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Maya Lin
Maya Lin
ISBN: 0684834170
Walking through this park-like area, the memorial appears as a rift in the earth—a long, polished black stone wall, emerging from and receding into the earth. Approaching the memorial, the ground slopes gently downward, and the low walls emerging on either side, growing out of the earth, extend and converge at a point below and ahead. Walking into the grassy site contained by the walls of this memorial, we can barely make out the carved names upon the memorial's walls. These names, seemingly infinite in number, convey the sense of overwhelming numbers, while unifying these individuals into a whole . . .

So begins the competition entry submitted in 1981 by a Yale undergraduate for the design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.—subsequently called "as moving and awesome and popular a piece of memorial architecture as exists anywhere in the world." Its creator, Maya Lin, has been nothing less than world famous ever since. From the explicitly political to the unashamedly literary to the completely abstract, her simple and powerful sculpture—the Rockefeller Foundation sculpture, the Southern Poverty Law Center Civil Rights Memorial, the Yale Women's Table, Wave Field—her architechture, including The Museum for African Art and the Norton residence, and her protean design talents have defined her as one of the most gifted creative geniuses of the age.

Boundaries is her first book; an eloquent visual/verbal sketchbook produced with the same inspiration and attention to detail as any of her other artworks. Like her environmental sculptures, it is a site, but one which exists at a remove so that it may comment on the personal and artistic elements that make up those works. In it, sketches, photographs, workbook entries, and original design are held together by a deeply personal text. Boundaries is a powerful literary and visual statement by "a leading public artist." (Holland Carter). It is itself a unique work of art.
—from the publisher's website

Program Air Date: November 19, 2000

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Maya Lin, what is "Boundaries" about?
Ms. MAYA LIN, AUTHOR, "BOUNDARIES": "Boundaries" is--I call it a visual-verbal sketchbook in that it's half written, -half images. It's images of all my work, from the from the first memorial and then basically from '89 to '99. It spans 10 years of work: art, architecture, the monuments. And it's about the in-between areas. I sort of see the memorials as being hybrid, somewhere between art and architecture. But it's as much about, you know, my East-West back--heritage, art and architecture, the fact that I use science a lot in my work. It's between science and art. It's--it's not in terms of when I taught--when I thought of the word--title "Boundaries," I'm not thinking just of the space on either side, but the actual line that divides, and thinking of that line as being a place that takes on dimensionality, it takes on a sense of shape.
LAMB: How much did you have to do with the photography?
Ms. LIN: I actually took, I would say, maybe 30 percent, 40 percent of the pictures, and then I--then I selected everything else.
LAMB: What's this?
Ms. LIN: This is a picture taken by a friend of rocks in a stream. And again, this one is the lead-in. I-- write a lot when I make a work, so this one is water out of stone, glass that flows like water, the fluidity of a rock stopping time. And it just--sometimes I really sketch verbally, and that actually was just thoughts I had about my work. And then the book designer started working with me and started composing images. And the first four lead-in photographs of the book and the end are all from nature. And I--and I talk about how so much of my work is inspired by the natural landscape, and so I deliberately wanted to end and begin the book with works that are not--that are from nature.
LAMB: Where is this picture from?
Ms. LIN: This is an image stock photograph taken from, I think--I can't remember which desert, but it's all about-- you know, I see myself as existing not on either side, but on the line that divides, just like the image that starts the book is the edge of the ocean, which is--again, where does the line of water end and where does landscape begin? So the initial thought of the book is I feel I exist on the boundaries. And then it's just--I actually again had a friend go out and shoot that image for me.
LAMB: You dedicate the book to your family and your late father.
Ms. LIN: Yeah.
LAMB: Why? Why your father?
Ms. LIN: Because my father and my mother played a very strong influence on my--my aesthetic, and my father was a ceramicist and a potter. And actually, there's an essay in the book called Shaping the Earth, which is about--which is, in a way, how I think when you're a child, you--you're not a--you're not aware of things that are right next to you that are so obvious to you. And the--the beginning of the book is my hands holding a rock, and in this essay, Shaping the Earth, I talk about how, you know, everything, from the pots we ate from--to the furniture we--we grew up with, my father made, and it never occurred to me until after my father died. And I was looking down at him, that his hands were extremely delicate and graceful, a potter's hands. You know, I thought of my father as a much stronger, forceful-type person.

