BY TAZ LOOMANS
Maya Lin addressed the City Club at the Sentinel Hotel on November 21 about her Oregon and Washington-based Confluence Project, as well as her other recent work.
Best known for her brilliant design of the Vietnam Memorial in 1982 when she was just an undergraduate at Yale, Lin has gone on to design other important monuments like the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama and the Women's Table at Yale University.
As discussed in the City Club talk, she considers herself an artist just as much as an architect and she's done a series of stunning landscape art installations such as A Fold in the Field at Gibbs Farm in New Zealand, the Storm King Wave Field in Mountainville, New York and Flutter in Miami. She's also produced a slew of provocative sculptures including “Where the Land Meets the Sea” in San Francisco, “Above and Below” at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and “Systematic Landscapes” in Seattle.
The focus of her art, Lin told the City Club audience, is to give people a new way to look at everyday objects and places. She wants people to "look like a child looks", with curiosity and wonder of the way you look at something when it's the first time you've ever seen it. Another fundamental part of her artwork is the concept of time, trying to capture specific moments. She admits water and rivers play a big role in her art as does the concept of terrain. These concepts are particularly apparent in her "Wavefields" which capture a certain moment in a wavy ocean or river by manipulating the terrain.
Lin began by talking about her last memorial, “What is Missing?”, an innovative monument to the endangered species and landscapes that exist in the world today. "How can we protect something we don't even know is gone?" Lin asked. The project is meant to record the parts of nature we are losing on a daily basis. Instead of a single physical piece of art on a single site, “What is Missing?” is an ongoing series of projects at different sites and includes a website as an integral part of it, as well as a variety of digital media and sculptures and installations.
Lin also talked extensively about Confluence, her series of outdoor installations spanning over 400 miles of the Columbia River and Snake River inspired by the journey of Lewis and Clark and intertwined with the saga of Native Americans of this region. The project consists of six public art sites, five of which have been completed. She spent quite a bit of time talking about the sixth, at Celilo Park, 13 miles east of The Dalles at the site of the former Celilo Falls. Just before Lin’s talk, the Schnitzer family announced a $1 million donation to help facilitate completion of the installation, called the “Celilo Arch.”
She discussed how that site was a very sacred and important site to the indigenous peoples in the area as a fishing site and how when it was turned into a dam that all that was lost. She showed some heartbreaking before and after images of how the falls were a magnificent example of people existing in harmony with nature and later how the falls and an entire way of life were essentially destroyed when the water was dammed. She said that the people in the area told her to hold off on working on the site because it was too painful. They asked her not to touch it and that it would take seven generations before they could face it. But recently she got a call and she was told that they were ready to work on the site with her. “Celilo Arch” is a sweeping curved platform that ascends slowly from the ground to an elevated level from which people can see the water, and inspired by the fishing platforms used by generations of tribes there to catch migrating salmon.
"Confluence Project at Celilo Park" (video courtesy Confluence Project)
Lin's work has always spoken to the wounds that humankind has perpetrated to the planet and to each other. Though her memorials, landscape installation projects and sculptures are heavy with meaning and sorrow of what has gone past, they also embody hope for the future. "If we give it a chance, we can help restore nature," Lin declared. Her aim is not so much to dwell on the errors of the past, but for us to heal from our wounds, learn from our mistakes and do better in the future.
“The fact that we could have a conversation is part of what the Confluence Project stands for,” Lin added. “Sometimes it is not the physical building that counts. It’s about the ideas, dialogue and discussion that has taken place.”
Though Lin was in Portland to talk, her design work could be coming to the Rose City. Developer Jordan Schnitzer, whose family made the $1 million donation, has discussed with Lin the possibility of participating in the Centennial Mills redevelopment project, perhaps by designing a pedestrian bridge over Naito Parkway.
Taz Loomans is a Portland architect and writer who publishes the Blooming Rock blog.