Schenectady County

Artist Maya Lin shares theory of art bringing earth, water to new light

Maya Lin - famous for her design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington - stopped at Union C
Maya Lin at Nott Memorial at Union College.
Maya Lin at Nott Memorial at Union College.

In her studio art, Maya Lin seeks to bring land and water to life in new ways. In her landscape art and architecture, she seeks to merge nature, public and private space. Lin – famous for her design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, a design contest she won as a Yale undergraduate student in 1981 – splits her time between her art and sculptures, landscapes and public spaces, architecture and activism.

And on Thursday night she stopped at Union College to share her insight on the intersection of creativity and innovation as part of the school’s Feigenbaum Forum speaker series.

Showing pictures of her massive landscape art, exhibit installations and architectural designs, Lin articulated an artistic theory that aims to force people to see the land and water around them in new ways. Her work plays on topography and waterways, maps and mountains. Using pins laid out on a wall or floor, she maps out floodplains, river systems and estuaries.

“I want to make you aware of the natural world around you; I also want to make you look at things you cannot see,” she told the audience gathered at Nott Memorial.

For a project at the California Academy of Science, Lin made a metal framework of the San Francisco Bay in relief and hung it above a patio. An installation at the American Embassy in Beijing, China, maps the Yangtze River – though it is often confused with a dragon, she said. By emphasizing natural systems in an artistic way, she aims to make people expand their perspective of the natural world in which they exist.

“I’m trying to get you to see a river as a unified organic whole,” she said. “We know our point on the river, but how often are we thinking about what is above and below us?”

Her work with the natural world extends to landscape installations that play on ocean waves and sand dunes with large mounds of dirt covered in grass, creating public spaces that create new perspectives of pastureland and farm space.

“What happens if you walked in a field, but you’re literally two meters, three meters above the plane? How will that change you relationship to the field?” she said, displaying a picture of such a project. “And as it turns out, cows really like to be up above the field, so everyone was happy and the cows were happy.”

Toward the end of the presentation, Lin showed off her activist side, which naturally dovetails with her art and design. Through a series of art installations and a website – collectively dubbed “What is missing?” – Lin is diving head-first into the fight against global climate change and habitat destruction.

At her website, Lin aims to highlight – in visual and novel ways – the ways that society can begin to adopt methods for reducing carbon emissions and the negative impact of climate change.

The annual cost of beginning to combat climate change, for example, is only slightly more than what the world spends on tobacco products each year, and it is far less than annual outlays on alcoholic beverages.

“The fact is, nature is resilient if you give it a chance,” Lin said. “I’m not an expert – to me it’s about what can an artist do to frame it in a different way.”

Reach Gazette reporter Zachary Matson at 395-3120, [email protected] or @zacharydmatson on Twitter.

Categories: Entertainment, News

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