Architects and designers of Pittsburgh are all too familiar with the post-industrial landscape, weaving design through landscape and infrastructure. It is with Maya Lin‘s new exhibit at the Heinz Architectural Center of the Carnegie Museum of Art that we are given an opportunity to escape the built world and strip down to the intimacy of the land. In her new piece specifically made for Pittsburgh, “Pin River — Ohio (Allegheny and Monogahela),” individual custom-made pins are strategically tapped into a white gallery wall to honor the three rivers that merge at Pittsburgh. Parts to the whole, we are presented with the impact of Pittsburgh’s connection to the larger geographic network.
Having had a large influence on my academic days at Syracuse University, I was very excited to learn that Maya Lin would be lecturing February 10th at the Carnegie Music Hall. I had the opportunity to meet with curator Raymund Ryan and media relations manager Jonathan Gaugler to have a sneak peak of Lin’s new exhibit, shown February 11th through May 13th at the Heinz Architectural Center. The exhibit, comprised of 21 different pieces, has an underlying political theme of land and water, leaving the viewer questioning what is natural versus what is unnatural. The exhibit is organized non-linearly, much like Lin’s design process, where one may enter at either of the exhibit’s entrances and dive into the intimate world of Maya Lin.
The exhibit originated at Seattle’s Henry Art Gallery in 2006, titled “Systematic Landscapes.” Since then, the exhibit has evolved to the show we see in Pittsburgh today. The importance of the exhibit “Systematic Landscapes” was that it translated Lin’s larger scaled outdoor wave landscapes to a smaller scaled interior museum. Bringing the outdoors in, Lin challenges the viewer to understand their closeness to nature through the representation and abstraction of land and topography. For example, in Blue Lake Pass, the Colorado mountainous landscape is sculpted and gridded into 20 three-foot squared blocks. Lin pulls the gridded landscape apart, allowing the viewer to walk through the land, creating an intimate abstract connection between us and the land.
As this artist’s work has evolved, she’s become more and more drawn to political and social issues of the land. In Atlas Landscapes, an atlas book is opened to a random page and the artist carves and cuts topographic lines in the book. In one specific example, Rhode Island eventually transforms into Moscow, blurring our scholastic understanding of location. Through this exercise, we begin to picture a more fluid idea of place and expanding geographies. Another study exhibited is Mac World. Here, several Mac laptop boxes are dissected similarly to the Blue Lake Pass, and are aligned vertically to form the landscape of Cupertino, California, where the laptops are created. A more crude representation of landscape, Mac World is an interesting interpretation of corporate land through human waste.
In Lin’s new and final memorial, What is Missing?, she challenges the user to discover and uncover the extinction and loss of plant and animal species caused by human interaction with the land. The on-going art activist piece can be viewed at www.whatismissing.net. Lin proposes the questions, “What is place? And how can we protect it if we do not see it existing? What is Missing?“ Much like Lin’s landscape art pieces, What is Missing? dissects space and memory through user interaction and emotion. Several of the video pieces were shown at the opening exhibit, and the underlying message can give a deeper interpretation of the physical pieces also exhibited.
Like most of Maya Lin’s architectural landscape work, I was left with a deep emotional response and connection to my surroundings. Her precise and meticulous, yet free-flowing representation of land is so fragile, yet so amazingly powerful. It is through this simple/complex dichotomy that a new sensitivity to our surroundings arise. We see the beauty in the land and we are left with a more holistic view of the landscape that is much more than a physical experience.
‘Maya Lin’ is on exhibit through May 13th at the Heinz Architectural Center. For more information and Center hours, visit http://web.cmoa.org/