Happy Lunar New Year! As we ring in the Year of the Pig, we turn the spotlight on New York artist Juno Shen, whose latest series In Your Favor celebrates the traditional Chinese symbols of happiness, fortune and luck.
Favorite Lunar New Year traditions?
The Lunar New Year celebration lasts for 15 days, and every day you do something different. My favorite is the last day, the lantern festival. I’m from a little town in Southern China called Rugao, and on that day people eat sweet rice balls and walk the streets with lanterns to welcome spring. My grandpa was a very handy man, and every year he would make me the biggest lantern in town. It was always a rabbit with tassels on the edges, [the Chinese symbol for] Double Happiness on the body and wheels on the bottom. I would drag this giant bunny lantern around feeling like the coolest kid in town—I loved it.
What's your Chinese zodiac sign?
I am the Year of the Dog! The dog is the symbol of loyalty and honesty. People born in the Year of the Dog possess the best traits—they are honest, friendly, faithful, loyal, smart, straightforward, venerable and have a strong sense of responsibility. Who doesn’t like dogs? We’re pretty much the best. 😀
What's the backstory behind your In Your Favor series?
This collection is a celebration of the belief that fate is not something we passively accept; it's something we have control over. The Chinese believe that one can change his or her luck through the use of rituals and symbols. If your house has a corner with bad feng shui, you can put a mirror there to deflect the bad energy. If this year brings trouble for your zodiac sign, you can wear certain colors to protect yourself. If you want to improve your financial luck, put a really cool neon sign that represents good fortune in your home! These traditions may be pretty specific to the Chinese, but I wanted to remind people of the universality of the belief. On any given day, we can change our lives with the choices we make. The pieces from In Your Favor are reminders of this power that we all innately possess.
Why neon? What do you love about working in that medium?
I have always been intrigued by light, but neon was something I became interested in only after going through the process of making it. The practice of bending glass is extremely intense and requires a lot of focus and patience; the reward is the finished work. From a purely light perspective, I don’t think there is anything quite like watching electricity and gas interact under pressure. It’s such a beautiful interplay between elements that I think humans are biologically wired to love. Every time I turn a piece on, I become Harry from A Bug’s Life; I just want to stare at the tubes and get lost in the light.