Interview with Shin-Hee Chin

“Mother Tongue and Foreign Language”,

This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)

Featured photo: “Mother Tongue and Foreign Language”,
silk, polyester, handmade Korean Hanbok Jeogori(jacket) stenciled, appliqued, quilted, stitched  25″ x78″each, 2013. Copyright Shin-hee Chin

Shin-hee Chin

Shin-Hee Chin is an important and eclectic textile artist who creates installations, sculptures, works of fiber art and art quilts based mostly on the theme of female work and its enhancement as a means of social redemption.

Born and raised in Seoul, South Korea, Shin-hee Chin received her BFA and MFA from the Hongik University. Shortly afterwards, she immigrated to the United States with her husband and received her Master’s Degree in Fiber Arts from California State University in Long Beach. As professor for 14 years, Chin taught drawing, painting, color theory and mixed techniques at Tabor College in Kansas. She was elected as  Distinguished Faculty at Tabor College in 2008.

Her artworks have won numerous awards and  have been exhibited nationally and internationally in museums and art galleries including the Metropolitan Art Museum in Tokyo, the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C., the Palais des Nations (United Nations Headquarters) in Geneva, Switzerland, and Uijeongbu Arts Centre, Seoul, South Korea.

Here is the link to her website:

http://shinheechin.com

Can you tell us something about yourself and your history as an artist? How did you start?

I was born and raised in Seoul, Korea. I received my BFA and MFA from Hongik University. Shortly after, I immigrated to the United States with my husband and raised two kids while earning my MA in Fiber Arts from California State University at Long Beach.

As a person who has spent half her life in South Korea and the other half in the United States, cultural context has shaped most of my works.

As my worldview has been shaped by my experiences as a woman, a mother, and an immigrant, my work is an effort to draw connections between my inner life and the world beyond.

Can you talk about the birth and development of one of your works? How does a new work come about?

Because of various teaching and committee duties as a professor at Tabor College, I generally don’t make big pieces during the semester. During the semester, however, I focus on preparing the next projects by doing research on the subject matters, sketching, preparing art materials such as making fabric yo-yos, dying fabrics and threads, and coiling fabrics on a daily basis at my basement(aka studio). The majority of actual art making/production takes place during the summer and winter vacation, which are almost 5 months. During this period, I often take a residency at the Red Barn Studio at Lindsborg to use its space and facility to finish big pieces of work.

“Nadia Anjuman”, recycled fabric, yo-yo quilt, whole cloth dyed, fabric painted, hand stitched, 48 X 60″, 2012. Copyright Shin-hee Chin

What are the differences between your first and most recent works?

In retrospect, I find that I have consistently focused on the issue of humanity. Recently, I began to expand to the abstract and non-figurative aspect in fiber art by exploring text, language, identity, and environment.

How important is the choice of materials for you?  Do you use different types of materials in your works at the same time? Do you also use recycled materials?

 I utilize a variety of remnants of fabrics of clothing that include worn-out, nearly unusable clothes from my family, as well as “leftover” clothes from my previous works. While my choice of old and recycled clothes is derived from the course of recycling and improvising with my artistic materials, I realized the plentiful, or even infinite artistic potential of the devalued aspects of the domestic realm for female artist.

Chinmoku (Silence)”, 42″ x 60″, Twisted fabric cord, coiling, blanket stitch
cotton, recycled material. Copyright Shin-hee Chin

In your fiber art works, you use various types of threads in a special and unusual way. How did you develop this technique?

I appropriate craft techniques such as stitching, random wrapping, and binding. The techniques have an important meaning for me as a compositional device. In experimenting with a variety of threads, my hands participate in the process of the intricate linking of the irregular pattern of threads that form veins, skin, and scars. In fact, one can see the process through the complexly interwoven and intricately entangled threads covering the work. I named this technique “random stitch”.

Silence”, old cloth, cotton thread, linen thread, polyester thread random stitch,
16”x 11.5”x 11”, 2001. Copyright Shin.hee Chin

To design and create your work, do you also use computer tools such as digital printing, photoshop…?

Though I am capable of using computer and generate digital images, I prefer to do freehand drawings and sketches.

Do you work in series? Can you explain us what are the reasons for working on a series?

Yes, I do. My ongoing series of works explore humanity and divinity in human beings, highlighting the interconnectedness. I have also created series of pieces that depict the marginalized and forgotten people who have remained voiceless, faceless, and nameless. My work seeks to valorize the small tasks that together yield a greater sum in positive energy, yet are overlooked or dismissed by history. My work also seeks to acknowledge the trials endured by victims and minorities.