And in the end, I say it; I say --I didn't realize this, he gave me his hands. And with that came, though I couldn't pull a pot to save my life, but just his ability to work with clay, I translated into other mediums, because a lot of the sculptural materials I use are very plastic sculptural materials--clay, wax, lead, beeswax--almost fluid, not quite hard. Glass is technically a super cooled liquid; it's not a solid. So everything's slightly plastic, fluid mediums. And--and I entitled that essay Shaping the Earth because so much of my--even my buildings started in plasticine. It's a model material that has oil as opposed to a water, so it never dries. And I basically carve--carve artworks out of the earth in a lot of what I do.
LAMB: Where was your father located that he was a ceramicist?
Ms. LIN: He trained at University of Washington, where my parents met, and Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, where I grew up. And he was first a ceramics profession--professor there, and then director of fine arts and then dean of fine arts. So I actually grew up as a child on an arts campus. I was casting bronzes by the time I was in high school. I was sort of escaping from high school to go play in the art department.
LAMB: One of the first things in your book is a page of--of written...
Ms. LIN: Right.
LAMB: or it's actually printing. What is this?
Ms. LIN: This is the essay I wrote that I submitted along with the drawings for the competition, entry number 1026, which I think is also in the book, and I basically designed the memorial as part of a school project. And then...
LAMB: Which memorial?
Ms. LIN: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial. And then when I decided to enter the actual competition, I knew drawings wouldn't quite describe it, so I actually took many more months to write that description, which really was about an experiential passage of what that piece is about and how you would walk through it to experience it. And I'm pretty convinced it's that essay, with these various serial pastel images. I think one of the jurors made--made a comment, as he was walking past in the selection process, `He must really know what he's doing to dare to do something so naive.' But then they kept coming back to the design, and I think it was this, again, mix of something very, very pastoral, these sketches, very, very--very young, and then this written essay.
LAMB: Now what year was your design?
Ms. LIN: That was 1981; I designed it, and entered it in 1982.
LAMB: How old were you in '81?
Ms. LIN: I was 20--21.
LAMB: And where did you design it?
Ms. LIN: I was at Yale as an undergraduate.
LAMB: What year were you?
Ms. LIN: I was a senior. In fact, as I was graduating from college--the day I graduated, I was driven down to Washington to begin to work on the memorial.
LAMB: Now this copy that you have in this book, you say you wrote back in 1983 and put it away.
Ms. LIN: Pretty much. I mean, I did do a little editing when it finally came around to it. But yeah, I basically--a lot of people at the time asked me if I would talk about the controversy. And I didn't, and I didn't want to, and I think that article was actually written for an arts magazine, and I couldn't--I couldn't get myself to submit it. I don't know why. I think I realized after I saw the documentary "Freedom Walk"--and it was a documentary that came out in '95 and it covers the memorial, and it covers some of the controversy. Frieda was very careful to never let me be aware of how much taped footage she was using, because she knew that I'd probably never agree to let her do this documentary, because I was putting it aside. I was saying, `I don't want to deal with this.' I was sort of shunting it out. And it was actually quite emotional for me to see the documentary. I didn't see it--I deliberately respected her view as an artist. I waited till it was completely done, and then I saw it in a theater and I--I--I was bawling. I was literally--for two days, I was fairly upset, because it brought back a lot of, oh, tough times that I happily had kind of put away.
LAMB: Before we ask you more about that, where do you live now?
Ms. LIN: New York.
LAMB: What do you do now?
Ms. LIN: I have a studio. I work downtown, and I basically spend my time between art and architectural projects pretty much all over the country. I don't take on too many architectural projects because I s--because I want to spend as much time on the artworks. I don't want to have a firm; I don't want to have a large place. I have maybe two to three assistants at any given time, some trained in art, some in architecture, because again, I can -very rarely find someone who mixes the two and can balance. And--and then--like right now I'm finishing up three or four or five buildings, and I'll go back into my studio. So I, again, split my time, sort of back and forth. I juggle.
LAMB: How much education do you have?
Ms. LIN: How much education? I guess I went four years undergrad in architecture at Yale, took a year off to build the memorial, tried to go back to architecture school at Harvard, found myself taking one too many shuttles down to Washington to testify, 'cause that's when the controversy was fully blown, went back to Yale in '83 and finished up my master's degree there.
LAMB: Do you have a family?
Ms. LIN: I have a family. I have a husband, Daniel Wolf, who's an art dealer, and two children--two young children. I've got two girls, a three-year-old an--and a 16-month-old. So I basically am going to be spending as much time playing with them as working in my studio. So I'm going to disappear for a while.
LAMB: Go back to what you said earlier. You said the `controversy.'
Ms. LIN: Yeah.
LAMB: What was the controversy?
Ms. LIN: You know--I mean, in a weird way, I don't --I briefly talk about it in the book, what was the controversy? The controversy was that people didn't like the design that was selected after it was selected. And I think people felt that on a lot of different reasons. It was not your traditional color. It was not your traditional shape. It was not at all vertical. It listed all the names; it did so chronologically. It was not usual. And I think--it also, I think, was controversial partially because of who designed it. I was Asian, and I think that was misinterpreted the wrong way.

