One of the most elegant and thought-provoking exhibitions this year is Maya Lin’s Here and There.
Lin became the center of controversy in 1981 when she won the competition to design the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Still a student, and virtually unknown, her design was chosen from over 1,400 submissions. I remember seeing an exhibit of many of those entries and being astonished at the judges’ insightful choice of a delicate series of small color pencil drawings over the extensive technical plans and sculptured memorial models surrounding them. Lin’s clear vision was to create a “v” shape cut in the earth of dark granite with the names of those lost listed by the years they had fallen. It is a quiet and powerful timeline of the ravages of war. Originally derided by many veterans, business leaders and politicians, a more customary sculpture of uniformed soldiers was added nearby. But it is the stark, haunting memorial itself that became the site of grief and healing that the nation needed.
Since then Lin has created environments, architecture, and sculptures throughout the world. She is visually eloquent about a variety of subjects but none more so than environmental issues. These are often meditations on geography and topography. She is brilliant in her depiction of elements that represent the transformations of the passing of time. Her work is both cerebral yet profoundly recognizable and always deeply moving.
In 2006 Lin started making studies of all of the world’s major rivers. These large sculptures penetrate the gallery’s walls with aerial views. Using recycled silver and steel pins she has turned flowing water into abstract shapes of cool, silvery light.
The Pin River series is particularly ethereal. The images are created, not only with the vertical shafts and dotted heads of the thousands of pins themselves, but by the translucent shadows extending their space, dependant and changing by the surrounding source of light, like the earth itself.
On the floor area you will find dense sculptures of longitudinal and latitudinal sections of the meridian that passes through Manhattan. Their weight is in stark contrast to the delicacy of the River series. Beginning with drawings informed from computer analysis to track the terrain of the ocean floor, models were created and translated into marble.
“It’s a process that balances scientific data with the handmade.” says Lin. If the end form looks only like the idea of the information, then it fails. It has to become its own form – evocative, beautiful, strange. I start with extremely complex scientific data points and then, through a visual editing process, I find the scale and simplicity of the form – revealing a landscape both visually discernible and compelling.”
In a separate room we are enveloped by videos, music and text from her “What is Missing” project and website, a poetic and meticulously researched consideration of earth’s vanishing forests, waterways and animals. The effect we’ve had on our environment and the fury of time’s passing are the subject of this multi-dimensional project. Viewers are encouraged to add their own memories of lost habitats or species to the site. Started more than 20 years ago, and added to continually, installations of the project will continue to be exhibited worldwide. Lin says this all-encompassing project will be her final memorial.
By A. Bascove
April 26th through June 22nd, 2013 Pace, 32 E 57th Street New York, NY, 10022