When the museum invited New York–based artist Jean Shin to create a site-specific installation, she started with the context. “I began thinking about the Bay Area as the historical epicenter of both tech and the environmental movement,” she says. Pause connects these two ideas by using e-waste as the material and the scholar’s rock, symbolizing a fetish for nature, as the form. Pause is an installation of and about technology, but without electricity, WiFi, flashing lights, moving images or sound.
The project began with a call for donations of old cell phones and Ethernet cables. “I am always thinking about waste,” says Shin, who has created previous installations from discarded pill bottles, umbrellas and 35mm slides. “I wanted to use e-waste to raise the issue of ethics in tech,” she explains. “Engineers are always racing to innovate, to create new software without always thinking about how the hardware will be left behind.”
In her studio, the artist constructed three sculptures from obsolete cell phones in forms reminiscent of irregular, rough-hewn scholar’s rocks in Chinese art. In the gallery, miles of old computer cables on the floor encircle these vertical forms, suggesting ocean waves or the raked gravel of Zen gardens. Finally, donated data devices are entombed by cords to create orb-like seating.
Shin hopes that when you visit Pause, you will do just that: unplug from your devices and experience stillness within the silent gallery space. The installation aims to create a place to reflect — on toxic e-waste’s impact on the environment, on the planned obsolescence central to our consumer culture and on ways to reclaim ourselves in today’s attention economy.