And so I think for a brief period of time--and I do want to say it was unusual how short a time it took to get this memorial built--it was, I think, very hotly debated. I think there were many criticisms that someone as young as I was, who could never have experienced or understood that war, how could she be the one left to design something? And I think oddly enough, because I was too young to have been embroiled in the politics, I--I had made a choice; I actually--unlike many of the designs that I've worked on since then, I consciously decided not to read anything about the politics surrounding that war. I made a call that the politics shouldn't get in the way of this work, that you were going to have people whose names are listed, who believed they should be there, and those who protested it, who--who went because they were drafted. I wanted both sides to be able to rest and not overtly get involved in forming an opinion.

And I think this happens in many of those--my works. And I think a lot of people say, `Well, you're a political artist,' and I would go, `No, not necessarily.' I am drawn or have been drawn to work on issues: war, race, gender. But I don't have an overt political statement that I want to get across. If anything, my approach to the memo--the Vietnam Memorial was to make a piece that would be neutral and yet would ask us to face these individual lives lost on an individual basis. Now that's new. That's--to experience one-on-one.

And the veterans chose to have the names listed. Though I designed this for a class, I found out halfway in the design that they requested all the names to be listed. That inherently is a political statement, that we want to recognize these individual lives lost. And it--and I think a lot of artisan designers, when they saw that, almost looked at that q--requirement as a chore. So they'd find a form, and then they were trying to stuff the names on it. I basically allowed the names to be the memorial. That's it. Because in a way--I mean, I went back to the idea of what--I mean, a lot of criticism was it was abstract, you know? `It's modernist, it's cold, it's inhuman.' And I kept thinking, `Well, what's more realistic to bring back someone's memory than the person's name?' No one image, no one edifice is going to recollect and react to you the way a person's name will.
LAMB: You mentioned about being Asian. Where were you born?
Ms. LIN: Athens, Ohio.
LAMB: And where were your parents born?
Ms. LIN: My mother was born in Shanghai and my father was born in Beijing.
LAMB: And you--you say in the book that you designed this before you saw the land.
Ms. LIN: No. I thought up what ideas I had about how I wanted to--to be honest about war, how I wanted it--to make it very honest about the names and about--about acknowledging loss. I thought about what a memorial, you know, to the Vietnam War should be. In terms of thoughts generally behind it, then I put all that thinking aside and I went to see the site. And it was on the site that I just decided I'd cut open the Earth.
LAMB: Had you entered your--the--the contest?
Ms. LIN: No. I basically--it was the fall of 1981. No...
LAMB: And your class...
Ms. LIN: ...the spring--no, the spring of '80. Not the--the fall of 1980. We're in class, we're studying funereal architecture. A group of us--as a senior at Yale, you can choose your thesis. About six of us got together and decided we wanted to study architecture and how it relates to mortality. In other words, how man deals with his own mortality in the built form. We found an adviser, Professor Andy Burr, who agreed to be our professor and we started designing projects. You know, one was a memorial to World War III. I can't remember some of the other assignments.

