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Traveling Through Water with Maya Lin

There’s nothing like the feeling of going back home, travelling back to an all too familiar atmosphere. The typical excitement of looking forward to a trip has flipped into being thrilled about my first visit back to Orlando since my move. Although it was only a short couple of days, the usual seeing family and spending time with close friends was refreshing. Speaking of refreshing…the comfortable 80° temperature was a godsend! Especially after the bipolar winter we had recently and are still slightly feeling the remnants of. But with any trip I do, time is usually set apart for exploring some new art. Luckily, I didn’t need to do much research…I already knew what I wanted to see.

When you hear the word “Orlando” you automatically think Disney, Islands of Adventure, or some sort of attraction that generates the majority of the city’s tourism. Art isn’t the typical reason for visiting. However, the Orlando Museum of Art’s current show, “Maya Lin: A History of Water” can definitely be a motivator for art lovers to travel down south. After moving to the city, I couldn’t wait to visit Pace Gallery in the hopes of seeing a Maya Lin show….but the tables were turned and it ended up being in my own hometown. Maya Lin is an internationally acclaimed artist, architect and designer whose works have garnered her the prestigious National Medal of Arts. Lin’s winning designs of the Vietnam Memorial began an ongoing career of impactful monuments and sculptures with minimal design. Her focus has been and continues to be the intersection of design and the environment, calling attention to issues that affect our surroundings. A History of Water encompasses sketches, sculptures and installations of various elements from bodies of water that we can look at in a new light.

The anticipation was killing me. Walking in, with light drenching the center atrium from the skylights, I could see Maya Lin’s large wave of wooden blocks. Despite my first impulse to go there straight away, I turned to her Pin Rivers series instead. The name describes accurately what the piece is, large silver pins in the geographical design of various rivers like the Potomac. Looking at thePin Rivers is an almost trick of the eye. The pin’s shadow gives a hazy effect as if there is no definitive line to which the river extends to. Even while taking pictures, from afar you consistently get a blurry streak as opposed to the crisp points you would see up close. Although the individually placed pins piqued my interest, the sketches were what really captured me. Lately, works on paper/drawings have really made me appreciate the creative process more and I got to see how her simple dots on paper culminated into these wall sculptures. Lin not only created rivers out of pins but also made fragile looking metal sculptures of entire river formations. My favorite river (and piece from the show) was the Colorado River created in 2008. The subtle curves of the river flow calmly from northeast to southwest stimulating you to imagine the miles of terrain the waters pass through.

Adjacent to the rivers was another perspective of a different body of water. Out of layered slabs of marble and wood, Maya Lin creates an underwater terrain delicately balanced on the tips of the deepest part of the seas. Each level, precisely cut, rests on top of a receding layer that undulates creating tight chambers and extended bends depicting an inverted mountain scape. The first that I saw, Caspian Sea, made me bend down, look above and encircle it numerous times as a true full rounded sculpture is intended to do. After taking a small tour around the different seas and lakes, another piece got my attention. Towards the back of the room an installation, Water Line, of cables and cords illustrated a three dimensional drawing of the underwater terrain of the South Atlantic Ocean. Looking up, I felt like I was underwater. The waves of the lines and movements the cords provided, supplied a base to which my imagination filled the void giving a mathematical impression of how the ocean below would appear. It felt like a futuristic jungle gym (that you couldn’t touch) generating a sensation that you could climb on top and through with the same fluidity as the water it was trying to replicate.

Not only was her exploration diversified but also was her use of material. Large slabs of marble were used to create inverted underwater terrain sculptures, similar to the previous pieces made of wood. Whether it was intentional or not, the marble gave another application of linear abstraction to the pieces. It was almost like you were seeing the tangible limits of the terrain meanwhile aware of the gray waves passing through these waters. One creative use of material and environmental rendering were her glass made Water Drops. Remember watching “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” and the teenagers were surrounded by giant blades of grass and carnivorous ants? Well these water droplets could have easily been placed in that movie. Each drop was a different size with light reflecting a fluid prism of colors. Walking around and watching how the light danced was like a game with nature. Even so, my mom was able to capture a heart shape being reflected from these realistic looking dew points. At the conclusion of the exhibit we came to the largest gallery of the museum where a gigantic mound of wooden blocks created a tsunami of a wave. Pun intended. From afar the textured wave appears uniform. No two blocks are either the same in cut or finish giving the piece various levels simultaneously contained in one large movement. At certain angles the blocks replicate tops of houses or shacks, seen from above, as part of some futuristic metropolis. This sculpture accurately illustrates the movement of water as if it were captured by photo and then pixelated. Interestingly enough, it reminded me of a sand dune as well which returned back to the subject of water but rather the depletion of it.

Before entering the show, I kept thinking back to when I had written a paper in undergrad. It focused on the relationship between Maya and her father, Henry Lin, and the influence he had on her stimulating not only a creative perspective but care for the environment around her. All this was based off one ceramic piece that Henry created (referencing the moon) and countless hours of research from Maya’s own work. Recalling my previous study, I went into the show hoping that her pieces would blow me away…and they did not disappoint. Maya Lin delivers a meditative viewpoint. A History of Water was a positive demonstration with minimal interpretation and scientific study of aquatic landscapes. With the same grace as her flowing entities Maya Lin tackles an increasingly important and difficult issue with respect to a world we may no longer have in the future.

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