What's It Like To Exist on the Boundaries?
Some thoughts on art I've seen this week
This week I watched a video about an American artist called Maya Lin. She’s a sculptor and an architect, and she has had quite a brilliant career. In 2016 Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work, which is the highest American civilian honour. So she’s a big deal.
Lin is perhaps best known for creating the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C., but she has been involved in lots of other standout projects over the years. Her work is about our relationship with the natural environment. She describes herself as an environmental activist, and it’s her mission to contribute to the battle that’s under way to change our current path in the climate crisis.
Last year, for example, she created an installation in Madison Square Park in the middle of New York called Ghost Forest. In nature a ‘ghost forest’ is the evidence of a dead woodland that was once vibrant. She shipped in 49 dying Atlantic white cedar trees from the East Coast of America. That particular tree is now an endangered species because of logging practices and extreme weather events. So visitors would walk through this dead ‘forest’ of trees in a park with living trees all around it. Lin wanted to communicate starkly the impact of climate change that is going on somewhere else that people who live in an urban environment don’t see.
Lin’s work exists in a sort of cross-over space between disciplines. I think it’s a sort of hybrid of art and architecture in that her work has a spatial element, and there’s something you can really feel from the experience of being in that space. Something you can’t pin down but it generates a response on a sort of psychological level.
And that’s an idea she talks about. She says that there are two ways that we can respond to creative work. There’s the ‘learned’ response which is understanding an artwork on an intellectual level. And the other is where you stop thinking and you just feel.
I find Maya Lin absolutely fascinating to listen to. The video I’m sharing is 10 minutes long, but watch it all if you can as there are so many interesting ideas in it. She reflects on her experience growing up with Chinese immigrant parents, the influence of her childhood in rural Ohio on her work, ideas about where home is, what it’s like to exist on boundaries, and loads more.
I think her work is so inspiring and thought-provoking, and I would love to know what you think about it and what she says.
It was interesting what she was saying about being on the boundaries because she grew up American but both her parents were Chinese and there weren’t many Chinese people in rural Ohio. She must have felt like she was different. And her parents didn’t talk at all about life in China or her family’s heritage. That must have had an impact on her sense of who she was. Makes sense that she talks about being in between. Love her work, thanks for this post, lots to think about. I’d love to go and see the retrospective in Washington. Not likely though.
I am so thankful for artists like Maya Lin, making these artworks that bring the effects of climate change to the public in a way that is engaging and makes you think. I didn’t know this artist, so glad to have been introduced to her. Love the Ghost Forest installation. I wonder what people who experienced it thought, because it looks like a work where it’s clear what her intended meaning is.