Last week, Maya Lin, best known as designer of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D. C., came to Chicago to give a talk about art and the environment to a packed auditorium of 500 people at the College of Architecture, Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT).
I learned about Lin when I was doing my graduate studies at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. My landlady Margaret was a close friend of Lin’s mother and I heard about the controversy on the Vietnam Memorial from them. Over the years, I came across Lin’s name at various occasions and knew she had become a well-known architect, but never followed her work or activities.
Listening to Lin, I learned for the first time about her large-scale outdoor and indoor designs that immerse themselves with their natural surroundings. Lin stated that is a balance of art, architecture and monuments. Her talk at IIT was focused on art and environment and the work her foundation “What is Missing” strived to achieve: advocating for a sustainable living world.
She uses recyclable and sustainable materials for her artwork. Terra Bench, one of her artwork, is selected in “Design for a Living World” exhibition at the Field Museum in Chicago. It is made from red maple that was certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and was sustainably harvested from Maine forests. It showcases the beauty of a tree while presenting forest terrain in the seat base.
“I’m an landscape artist of the 21st century, balancing between outdoor and indoor designs,” Lin said. “I want to create a different relationship to the world around us.”
Lin showed short videos from “What is Missing” that aimed to bring “awareness about the present sixth mass extinction of species,” and to “prevent deforestation.” She advocated it as “a wake up call and a call to action.”
“We spend more time planning what to have for dinner than what our great grandchildren will have,” she said. She urged Americans to reexamine their lifestyle and consume less.
I gained a new level of respect and admiration for Lin’s work and her devotion to the protection of the environment as an artist and citizen.
By Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. Mulberry Child has been developed into a feature-length documentary film by award-winning director and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. For more information, visit www.mulberrychildmovie.com, www.moraquest.com and www.mulberrychild.com.