Someone saw a poster up, Vietnam Veterans memorial competition, and we thought, `What a great way to end the course. We'll have our own design charette.' And so I designed it, but I star--I had started researching it when I was researching the World War--the memorial to World War III. And so I had started working into an idea of, `Well, what is a war memorial? What--what has it been historically? What is it now?'

And--and then I went to see the site. It was around Thanksgiving time. I had actually gone to see my parents, and then on my way back, I rendezvoused with a bunch of the students in the class and we went to see the site. And it was a very cold day. I took one look at the site and I actually thought it was a beautiful park, and again, I didn't want to make a piece that would overwhelm the site.
LAMB: Got some video that was shot yesterday, and this is, you know, near the end of October.
Ms. LIN: Right.
LAMB: And on the screen there is the Capitol to show you kind of a perspective for someone who's never been here.
Ms. LIN: Right.
LAMB: This is what you saw when you came.
Ms. LIN: Yeah. Well, I didn't see that.
LAMB: No, but you saw this piece of land.
Ms. LIN: I saw this beautiful park, and I think in the end essay, I say I still want the site to remain a park, a place where people could come to it, that nothing I...
LAMB: That's the Lincoln Memorial.
Ms. LIN: Right.
LAMB: I didn't mean to interrupt. I wanted people to see where it was. Go ahead.
Ms. LIN: Nothing I did--I still wanted you to be able to walk on to the site. And again, anything I've done has been a merger with the landscape. It's not been about creating some large, powerful form that in a way supplants the land. So it's about working with. I mean, there's a real--there's sort of a harmony going on. And in a way, you know, I--I basically had wonderful agreements--disagreements with the architects of record, Kupelecci, because they could not understand why I wouldn't want to make such a thin, veneer surface. This is a monument. Make those walls two to three feet thick. And I kept going, `No, no, no. I don't see it as like a physical presence inserted into the land. I literally see it as a geode. I'm polishing the Earth and putting the names on that surface.'
LAMB: You can see there how thin it is.
Ms. LIN: Yeah. How--it's very, very thin.
LAMB: You said that the black granite couldn't be bought from Canada or Sweden.
Ms. LIN: Yeah. I mean, we--I mean, this is the funny thing. It was very odd. All of a sudden, we were working with the veterans about--everything got politicized, down to--we looked at Swedish black granite, we looked at Canadian black granite, we looked at South African black granite. We settled on Indian black granite. And I remember one of the comments from the veterans was it would be very hard to find a granite from Canada or Sweden because, again, there were draft dodgers who went there, so we--they didn't--they wanted a neutral territory.
LAMB: Why? I mean, what was the...
Ms. LIN: Again, it was highly--by that point, it had become fairly highly political, and I think there were questions about one of the juries being a member of the Communist Party, things like that. They wanted the thing to remain as neutral as possible because I think at that time, it had gone in under the Carter administration. It was being built under the Reagan administration. And you had, basically, an attempt--at one point, I think a politician said, `Even though this is a neutral statement, we need to politicize the design.'

