin, Laumeier’s 2022 Visiting Artist in Residence, describes her work as “giving new form to life’s leftovers.” Her sculptures and installations transform familiar objects into compelling meditations on collective memory, desires, and failures. Recently, Shin has been using fallen trees as raw material for installations that touch on life cycles and the impacts of climate change. Shin’s engagement with Laumeier focuses on North American ash trees, which are under threat from the Emerald Ash Borer, an insect whose populations have increased exponentially due to global warming. She aims to draw awareness to this issue, as well as related topics around climate change and conservation, by highlighting their connection to the all-American sport of baseball.
Shin’s site-responsive installation Home Base figures an alternate baseball diamond, one where a salvaged stump of a dead ash tree from Laumeier Sculpture Park is fashioned into the shape and size of a home plate. First, second, and third bases are reimagined as sculptural seats or benches created from the same ash tree and blemished bats donated by Rawlings, the sports manufacturer who supplies baseball bats to the St. Louis Cardinals. The artist endeavors to foreground the connection between nature and culture, specifically between a nationally treasured game and our beautiful forests, observing: “What affects the game, affects the environment, and more importantly, what affects the environment, affects the game.”
Sited at Laumeier’s South Lawn, Home Base is situated around a lone ash tree; a path of wood pavers will guide visitors to each “base.” Together, they show the progression from stump to custom wood seating, which provides rest points for contemplation and conversation.
Upon closer reflection, Home Base also reveals the interconnectedness of environmental justice issues with those of race, gender, class, etc. Born in South Korea, Shin’s work often subtly inflects notions of home, belonging, and displacement or references the immigrant experience. Through this project, she was struck by the demonization of an insect from Asia that, upon further investigation, has actually been in the United States for many years, but that has earned the designation of “invasive” because of climate-related issues. Ultimately, Home Base ventures to show viewers that, regardless of racialized rhetoric, propaganda, or denial, all living species share one biological home, planet earth–an intricately complex and not yet fully understood ecosystem, whose inhabitants’ ability to thrive is precariously hinged upon one another’s actions.