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Maya Lin

Maya Lin is a New York–based artist whose body of work encompasses studio art, Earthworks, architectural projects, and memorials. In 2009 she installed Stormking Wavefield, a permanent, site-specific Earthwork for the Storm King Art Center in Mountainville, NY. More recently, she has begun work on a biomedical-research facility for Novartis in Cambridge, MA. On February 11, a survey of her work opens at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh.

  1. WAVE MOVEMENT

    How can we tell where one wave ends and another begins? I’ve spent hours staring at water, both in the open ocean and in rivers around the world, trying to isolate its movement—how it swells, forms a discernible shape, and then fades out into another form. Like the motion of schools of fish or murmurations of starlings, these forms show the connection between organic and inorganic natural systems, no matter how dissimilar. Making these affinities visible is of great concern to me—for example, to speak of a river system as a singular body or to reveal the topography below the water’s surface. We are less inclined to pollute the things we are able to see.

    *Light reflects on water, Øksnes, Norway, 2008*. Photo: BlueElf/WikiCommons. Light reflects on water, Øksnes, Norway, 2008. Photo: BlueElf/WikiCommons.
  2. MACHU PICCHU, PERU

    Recently, I traveled to Machu Picchu and stayed there for three days and nights. Sneaking in after hours, once the other tourists had left and the llamas were coming out, I saw the dry stone ruins of the Incas dissolve into the greater landscape, merging seamlessly with the surrounding mountain peaks.

    *View of Machu Picchu, Peru, 2009.* Photo: Maya Lin. View of Machu Picchu, Peru, 2009. Photo: Maya Lin.
  3. SAILING DOWN THE TURKISH COAST

    Following the Dalyan River along the southern coast of Turkey, you see the ancient tombs of the Lycians, burial places they carved directly into the cliffs some three thousand years ago. Witnessing these sites, I couldn’t help but feel some tangible sense of the eternal, registering what great focus this long-vanished culture had placed on the acts of mourning and remembering its dead.

  4. RODEN CRATER, ARIZONA

    When I first visited the crater in 1982–83, James Turrell had just begun to excavate its inner bowl. As we drove out together north of Flagstaff into the desert, he explained his plan to subtly carve into the crater’s existing curves. When we arrived at the site, he asked me to lie down in the middle of the depression, and as I did I got a sense of the doming effect with which he intended to frame the sky. Returning some twenty years later, I found Turrell to have transformed not only the crater but the surrounding landscape, too. As I approached the site, I sensed the work’s timelessness, as though it held a power akin to the ancient wonders of the world.

    *Satellite view of Roden Crater, Arizona.* Photo: US Geological Survey. Satellite view of Roden Crater, Arizona. Photo: US Geological Survey.
  5. ROBERT SMITHSON’S SITES AND NON-SITES

    I’ll never forget going to the Whitney Museum in New York in the early ’80s and coming across Smithson’s non-sites for the first time. I was captivated by the way they connected exterior, drawn, and interior space: The artist delineated an area on a map, extracted rocks and other material from that actual place, then arranged them following the shape of the drawn region, thereby transposing the immense scale of the natural environment to the confines of a domestic gallery.

  6. LAWRENCE WESCHLER, SEEING IS FORGETTING THE NAME OF THE THING ONE SEES (1982)

    In this book, subtitled A Life of Contemporary Artist Robert Irwin, Weschler captures the Californian artist’s approach to art as well as how a viewer, in turn, experiences his paintings, installations, and environments. This dual perspective has helped me to understand the difference between a learned response to art and one that is purely empathic. For example, Irwin felt that the true visual experience of his early disc paintings could never be captured by a camera and therefore did not want them photographed. Having nevertheless seen images of these disc paintings, I was delighted to at last come across one in person; in three full dimensions and not bound to the printed page, it was a radically different piece.

  7. IMAGES FROM THE HUBBLE SPACE TELESCOPE

    This apparatus has shown us reaches of the universe that, until recently, were beyond comprehension. But the legibility of these far-off realms owes much to the engineers and scientists who interpret the telescope’s imagery by specifically selecting the amazing colors we see. When I first saw NASA’s renderings of distant nebulae, I realized that these weren’t just reference photographs but, rather, works of art—and undoubtedly among the most powerful that our generation has produced.

    *NASA rendering of the Hubble Space Telescope image of the Carina Nebula.* Photo: NASA/ESA/N. Smith and the Hubble Heritage Team/STScI/AURA. NASA rendering of the Hubble Space Telescope image of the Carina Nebula. Photo: NASA/ESA/N. Smith and the Hubble Heritage Team/STScI/AURA.
  8. THE MEMORY OF MY FATHER CREATING A CLAY POT

    My father could pull a pot as long as his arm out of a block of clay, and then with one touch open up the shape to form a bowl or large plate. As a child I couldn’t understand how something so fluid and plastic could morph into an object so hard and precise. Such transformations fascinate me still.

    *Henry Lin, University of Ohio, Athens, OH, 1961.* Photo: Andrew Tylek. Henry Lin, University of Ohio, Athens, OH, 1961. Photo: Andrew Tylek.
  9. A STROLL AROUND RICHARD SERRA’S SCULPTURE

    St. John’s Rotary Arc, 1975/1980, was the first of Serra’s works that I encountered in person, having come upon it installed at the center of a traffic circle near the Holland Tunnel in Lower Manhattan. Recently I had the chance to visit Te Tuhirangi Contour, 1999–2001—the largest of his site-specific works, a twenty-foot-tall ribbon of steel that runs across the Gibbs Farm sculpture park in New Zealand. Despite their dramatically different surroundings, both works induced a sense of mystery and wonder as I followed their curves, witnessing the form revealed to me slowly, step by step.

    *Maya Lin beside Richard Serra’s sculpture _Te Tuhirangi Contour_, 1999–2001, Gibbs Farm, Kaipara Harbour, New Zealand, 2010.* Photo: James Ewart. Maya Lin beside Richard Serra’s sculpture Te Tuhirangi Contour, 1999–2001, Gibbs Farm, Kaipara Harbour, New Zealand, 2010. Photo: James Ewart.
  10. THE LANDSCAPE FROM ABOVE

    Much of my work is inspired by aerial views of the land: I like to sketch while in flight, looking out from an altitude of twenty or thirty thousand feet. From that height, natural formations tend to become graphic, replete with fractures, ripples, and folds that give the earth’s surface a new dimensionality. I’m especially taken by the topography of the American West as it transitions from the plains to the mountains. It’s incredible to behold the ways in which rivers and wind have so beautifully sculpted these landscapes.