Cultured Magazine

Fall 2015

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CULTURED 177 aya Lin, designer of the Vietnam Memorial, the Civil Rights Memorial at the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Women's Table at Yale University, is perhaps best known for structures made of stone and other natural materials that draw tens of thousands of visitors each year. But her new body of work is set in the virtual world, a web-based project called "What is Missing?"—a monument to dwindling biodiversity. Here, Lin discusses activating emotion, the resilience of nature and how art can shift our spending habits—in the best way possible. Doris Sommer: Maya, I am grateful to be in your studio, especially since your work on memorials has inspired my participation in developing symbolic r e parations for victims of armed conflict. Maya Lin: My work has involved memorials, but now it is more caught up with the "What is Missing?" project than with memorialization. Significantly though, "What is Missing?" memorializes disappearing elements of our natural environment that might otherwise go unnoticed. The project reads like a multi-faceted monument to the ecological victims of global abuse. I agree, it's all connected. And I am about to make the connections public. A new monograph, "Topologies," to be published by Rizzoli is part of the tricky balance between my memorial design side, my art side and architecture. After the Vietnam Memorial project, I went back to graduate school until 1986. It has been 30 years of a continuous arc. I've taken a long time to allow a comprehensive look at the work, partly because I split my time between the art, the architecture and my absolute commitment to history and memory. I've been running for 30 years, just making work, a bit obsessed. Are you memorializing natural beauty that is lost, or are you documenting precarious nature? Even in traditional terms, memorials relate to loss. All of the works I've done focus on memory and history. They are inherently teaching tools— not necessarily focusing only on lost lives and loved ones left behind. I also explore what loss means to a nation and to a long timeline of history. So what can we learn, for instance, from the Vietnam Memorial, or the Civil Rights Memorial or the Women's Table? It is to distill a comprehensive and complex effect into something very simple, which can seed delving deeper or grabbing you at a visceral level. Memory brings back the beauty. The point brings me back to the "What is Missing?" website, to the piles of data and accumulated information. I love to research—for three, 10, 15 years. In the end, the information will distill into something simple. But for now I'm creating an online memorial that's interactive, to register memories of nature, or loss, and to learn about conservation successes. We need to link disaster stories with opportunities for changing our relationship to the world. Each visitor engages with history in specific intimate ways, whether through my art, my architecture or the memorials. I work with a one- on-one, very quiet, non-didactic approach. That's been a constant for 30 years. I call "Missing" my last memorial; and I mean it. The project is killing me. It's as if I've gone down the rabbit hole. It's hard for people to grasp the project. People say, "What do you mean by a memorial that's a website?" In fact, there are some permanent pieces, thanks to Creative Time and other partners, but the website is the memorial— probably the result of an obvious trajectory in my work. Just looking at the Vietnam Memorial reminds me of the huge arguments I had with the architects of record because they wanted me to make a thick, stone wall, but I insisted it be pure surface and as thin as possible. For me, the Memorial is not an object inserted into the earth, but rather pure names, pure paper. The names became the form, through a mirror darkly, where you see yourself reflected in a world that you couldn't attain. The Civil Rights piece and the Women's Table have similar effects through pure flat surfaces, like water. The surface is less than a sixteenth of an inch thick, so it feels solid and still until you touch it. Then, your hand causes the water to ripple. Likewise, on the "Missing" M "My work is about activating emotion. I believe that art can trigger caring." —Maya Lin PHOTO BY JERRY THOMPSON, COURTESY OF STORM KING ART CENTER; PORTRAIT BY WALTER SMITH

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