Monday, November 10, 2008

Maya Lin, an architect and sculptor

Maya Lin was known for the first time from her earthwork design on Vietnam Memorial War, a competition which catapulted her to fame when she beat other 1400 contestants including many professional architects, when she was a 21-year-old senior at Yale. For those who love to watch Hollywood movies with Vietnam war setting must recognize this landscape memorial. Through her design, Lin proposed a memorial with book life form splitting the landscape and submerged into the earth, cutting aggressively into the Washington Mall. It is outspoken and angry in the way like a visual scar on American landscape, symbolizes bitterness and grief over Vietnam war.
In her new earthwork project at the Storm King Art Center,New York, Lin creates seven rows of undulating hills cradled in a gently sloping valley and she names it as “Wave Field”. This is a project that proposes an ocean waves expansion that have been frozen in place when you look from a distance. Yet as soon as you walk into the piece whose earthern swells range in height from 12 to 18 feet, your experience of it changes remarkably. At first, standing at the bottom of a slope, it may look craggy and insurmountable. But in scaling it — which turns out to be relatively easy because of the rough surface — you become keenly aware of the earth itself, currently a patchy mix of topsoil, short grass, clover, white daisies and yellow-flowered partridge pea, which attracts swarms of monarch butterflies.
Back to eight years ago when she was invited to make an earth project on this area, Maya Lin found herself attracted to an area known around the art center as the gravel pit. Located on the property’s southwestern edge, about 100 feet beyond Andy Goldsworthy’s “Storm King Wall” (1997-98), the pit was a reminder of what Storm King looked like in 1960, the year it opened. In the year of 1950s much of Storm King’s landscape consisted of acres of gravel that had been mined from the surrounding fields in connection with the construction of the New York State Thruway. Over the years the art center used this rocky material to shape its grounds, creating the seemingly natural hills and valleys that now are dotted with sculptures and site-specific works by artists like David Smith, Isamu Noguchi and Mr. Goldsworthy.

This man-made landscape, bringing gravel in and reshaping it and that’s what attracted the architect-landscape artist for the first time. As usual, Maya Lin tried to make her piece become less of a centerpiece. She prefers to create works on the edges and boundaries of places so they would begin to own the environment. The piece at Storm King’s board is Maya Lin third pieces with similar shape as her two previous projects at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and at the courtyard of the Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. federal courthouse in Miami. Both of these previous projects are smaller than the piece at Storm King. Lin believed that she had to culminate the series with a field that literally giving the most extreme space experience within these hills, so when she found a perfect location she decided to make the waves much larger than human body and create the piece as a concluding part of her two previous earthwork series

Since the site was officially a mine, the Art center’s board had to secure permission from the state Environmental Conservation Department to reclaim it as an artwork. The department has strongly supported the project. Because Ms. Lin is also well known “a committed environmentalist,” as she put it, she was intent on using minimal intervention to turn it into an artwork and making the most of what was already there.

In a collaboration with other local landscapers, Maya Lin and teams sculpting the landscape with a bulldozer and create the waves and the bowl-like valley in which they rest were largely built from the gravel and earth in the pit itself as well as a berm that had shielded the site from view. By the time the piece opens to the public next spring, it will be shielded from the Thruway by about 270 young trees — a mix of maple, oak, sycamore and other local natives. That’s how many trees Ms. Lin’s studio staff has calculated it will take to offset the fuel and energy consumed in making the piece, including the artist’s own frequent car trips from New York. This trees idea derives from Maya Lin’s firm believe on global warming. And she still looking for more trees that can take hotter weather and become more dominant on the piece. She also believe when the spring come, tall plants like deertongue and Canada bluegrass around the piece will have taken over from the ground cover that now holds the topsoil in place. Eventhough she doesn’t want to recreate water, Lin hopes that the grass will flow in the wind and feel more like its own formal play.

As an Architecture graduate Maya Lin’s entire career has been interplay and swing among what she regards as three separate strands: she is an architect and an artist, and she also designs memorials (a criteria that she likes to call them as anti-monuments) that fall somewhere between the two. She has been pursuing all three directions since she finished the Vietnam memorial in 1982.

During her time in Yale graduate school of architecture, Maya Lin found herself spending more and more time in the sculpture studios and start working with her hands. Soon after completing her master degree, she designed her second monument, the Civil Rights Memorial at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama, which was dedicated in 1989. By 1993 she had completed her first major building, for the Museum of African Art in SoHo, which is now defunct.

Since then she has worked consistently in all three areas, often developing ideas for one sort of project while working on another. In 1993 she created her first site-specific sculpture for the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio. Called “Groundswell,” the piece consisted of 40 tons of broken tempered glass poured into snowdriftlike piles around the museum’s exterior walls. From this came the idea for her first earthwork, “Wave Field,” in Michigan, which she completed in 1995.
In the past Maya Lin has always conceived of her different career strands as separate. She always think that this might be the only way to keep herself balanced. Yet recently she has been coming around to the idea and realize that the strands may be intertwined. Now she can conclude that her design whether it’s art, architecture, or memorials will intrinsically tied to the natural landscape around us.

-- New York Times and other references related--

This is one of those stories that made you perceive architecture as a frame of mind, thus allowing you to create, work and even succeed in whatever field you are in. So, if you're an architect then there's no boundaries for you to create your own space, even if it is made from lawn, furniture, light, sound, or whatever you can imagine it to be.

1 comment:

le rakun said...

i am working for someone who worked for her ny studio for 5 years now + when i visited the city, i was lucky enough to visit her studio's office in manhattan.
the studio has this great working atmosphere, despite the gossip that this woman is a nutcase in her own right. she is exhibiting her work in san fransisco at the time of my writing, either at herzog + de meuron's de young, or the neighboring new renzo piano's structure. so if you're going, please make sure to visit it.
if you ask for my opinion though, her best work so far by far is still her first public commission which won her public acclaim when she was only 21 years old or something: the vietnam memorial in washington d.c.
oh, the reason i wrote this too-long comment in the first place, they just launch their website:
tQ for posting the thread. salam dari kamboja!