Boundaries

by Maya Lin
ISBN: 0684834170

This book manages to be oddly welcoming yet distant at the same time. The overall effect is of calmness and reflection, even though the art reflected on includes a lightening rod for controversy — the Vietnam memorial in Washington.

Lin was still an undergraduate at Yale when she entered the memorial competition. She had, she says, no thought of winning, as entering competitions like the one for the memorial were done as a fairly common exercise for students. That her design was ultimately chosen speaks volumes about the necessity of blind submissions to give the best work a chance at success; it also says something about the assurance of Lin’s design. (One member of the jury pool remarked, “He must really know what he is doing to dare to do something so naive.”)

Lin doesn’t dwell on the controversy. She acknowledges it and moves on, which is what I think she feels she can finally do with the work itself — acknowledge the unexpectedness of early fame, the improbability of it, and the way it cast a long shadow over the work following it. And she talks about how it started off life in a plate of mashed potatoes.

The way Lin about her process makes things like the mashed potatoes seem neither sacriligeous nor flaky. She is invested in the quiet contemplation of spaces, in the internal shifts made possible through the experience of art in a landscape. A person like that will work with what is at hand, including a plate of mashed potatoes. She doesn’t seem cagy or coy, though it doesn’t seem like she is telling us everything, either. With this book, I think Lin is telling us what she can. Sometimes her process starts with writing, other times with models, but the end result is not something best captured in words, I suspect.

There are plenty of images in this book: lined images taken from video (a documentary, which I now want to see), details from installations, sketches from her Vietnam memorial proposal. Some of my favorite images were of the earthworks installation in Michigan (Wave Field), and one of my favorite concepts was the stone circles in Pennsylvania, one large and public, the other small in the woods (Open-Air Peace Chapel). I can imagine sitting in these stone circles, breathing and being aware of my surroundings, or staring up at the clouds while leaning against one of the rounded, grassy mounds. She has also designed some living and work spaces — the people who get to spend time in those every day are lucky indeed.

This book is unusual, calm, and encourages changes in perspective — highly recommended.

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