Who ART You? 29
It’s not everyday that a 21 year old wins a place in history with their artist submission for a memorial for the Vietnam War, but Maya Lin beat out 1,421 other contestants when the piece she designed took 1st place. She has continued to earn accolades and recognition for her talent as an artist, a sculptor, a designer, and an architect who works in sculpture and land art.
Who ART You?
Maya Ying Lin was (born October 5, 1959) is an American designer, architect, and artist who works in sculpture and land art. She has an older brother, the poet Tan Lin. Growing up, she did not have many friends and stayed home a lot. She loved school and loved to study. When she was not studying, she took independent courses from Ohio University and spent her free time casting bronzes in the school foundry. Having grown up as an Asian minority, Lin said that she "didn't even realize" she was Chinese until later in life. It was not until her 30s that she had a desire to understand her cultural background.
Lin has stated that environmental issues have concerned her since she was very young, and she dedicated much of her time at Yale University to environmental activism. Much of her later work, after her work on memorials, focuses on the relationship that people have with their environment, which she displays in earthworks, sculptures, and installations. "I'm very much a product of the growing awareness about ecology and the environment al movement," Lin says. "I am very drawn to landscape, and my work is about finding a balance in the landscape, respecting nature not trying to dominate it. Even the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is an earthwork. All of my work is about slipping things in, inserting an order or a structuring, yet making an interface so that in the end, rather than a hierarchy, there is a balance and tension between the man-made and the natural." Lin's work centers on the concept of uncovering "hidden histories" to bring attention to landscapes and environments that may otherwise be inaccessible to viewers and "deploys the concept to discuss the inextricable relationship between nature and the built environment." Lin's focus on this relationship highlights the impact humanity has on the environment, and draws attention to her concerns such as global warming, endangered bodies of water, and animal extinction/endangerment. These issues are explored in what Lin calls her latest memorial, What Is Missing?.
Winning the competion for the Vietnam War Memorial was the first of many accolades and recognition of her talent. But it was not without controversy. The black cut-stone masonry wall, with the names of 58,318 fallen soldiers carved into its face, was completed in late October 1982 and dedicated in November 1982. The wall is granite and V-shaped, with one side pointing to the Lincoln Memorial and the other to the Washington Monument.
Lin's conception was to create an opening or a wound in the earth to symbolize the gravity of the loss of the soldiers. The design was initially very controversial for several reasons. It was an unconventional and non-traditional design for a war memorial. Also controversial were Lin's Asian ethnicity, and her lack of professional experience. The memorial has since become an important pilgrimage site for relatives and friends of the American military casualties in Vietnam, and personal tokens and mementos are left at the wall daily in the casualties' memory. In 2007, the American Institute of Architects ranked the memorial No. 10 on their list of America's Favorite Architecture.
Lin believes that if the competition had not been "blind," with designs submitted by name instead of number, she "never would have won." She received harassment after her ethnicity was revealed. Prominent businessman and later third party presidential candidate Ross Perot called her an "egg roll" after it was revealed that she was Asian. Lin defended her design in front of the US Congress, and eventually, a compromise was reached. The Three Soldiers, a bronze statue of a group of soldiers and an American flag, was placed off to one side of her design.
However, the artist's architectural design was controversial due to particular aspects, such as the exclusion of the surviving veterans' names as well as the dark complexion of the granite. Many argue that the memorial only honors the soldiers who lost their lives during the Vietnam War, and others believe that the color of the granite resembles disgust and sadness towards this specific war. Yet, a 50-foot-high flagpole and an 8-foot-high statue of three soldiers were added to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to appease any external pressures.
Maya Lin calls herself a "designer," rather than an "architect." Her vision and her focus are always on how space needs to be in the future, the balance and relationship with the nature and what it means to people. She has tried to focus less on how politics influences design and more on what emotions the space would create and what it would symbolize to the user. Her belief in a space being connected and the transition from inside to outside being fluid, coupled with what a space means, has led her to create some very memorable designs. She has also worked on sculptures and landscape installations, such as “Input” artwork at Ohio University. In doing so, Lin focuses on memorializing concepts of time periods instead of direct representations of figures, creating an abstract sculptures and installations.
Lin believes that art should be an act of every individual that is willing to say something that is new and not quite familiar. Lin describes her creative process as having a very important writing and verbal component. She first imagines an artwork verbally to understand its concepts and meanings. She believes that gathering ideas and information is especially vital in architecture, which focuses on humanity and life and requires a well-rounded mind.
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