Topography of Creativity

Maya Lin Show Opens at Corcoran

Posted March 11, 2009 at 4:37pm

If you cannot come to the mountain, artist-architect-environmentalist Maya Lin will bring one to you.

On Saturday, the Corcoran Gallery of Art opens an exhibit of Lin’s works called “Systematic Landscapes.—

“Landscapes— blends nature’s topography — from seas to mountains — and explores people’s perception of the “natural sceneries in a time of heightened technological influence and environmental awareness,— chief curator Philip Brookman said.

“It’s a huge breakthrough for me,— Lin said at Wednesday’s press preview of her work.

Lin is best known for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which she designed while still a 21-year-old undergraduate at Yale University. Her granite, V-shaped concept of the wall won the unanimous approval of eight judges and bested 1,420 other entries.

Born to Chinese immigrants in 1959 in Athens, Ohio, Lin uses Eastern and Western influences in her art. Her design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which at first was controversial for its unconventional design, is today loved for its simplicity and strength.

Since the early 1980s, Lin has continued to investigate the power of the landscape to evoke meaning and the processes that connect us back to the land.

Her latest opus, “Landscapes,— is mainly composed of three large-scale sculptural installations: “2×4 Landscape,— “Water Line— and “Blue Lake Pass.—

Lin found the inspiration for “Landscapes— in her love of the environment. “I have this great desire to take what I do outdoors and bring it inside,— she said.

Each of Lin’s “Landscapes— offers a different means for viewers to engage with and comprehend a schematic representation of landscape forms. In these projects, Lin examines how people’s modern relationships to the land are extended, condensed, distorted and interpreted through new computer technologies.

According to a press release for the exhibit, Lin translated a series of dramatic landscape environments selected for their beauty and connection to life-supporting habitats into spatial environments in an art gallery.

“2×4 Landscape— is the largest of the three installations, measuring 60 feet long, 20 feet wide, 10 feet high and weighing 30 tons. Creating an image of a hill or a wave, this vast landscape is made of 50,000 fir and hemlock boards. Lin got the idea for “2×4— from the Palouse Hills of eastern Washington, the picturesque silt dunes formed by volcanic lava flows.

Lin’s original idea, she said, was for visitors to be able to walk up the hill and touch the ceiling. But the Corcoran isn’t allowing guests to climb on the art.

A second installation, “Water Line,— is conceived as a large-scale line drawing in space. The piece treats visitors to a view of a volcanic island in the South Atlantic Ocean near Antarctica. Exhibit-goers can walk around sculpture and view it from different angles. Lin collaborated with scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to construct the skeletal and topographic model of “Water Line.—

The third work, “Blue Lake Pass,— is a series of 9-cubic-foot particle-board sections inspired by the mountain range near Lin’s Colorado home. Like “Water Line,— “Blue Lake Pass— provides a gap that is wide enough for gallery visitors to pass.

“I wanted to shift one’s perspective about the land, allowing a viewpoint that is more geological in character,— Lin said.

In addition to the three huge sculptures, also on display are several smaller pieces, which exhibit curator Richard Andrews described as “very beautiful works of art.—

The “Atlas Landscapes— is something map lovers will enjoy. Lin turned atlases into sculptural objects. She carved each atlas down page by page to make a three-dimensional topographic water feature.

“Pin River — Potomac— (2009) is made entirely of thousands of straight pins pushed into the wall to create a flow of silver. As the name suggests, the sculpture represents the topography of the Potomac River. Lin made this piece specifically for the Corcoran.

Another interesting work is the “Bodies of Water Series.— Entirely made of Baltic birch plywood, the series depicts the Caspian, Red and Black seas.

Lin’s “Landscapes— exhibit will run at Corcoran until July 12.