Jean Shin Makes Art From Everyday Objects



Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.


I'm Doug Johnson.  

On today's program, we tell about an artist who uses everyday objects to make sculptures ...

Answer a question about the store Wal-Mart ...

And hear banjo music by Steve Martin.



Jean Shin makes sculptures that change everyday objects into thoughtful and beautiful works of art. Shin makes art from broken umbrellas, old clothing or computer parts. Her show "Common Threads" is currently at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. Barbara Klein tells us more.


One of the first works in the "Common Threads" exhibit looks like glowing orange cave formations coming out of the floor and ceiling. If you move closer to the sculptures, you realize they are made up of thousands of carefully stacked small plastic bottles for storing medicines.

"Chemical Balance" by Jean Shin
Jean Shin made this work, "Chemical Balance," by gathering the bottles from friends, family and retirement communities. She has said the work is like a group portrait that maps a society's chemical use. Like much of Shin's art, this work is both about individuals and large groups of people. Each personal object once belonged to an individual. But it takes a large community of such individuals to make Shin's art possible.

"Chance City" is made up of more than thirty-two thousand dollars worth of old lottery tickets. People buy the tickets in hopes of winning large amounts of money. Shin collected the tickets in New York City and Washington, D.C. over a period of three years. The small pieces of paper are carefully stacked to create buildings. The sculptures were made using no supports, so they could fall over at any time. The work makes a statement about the unsure nature of money and chance.

Jean Shin was born in nineteen seventy-one in South Korea. Her parents moved to the United States when she was six years old. Shin studied art at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. She has chosen to make art that takes a long time to create. She says this is because her parents taught her about the value of hard work.

"Everyday Monuments" by Jean Shin
Other works in "Common Threads" include "TEXTile." It is a piece of flowing fabric covered with thousands of old computer keys. Visitors can add to the work by typing their own message.

Shin's latest work is called "Everyday Monuments." It is made of almost two thousand sports awards called trophies. The trophies showed people doing sports like baseball, tennis or bowling. The people who received the trophies donated them to the artist. Shin changed the human forms on every trophy so that each is doing an everyday act like cleaning, driving or carrying shopping bags. The sculpture was influenced by the many large monuments in Washington which honor important heroes. Jean Shin's smaller monument celebrates the heroism of people in their everyday actions.



Our listener question this week comes from Burma. Ko Maw Gyi is an English language teacher who wants to know about the store Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart is a group of large stores known for selling goods at a very low cost. The company sells many products including food, clothing, electronics and objects for the home. Sam Walton opened the first Wal-Mart in nineteen sixty-two in Rogers, Arkansas.

Today, the company Wal-Mart Stores, Incorporated is the largest group of stores in the world. The company operates about eight thousand stores in fifteen countries. It employs over two million people. Wal-Mart made over three hundred billion dollars in sales last year.

It recently opened its first store in India, a joint project with the Bharti group, in Amritsar.

A Chinese Wal-Mart in Loudi.
A Wal-Mart in Loudi, in China
There are about four thousand Wal-Mart stores in the United States. This number includes about six hundred Sam's Club stores. Wal-Mart is the largest private employer in America.

Because of its size and influence with suppliers and buyers, Wal-Mart's policies often receive wide public attention. For example, Wal-Mart has received criticism over the years for its labor policies and lack of environmentally friendly efforts. Many critics say Wal-Mart fails to pay its workers fairly or provide them with enough health insurance.

In two thousand one, a group of women took legal action against the company for sex discrimination. They accused Wal-Mart of paying women less money than men and giving women fewer chances to get better jobs.  The case later grew to include over one and a half million women who were current and former Wal-Mart workers.

In a separate case, Wal-Mart agreed last year to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to workers who claimed they had been cheated of their hourly wages.

Wal-Mart has worked to improve its public image by becoming a more "green" company. It has decided to support selling more energy saving products such as low-energy light bulbs.

It says it will work with manufacturers of high-energy products to try to improve energy use. The company has also started reusing materials and reducing the fuel use of its trucks. These efforts are good for the environment and also save the company millions of dollars.

New Wal-Mart stores have had a big effect on small communities in the United States. Some communities protest the arrival of a Wal-Mart store because they say it endangers smaller local businesses. But others say that Wal-Mart brings jobs and helps people save money.



Funny man Steve Martin has a new album, but this time he is not joking. The banjo that he used in his comedy performances has now become his main act. June Simms has more.


Steve Martin is well known for many things, but music is not one of them. Well, it looks like that is about to change. The award-winning actor and comedian has released his first full-length music CD.  It is called "The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo." It has already been to the top of Billboard Magazine's Bluegrass Albums chart. Steve Martin wrote all of the fifteen songs on the album, including this one with country superstars Dolly Parton and Vince Gill.  Here is "Pretty Flowers."

Steve Martin
Steve Martin

Steve Martin is one of the most popular comedians in the United States. He has won Grammy Awards for two of his comedy albums and for best country instrumental performance. He has also won a Lifetime Achievement Award in Comedy. His movies have been very successful. He is also a best-selling author and talented playwright. Add to the list his skill on the banjo. He has been playing for forty-five years. Here is "Wally on the Run."


Two years ago, banjo player Tony Trischka asked Martin to perform his song "The Crow" on Trischka's album, "Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular." The song is also on Steve Martin's new CD. We leave you with "The Crow."



I'm Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program today.

It was written by June Simms and Dana Demange who was also the producer. For transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs, go to You can also write comments about our programs.

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Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA's radio magazine in Special English.