And there was actually a real question as to--at the apex, because I had not put an--anything there. Well, they came up with a paragraph, and a paragraph that would ad--have added sort of a political meaning. And I kept going, `Well, we've got 1959 and it's yea high, and we've got 1975 and it's--let's put in three lines. And again, just keep it very simple, keep it so that you don't add a political meaning. You let people come to this place and come away with their own thoughts.'
LAMB: We've got some video where one of the park rangers is, you know, scratching...
Ms. LIN: Right.
LAMB: ...the--on the piece of paper for somebody who wants to see the name. Did you think that would happen?
Ms. LIN: I didn't think past one thought. I knew people would touch the names, and I actually knew people would cry. I--I don't know why I knew that. Other than that, I really didn't think of how it would be read as being a--such a popular piece. I think--I mean, I think it's the only way I got through that time. I only could think of one person's reaction to it always. And that's the way I always am. It's a one-on-one experience, no matter how many people are there.
LAMB: You wanted the names chronological?
Ms. LIN: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: And they aren't?
Ms. LIN: They are.
LAMB: They are chronological?
Ms. LIN: Absolutely.
LAMB: But chronological in--in--in time, but not by--not by alphabetical.
Ms. LIN: Chronological in time. No, absolutely. The chronology, to me--and it begins and ends at the apex. It's like an open book. '59, the beginning of the war, with the short prologue; '75, at the bottom on the left. It's like an open book, the beginning and the--the end of the war meet, the war comes full circle. It's a closed time line, but it's broken by the Earth. By having the names be listed chronologically, any returning veteran can find his or her time place on the memorial. And in so doing, if you know one call, you'll find others in close proximity. And I--I was trying to tap into a sense of bringing them back to that immediate memory. There's something called--you know, I--I talk about stopping time, where present, past, future--it all kind of comes to a point. And by having to relive that past, it forces you to face it, and then you have to walk out into--into the present time.
LAMB: Tell the story about how you found out you had won.
Ms. LIN: Oh, it's a --it's a strange one. I was in class, actually. And I had entered the competition as an exercise. You know, students do it. It's good practice. I believed in it. But, you--you know, you don't enter something like this at the age of 20, 21. You forget about it.

I get a call from my roommate, and she calls me out of class and goes, `You just got a phone call from Washington. They're calling back in five minutes.' You've never seen someone run faster out of a class. My professor was sort of wondering what's going on. And they called up. Some people that said, `Well, we're from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. Could we come ask you a few questions about your design?'

And I was convinced I was number 100, not a big deal. They just were asking me a few questions, like drainage or something like that, and they all flew up. And there were three of them, and they sat down in my dorm room. And I think it--what they told me later is they were freaking out because I wasn't just a student, I was an undergraduate. And they were going to an undergraduate dorm in Saybrook College at Yale. And they're all sort of hunched into our--the living room, and Colonel Shay was talking in this very sort of unemotional way about, `Well, this was the largest competition ever held, open to everyone, and you won.'

And then he kept going. He didn't miss a beat. And I'm, like--just listening and my roommate catches it before I do. But again--I mean, I'm a funny person in that it took me--until it was built, I did not believe this would get built, that--I knew it was formalistically extremely different. And I'm also someone who never, like, counts--you know, counts on anything until it's real. And so I basically braced myself, because having studied competition processes, as an architecture student will, it's very rare that something gets built the way it was conceived. It just doesn't happen that way.
LAMB: Did you--what'd you get for--for building it, for designing this?
Ms. LIN: Oh, I got--I got an award. I got an award.
Ms. LIN: They didn't pay you?
Ms. LIN: No, they--they gave me a--the--the competition award.
LAMB: And there were 1,400 entries?
Ms. LIN: Yeah.
LAMB: When did you know that it was going to be tough? What was the first time you said, `This isn't going to be all that much fun?'
Ms. LIN: I think very early on. It was--they had shuttled me down--they had flown me down to Washington to meet with the whole Vietnam Veteran Fund. And I'm actually very--shy person, and I didn't know what to do. And they wanted the thing kept very closed, so I called my parents, but they didn't want me going--talking to anyone, so I was fairly isolated.

And it was the very initial -press conference. And they made a model. They didn't talk to me, they just made the model and they had pushed the design way to the back. And I said at one point, `You know, that model isn't accurate. You really want to split the difference between for'--`No, no, no, it's just a press conference model. Don't--don't worry about it.' And I'm going, `It is such a simple piece, everything matters.' And I could just--I instantly read that there was going to be interesting issues coming up as to how something like this was going to get realized.

And I actually--I talk about it in the book a little, that I basically went through a very internal, very tough struggle as to who the architect of record would be, al--who would work with me to get the thing built. And I--I think at the time--I think they took one look at me and to be fair to them, they thought, `She's a kid and she can't--she certainly'--you know, and I did a lot of publicity, because it--it was sort of a direct fund-driven situation, and--and they--and I was caught doing a lot of interviews. But basically, all I was concerned about was making sure that what I--what I envisioned got built.

