From Vietnam to The Environment: The work of Maya Lin

Maya Lin shot to fame when, at age 21 and while still an undergraduate, she won an open competition to design the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC. An architect, artist and sculptor, Maya Lin has, over the last few years, turned her attention to environmental issues.


What Is Missing? is the title of what has been labeled as Maya Lin’s last memorial. The aim is to draw attention to the environmental issues that are facing us all today – from global warming to the sixth mass extinction of species that is currently ongoing.

The Listening Cone. California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco

In trying to bring attention to environmental issues, Lin is also re-defining the meaning of ‘Monument’.  Rather than a single structure in a single place, Lin is re-defining a monument to be a series of permanent or ephemeral structures or installations spanning the globe and linked by a common mission and a common message.

The Listening Cone (above) was one of the first installations.  A giant cone allows visitors to look into the wide end and see a series of looped videos accompanied by sounds of the marine environment – the natural sounds of the oceans.  It allows me “to create a scene that makes people realize how loud the ocean is for any sonar-dependent marine animal,” says Lin.

The Empty Room is a traveling installation that allows visitors to catch and hold projected images in their hands, each image saying something about endangered species and environmental degradation. 

Lin is planning many projects using many different media in different locations – and even virtual installations.  Future projects include ‘a sound-only sculpture’, video billboards, a peeking wall that allows us to peek through holes at video installations and even virtual media that can be downloaded onto mobile devices. To get an overview of this ambitious project visit the project’s web site.

Maya Lin has embarked on a large and ambitious vision intended to bring environmental issues to as many people as possible using modern media and formats that capture our imagination while constituting a call to action.  What Is Missing? is a work of contemporary art that, in true post-modern tradition, challenges established norms while working to change our outlook.

Let us hope that it is only some of her installations that prove ephemeral  rather than the species and ecosystems that she is trying to help protect.

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