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Maya Lin's Monument to the Environment
Tiffany Jow

A project five years in the making, Maya Lin’s latest (and last) memorial has finally gone public. Titled What is Missing?, the ambitious endeavor is based around an interactive website that is spreading awareness about environmental loss and sparking hope for change. Utilizing Lin’s signature grace, innovation, and passion for place, the result is an inspiring invitation to address an urgent set of issues.

The New York-based artist and architect, best-known for designing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial as a senior at Yale University, claims that this will be her final memorial, and she plans to continue to work on it indefinitely. The What is Missing? website greets visitors with a map of the world in dots, each dot representing a threatened location, species (on average, one disappears every twenty minutes), or natural phenomenon. The map is only a surface layer that can be expanded into chronological timelines, overviews by category, and in-depth information in the form of videos, sounds, stories, and links to resources. The site consists of three main maps: the map of memory, consisting of historical, scientific, and personal accounts of what we have lost (visitors can add their own memories to this map); the map of the present, which charts the history of the environmental movement and what individuals can do to help; and the map of the future (still in development), which will be a “greenprint for the future.”


Maya Lin demonstrates whatismissing.net.

Over the past few years, portions of the project were showcased in site-specific installations around the world. In September 2009, the California Academy of Sciences unveiled Lin’s Listening Cone, a site-specific installation consisting of a giant bronze and reclaimed wood sculpture made to the scale of a fallen sequoia log. From the larger end, viewers can hear animal calls drifting from the opening. A video screen housed twenty feet inside shows sequences of bald eagles, gray wolves, red knots, orangutans, jaguars and more. The work’s sights and sounds were developed in partnership with scientists at the Cornell Lab, whose Macaulay Library owns the largest archive of animal sound and behavior in the world.

The following month saw the first showcase of the project’s traveling exhibition component at the Beijing Center for the Arts. Titled The Empty Room, videos are projected into a dark room from panes in the floor. Visitors walk through the space carrying translucent screens, which “catch” the projections and allow visitors to intimately hold the stories in their hands. In 2010, a series of four video shorts on mass extinction were projected onto the HD screens in Times Square. Most recently, on April 20, 2012, Lin publicly launched the newest component of What is Missing? at Bloomberg, called Conversation Action. The effort, a collaboration between the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the World Wildlife Fund, asks people to share a memory of environmental loss via the project’s website. Anyone can submit stories, memories, or facts to the interactive map, forming an important part of this ever-expanding online monument to our world’s ecosystems.

Artlog co-founder Manish Vora sat down with Lin in her Soho studio on the day of the Bloomberg launch for a conversation about the project and what the artist hopes it will accomplish.


Artlog’s Manish Vora interviews Maya Lin about whatismissing.net.

Maya Lin will discuss What Is Missing? and her concern for the environment at the New Museum on May 30, 2012 at 7:00 p.m. Visit newmuseum.org for tickets.