Maya Lin: An Artist, an Architect, and an Activist

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Jennica Martin
Staff Writer

Last Monday, UCSB’s Arts & Lectures hosted Maya Lin, most famously—or perhaps infamously—known for designing the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C. During her lecture, Lin shifted away from her past to focus on her more recent art work, which is primarily about environmentalism.

Lin began her lecture voicing her concerns about the political climate of the country generally and the state of American scientists and environmentalists more specifically. Although she spent most of the time showing the audience her various works over the past few years, there was a clear connection between her work and her concern for the environment.

Before introducing her work, Lin admitted that her “work as an artist has always been focused on the natural world” and that more recently she had been focused on waves. She gave the audience a behind-the-scenes look into the construction of The Wave Field, a series of earthworks shaped like wave fields.

In this three-part series, the first earthwork began as 2-foot hills expanding over 1000 square feet at the University of Michigan and the last earthwork ended as 18-foot hills expanding over 9000 square feet in upstate New York. This series of works seems to have no purpose beyond being impressive pieces of art, but the last earthwork also served as a reclamation project.

Prior to this project, the area had been a gravel pit that supplied material for the state highway. After the project had finished, Lin had made artwork out of the brown field site and restored it to a more natural state.

One of Lin’s largest earthworks, titled A Flow in the Field, also restored a previously ruined site. This work took up 11 acres, with each wave towering 60 feet high. It was constructed on a badly managed, flooded field on a New Zealand island, so it required Lin and her team to fix the drainage of the area while creating their artwork at the same time.

After introducing these nature-inspired works, Lin introduced the audience to her current project, titled What Is Missing?. Lin stated that this project will be her final one—a last iconic memorial dedicated to the environment.

In this project, Lin wants the entire world to get involved by going on the project website and including their own personal memories and experiences with environmental losses or conservation successes. She emphasized the importance of this project by providing a series of facts, statistics, and graphics detailing the variety of environmental issues we are currently facing.

“I’m just trying to maybe put it in perspective . . . [and] maybe, as an artist, I could rephrase the problem, rephrase what we’re looking at,” Lin said. One of her most memorable and impactful lines was a call to action: “Nature is resilient; if we give it a chance, it will came back.”

After the lecture, there was a Q&A about Lin’s creation process and future plans. A UCSB student asked what Lin would suggest students do to help the environment as individuals. Lin emphasized the importance of getting involved in protests and local governments, as well as “voting with your pocketbooks” by supporting green businesses and shaming harmful businesses.

“I’m worried and scared and terrified, but at the same time, I’m an optimist because I know it would cost us almost nothing and we’d be better off for it,” Lin added.

Throughout her professional career, Lin has created artistic and architectural works that have inspired many people across the globe. Her latest work on the environment will not only inspire people but also make a difference in how we deal with our environmental issues.