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This strange garden is made from cellphones

Take a seat on an orb made from Ethernet cables, and take it all in.

- 02:26

In the installation Pause by Jean Shin, thousands of phones make up sculptures called Huddled Masses.

James Martin/CNET

From a distance, the room evokes a traditional Japanese rock garden, with shiny stone sculptures rising from a tangle of matted tree roots. Get closer, and you'll see this curious garden isn't crafted from nature, but from mounds and mounds of old consumer electronics. 

Cellphones rise like islands from a swirling sea of black computer cords. Miles of tightly bundled Ethernet cables wrapped around laptops and hard drives form orbs that function as benches for sitting and taking it all in. 

Just your typical seat made from Ethernet cables wound around old laptops and hard drives.  

James Martin/CNET

This is Pause, a new site-specific installation at San Francisco's Asian Art Museum. Artist Jean Shin used e-waste from the Bay Area, a leading tech hub, to design the sort of Zen rock garden that's typically meant to capture the essence of nature and provide a setting for contemplation and spiritual connection.  

It's a place for unplugging made solely from materials that require plugging in. 

"Ultimately, Pause is an installation of and about technology, but without electricity, Wi-Fi, flashing lights, moving images or sound," said Mark Mayer, assistant curator of contemporary art and programs at the museum. "This disconnect is meant to spark questions in those who take a moment to slow down and think about what that might mean for them in their lives."

How many models can you name? 

Asian Art Museum

The Asian Art Museum partnered with San Francisco electronics recycler Green Citizen to collect materials for the exhibit, which opens Feb. 6 and runs through May 24. Shin then created three rough-hewn sculptures she calls Huddled Masses, from more than 3,000 Razrs, Palm Pilots, iPhones, slider phones and many other models from the past 20 years. 

The biggest sculpture is 7.5 feet tall. Phone savants will no doubt enjoy playing "identify that phone" as they circle the structures reminiscent of "scholar's rocks" that appear in Chinese art.   

Shin, who was born in South Korea and raised in the US, frequently works with discarded materials -- broken umbrellas, prescription bottles, metal file cabinets, losing lottery tickets. Giving new form to everyday objects speaks to the inherent optimism of reinvention, she says. But she also wants to get people thinking about how their technology habits might impact the environment. 

"I wanted to use e-waste to bring attention to ethics and issues of sustainability in tech," she said. "Programmers are always racing to innovate, creating new software without considering how their work displaces hardware and makes functioning technology quickly obsolete."

Pause coincides with another exhibit made from e-waste, The World After Us at the Museum of Wisconsin Art, which imagines a world where electronics outlive humans. It, too, explores ways digital waste can be reinvented, and encourages viewers to be mindful of the ways they use, and discard, tech. 

A swirling sea of computer cables on the floor of Pause at San Francisco's Asian Art Museum. 

James Martin/CNET
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