Entering How Things Are Made by Mizin Shin at CEPA Gallery, I am immediately floored; insofar that I find myself bending over precariously to examine the floor, and then the walls, and then the ceiling. Shin’s immersive installation – produced as a capstone exhibit toward her Master of Fine Arts degree from the University at Buffalo – becomes both physically and psychologically intimidating. The expectation of gallery space, as a stage across which works of art are alight, and confront the viewer, are deftly subverted by Shin’s handiwork. This installation not only wraps the gallery from floor to ceiling, but also makes deft allotments for pipes, electrical outlets, windows and door frames allowing form to follow function, and showcasing the artist’s hand insofar as it is made invisible.
The exhibit itself challenges viewers’ ways of thinking through avenues of production and commerce. Through the use of intertwined vignettes illuminating the path from production to product, Shin affords the viewer opportunities to peek behind the facade of mass consumption, however, repetition of visual devices obfuscates any chance on the part of the viewer to intervene and displaces any discernible beginning or end. Ultimately the work serves as a dowsing rod in search of a truth which is both intangible and ensconces us as consumers writ large, and participants within the confines of this gallery’s walls.
The mechanical nature of the interwoven systems at play throughout the installation – through the use of grids, trucks, silos and repetition of visual devices – belie their own means of production. It would be easy to imagine that an installation of such scale and deftness would have been printed off by a computer, a one-off of a digital original replicated on and on and on. The exhibit makes evident, however, that this is not the case. Bookending the CEPA galleries are woodcut blocks, each of which serve as quiet keystones to this exhibit. Through closer reading of the installation and these constant means of construction both, it becomes evident that every inch of Shin’s exhibit has been hand-printed.
The work of art in the age of digital reproduction has seen a generation of artists eschew the ever-ready hand of the artist for readymade statement pieces and digital deliberation. It becomes surprising to see an artist so thoroughly take a space to task with a skill that demands closer inspection of not only the craft that brought us there, but also of the message imparted as producers, participants and consumers in our shared economic ecosystem.
How Things are Made by Mizin Shin is now on view through June 3, 2017. CEPA Gallery is located at 617 Main Street #201, Buffalo, New York 14203 and more information can be found through www.cepagallery.org