So I think from the start, we had sort of cross purposes. They sort of assumed, `Oh, you wouldn't want to be interested, and--and you're just a kid. And--and it's so simple. It's so simple.' Well, and I'm like, `I am obsessive about detailing, down to the whatever.' Anyway, the end result is the architect of record selected was who--Cesar Pelli, who was then dean of Yale, had recommended. I think he was the absolute right choice. But there was a little bit of an internal power struggle that left grudges. And I think those grudges left a little bit of ill will, so that they didn't know where I was coming from and I didn't know where they were coming from. And it all was--you know, it all smoothed over in the end, but it left the entire process a little difficult going through.
LAMB: The name--one of the few names you use in the book is Ross Perot.
Ms. LIN: Right.
LAMB: What do you think of his involvement?
Ms. LIN: You know, Ross was part of a group that basically felt that the veterans--what they really needed--in fact, I think he came over once. I was working in the architect's office and he said, `Aren't--are--aren't you sure they just don't need a parade?' And I was sitting there going, `No, that's actually not what--they need something that makes them real--feel the catharsis. You have to face the situation in order to get over it. If you pretend it never happened, if you pretend it wasn't traumatic, that's not going to help you.' So I basically saw Ross and company as a group of very well-intentioned people. We just basically had a huge disagreement as to what would help.
LAMB: I want to ask you about two statues.
Ms. LIN: Yes.
LAMB: I know they're not your favorite topic. The first one we'll show...
Ms. LIN: Right.
LAMB: the statue of the soldiers. Do you know when this was built?
Ms. LIN: '82, '83.
LAMB: And why was it built?
Ms. LIN: I would say it was built--and it was a done deal before anyone had seen or experienced the memorial--and that a compromise had to be agreed upon. When Perot and company started fighting the fund, and they were very admiral to defend the design--we were fighting for groundbreaking. Groundbreaking was not allowed to go forward, unless the idea of a compromise, a more human, more figurative work, would be built somewhere.
LAMB: Did you design this?
Ms. LIN: No, I did not. Sculptor Frederick Hart was--was given the commission. Now originally, those statues, which are higher than 10 feet--and the wall is only 10 feet h--tall--their original intention was to place the statues right at the apex, so their heads would be poking up above the design. I fought that very hard. I--I can say that, yes, at the time, they didn't understand what the piece would be. They thought it was going to be this very cold, modernist, Ivy Leaguer doing this intellectual thing. The sad thing is through the course of the summer, I actually was told by Park Service officials that the then-Secretary of the Interior Watt would visit the site quite often. And at one point, he--he apparently told a Park Service employee, `You know, it's too bad. I kind of like this piece.' But it was too late. They had already decided on the addition. So then it became a battle as to where those statues would be placed, and I can only be happy that they were moved outside, so that you don't have a confusion of two works, working right on top of each other. And you basically have--I mean, I say it. I mean, it's sort of like the memorial--that placement, in a way, con--memorializes the battle because you had an idea of figurative is less--figurative is more responsive to humans than--than the abstraction of the names.
LAMB: The other statues are the nurses.
Ms. LIN: The nurses--my only comment on that is one--I-- again, I heard someone say, `Well, if the three men weren't there, we wouldn't want the three women.' And it's a pity that--that, basically, one is added to balance out the other, and both I find totally un--unnecessary.
LAMB: And when was this?
Ms. LIN: This one, I can't remember.
LAMB: But it was later?
Ms. LIN: It was later.
LAMB: And it sits a little bit farther...
Ms. LIN: It sits on the other end, farther away. So that basically, it's almost like the one is to balance off the earlier one, the women there to balance the men. The men, I think, had they only waited till this was up, they would have understood that it is a memorial meant for the living, as well as the dead. See, their argument was, `Oh, no, that's for the dead. We need something for the living soldier,' when they didn't really understand what the impact would be.
LAMB: How did this whole experience change your life?