Cultural context has greatly influenced most of my work as I have spent half my life in South Korea and the past two decades in the United States. I have had equal exposure to two vastly different cultures. In my years of dealing with the issues of a bicultural lifestyle, art has helped me reconcile the conflicting nature of these influences. My work reflects this binary approach – female vs. male, East vs. West, art vs. craft – all those paradoxes inhabit the same space just as both Korea and America co-exist in me. I also draw inspiration specifically from the feminist tradition, Christian spirituality, and Eastern philosophy.

In-between; In search of Identity”, 50″ x 60″,Hand quilted, random stitched
Whole cloth, cotton thread, perle cotton, embroidery floss. Copyright Shin.hee Chin

The main theme of your work is focused on the female condition and the redemption of the work of the woman. Can you tell us something about this?

In my work, I attempt to carve out what I proudly call a feminine territory in which the voices of effaced and silenced women reverberate, and to translate the experiences of women in a way that people of different ethnic backgrounds and cultural experiences can understand.

The slow nature of my technique mimics the creative process of birthing. This recalls the gradual forming of the fetus through the intersection of capillary within the belly of the mother or the silkworm’s patient and continuous spinning leading to the creation of its cocoon.

How long do you take on average to complete an artwork?

Each project differs. Most of my work takes at least one or three months. One extreme example might be the one entitled Behind the Labels, which takes 30 years and is still going on. It is made of about four thousands of labels I have collected from my own family’s clothing. I make a small quilt (24” x 20”) every two years with the labels.

“Behind the Labels” , Labels, recycled Korean Hanbok Chima, organza, embroidery floss Whip-stitched, image transferred, 288” w x 36” h (dimensions variable). Copyright Shin-hee Chin

Your art quilt “Florence Nightingale” received awards for  innovative use of materials and techniques at the Quilt National 2013. Can you tell us about it?

When there was not much rhyme or reason to medicine, and little credence given to the research of a woman, Nightingale created changes that saved lives during the Crimean War.

Because of her work as a statistician and nurse, it was found that the most casualties occurred in the British army hospitals than on the field. She used her data to show the correlation between the cleanliness of the hospitals and the mortality rate, creating a chart, often called Nightingale’s Rose or rose chart.

Florence Nightingale cared enough about saving lives that she went to great lengths to improve conditions. In laying out her image with her rose chart, red rose, and red cross, I wish to honor her accomplishments. Also, by synthesizing the Fibonacci Spiral, I wanted to illustrate circles and squares, math and art, beautiful minds and good deeds.

I used cotton, recycled fabric, dye, perle cotton thread, embroidery floss, organza and use techniques of twisting fabric cord, blanket stitch, dying and embroidery.

I developed this technique by appropriating a traditional Korean paper twisting method called “Ji-Seung,” –  literally meaning ‘paper cord’ – for the basketry. In Ji-Seung method, cording ‘hanji’ (traditional Korean paper) was done by twisting single strips between the index finger and thumb, and later wound in pairs to make cords. I substituted the recycled fabric for the rice paper to construct fabric tubes. Then, I connected each fabric tube by stitching. All were hand stitched. I dyed some of the stripes to get the tonal quality.

“Florence Nightingale” hemp, organza, coiled, dyed, fabric painted, hand stitched
78″ x 48″, Most Innovative Use of the Medium at Quilt National 13. Copyright Shin-Hee Chin

Your artwork ranges from textile installations, sculptures, fiber art and art quilts. Can you explain why you choose a variety of means of expression?

In a certain sense, it is the unintended result of my experiment in search of the best forms and materials that best fit my themes and subjects.

I chose to do fiber art because fabric is universal, versatile, and easy to obtain. Though often seen as mundane material, it can allow a freedom of expression in themes with their tactile richness, vibrant color, multi-layered depth.

Through my fiber installation and fiber sculpture, I have attempted to carve out what I proudly call a feminine territory in which the voices of silenced women reverberate, and to translate the experiences of women in a way that people of different ethnic backgrounds and cultural experiences can understand. For that purpose, I convert the conventional “feminine” activity of needlework into a useful medium for the making of art.

“Behind the Scenes”, machine and hand stitched, 240”w x50”hx 30”d (installation dimension), (fabric 30”width x 936”length), 2013. Copyright Shin-hee Chin

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