Ms. LIN: Oh, I went right back into graduate school and got to work, very hard at work. And I mean--I mean, I think the body of the work that's in the book is 10 years, '89 to '99. And it's a body of work that spans monuments, artworks and architecture. And I think, you know, the Civil Rights Memorial was the work I completed after the Vietnam. And in so doing, the Southern Poverty Law Center asked me to--if I would consider making a memorial to civil rights, and I was of two minds. One, I was very aware of how large the Vietnam Memorial would be in people's minds. And if I did yet another memorial, would I indeed be typecast? But secondly, I was stunned that there hadn't been a national Civil Rights Memorial. And as I started reading about the history of the civil rights movement, I was shocked. I didn't even realize that in 1963, someone was killed for using a--the wrong bathroom; that even though I was a child growing up in these time periods, I hadn't been really taught it in school. And how frightening it is that we can lose track of history, we can forget so quickly. And so I began to think of this piece as a-- in a way, a teaching tool, a historical teaching tool.
LAMB: It's hard to see it--I mean, it--it's hard to see what it really does here.
Ms. LIN: Right.
LAMB: I'm going to show it again in your book. Where is it located?
Ms. LIN: It's located at Montgomery, Alabama, at the Southern Poverty Law Center's headquarters. And it consists of a water table, which is a conically shaped, very asymmetrical table. It's only 31 inches tall, with water coming up out of the that hole--center hole...
LAMB: Right there.
Ms. LIN: ...and streaming over text. And what the text is, it's a time line. And it begins in 1954, Brown vs. Board of Education. The text goes around clockwise, ending with Martin Luther King's assassination in '68. It intertwines people's deaths with legislative events, issues that happened, a riot happened, a protest happened, someone was killed. And again, what I was trying to say is that, in history, this was a people's movement. And sometimes one person's actions led to better legislation, and sometimes legislation led to someone's death through a riot. And it's like a causal effect. And so what I was trying to attempt was giving people a brief glimpse of what that era was about.
LAMB: Now what's this?
Ms. LIN: This is the Women's Table, which is for Yale University. I was asked--it's a sculpture. It's a water table, again, where water comes up. And if you go to the next page, I don't know if you can see--no.
LAMB: Not right. The next page is...
Ms. LIN: No, I guess it's before then.
LAMB: It's the page before it, yeah.
Ms. LIN: Page before. It's hard to tell.
LAMB: It's hard--it's hard to read this, so...
Ms. LIN: There's a spiral of numbers coming out of that water font, a group of zeroes. Then it goes to single digits, double digits...
LAMB: Goes around there, yeah.
Ms. LIN: ...ends with quadruple digits. What does it do? Well, I think then-President Benno Schmidt had asked me to design a sculpture dedicated to women at Yale, and I had no idea what that meant. He was thinking that--it was 1988 when he called me in '88-'89. '69 to '89 would mark the 20th anniversary of co-education at Yale. And so I think he was thinking commemorate that. And I started researching all about the history of women at Yale, and I started discovering, you know, the very first class of women was in the 1890s. It was a school of art. And before that, women were allowed to sit in on classes, and they were called silent listeners. And I thought, `That--that's sort of a horrible phrase. We're there, but we're--we're--you know, we're seen, but we're not heard.' So I counted them. So that spiral of numbers counts the women at--at Yale enrolled, both undergrad and grad, from when there were none to the date in which I put the piece in, which was 1993. And so the enrollment stops there. And it's an open-ended time line. Unlike the Vietnam, which is closed, the civil rights, which we use the gap to sort of signify past and future, and then the Yale table marks a beginning. But, of course, there is no end, and it's a spiral.
LAMB: How long does it take you to do something like the Civil Rights Memorial?
Ms. LIN: Oh, they all take about two to three years, from beginning to end.
LAMB: What do you do?
Ms. LIN: I sit down and I research and read for maybe three months, six months, sometimes nine months. For the artworks especially, I don't--I don't have a deadline. I basically tell people these projects take two to three years, but I will not work on a--you have to submit an idea by this time, because I don't want to force it. So I go through a very studied process, and then...
LAMB: Is this you?
Ms. LIN: This is me climbing all over what will become the Civil Rights Memorial. I'm checking the seams on it in the quarry.
LAMB: Where is this?
Ms. LIN: This is in a quarry in Vermont, which put the piece together for me. So basically, it's two to three years to make a piece, just figuring out how the water would flow. The water doesn't drop at the lip. It turns the edge of that piece and flows to the base, so you don't get wet when you walk up to it. So there are many technical aspects. In fact, all of these works--there's a clock in there, "Eclipse Time," and actually a clock I just dedicated at Stanford University. The one at Stanford, it's a 14-ton--no, 11-ton piece of stone that tells the minutes, the seconds, the hours, and then what you don't realize is the entire piece of stone is making a rotation. It makes one rotation every year. So it's slowly moving. So every time I seem to--when I've made the artworks, I've sort of reinvented and I've had to kind of figure out how to get it built. And so...
LAMB: Jumping to the end, this is the Langston Hughes Library, Haley Farm, Clinton, Tennessee.
Ms. LIN: Right.
LAMB: And we'll pull back--Richard Hall's working our camera here--to show us this. Explain this.
Ms. LIN: This is a library. I was asked by Marian Wright Edelman. She invited me down to Haley Farm. It's in Tennessee. And she wanted me to think about designing a library and a chapel. And I saw this barn. It was an existing barn. It was not being used. It was completely derelict. And--and I asked Marian, `What about putting the library in this barn?' And so I cut open the barn. Whatever is new is sort of on the inside skin, and I left the outside very raw, rustic, except to maximize the amount of daylight. And then as you walk up, one of the cribs that raises the barn up is your entry-level stairs and elevator upstairs. The other one is a--is a bookstore. And you go upstairs, and the entire inside is completely new with a view out to the barn. And so it's all about mixing old and new, creating a raised--a reading room up sort of overlooking the pond. And that pond is also where I'm going to site the chapel, which I'm presently working on. So the idea was, again, I'm fixated in time, old and new. So I've done something old and something completely new.
LAMB: Who was Langston Hughes?
Ms. LIN: Langston Hughes was an Afro--African-American writer, and actually, the sponsor of the chapel--I mean, of the library. When Regio and his wife, Louise, requested that the--the chapel be--I mean, the library be dedicated to him.
LAMB: Where is Clinton, Tennessee?
Ms. LIN: Clinton, Tennessee is very near Knoxville, and it is the site of Alex Haley's old--his estates.
LAMB: And do you have to politically agree with whatever's going on in these things? I know you said you weren't very--you weren't trying to make political statements, but do you have to agree with the politics or you can't do it?
Ms. LIN: I--yes, pretty much. I mean, they have to be near and dear to me. And I think I take on--I work with a lot of educational institutions, certain--like right now, I'm working for a--a--a foundation called The Greyston Foundation. We're building a bakery in Yonkers. All their profits--they bake all of the brownies for Ben & Jerry's, and they--all the profits go to housing for the homeless and AIDS hospice. I get drawn in the architecture to working with a lot of people that actually probably wouldn't consider bringing in design, because they think they can't afford it. And like I finished for NYU, an Asian-American department. We had about--oh, we had about three to four months, start to finish. The director called me up and said, `You know, I don't know if you have the time.' But I actually am challenged sometimes by that because if I can make good design, where normally you wouldn't see a design, it's sort of a joy.
LAMB: How often, when somebody--you introduce yourself to somebody and say, `I'm Maya Lin,' do they immediately know the name?
Ms. LIN: Nobody knows me.
LAMB: Nobody?
Ms. LIN: Nobody knows me. I mean, I have been recognized so seldomly, and I like that. The works--I mean, everybody knows the Vietnam Memorial, but nobody would connect my face to it or even my name. And I--I kin--I'm lucky that way. Because I really do believe the works are out there and they're very public, but that allows me to remain very, very private, which again, it's that dichotomy. Can you be very public, you know? And in this world, I'm lucky. But I don't think in art and architecture, you're recognizable normally outside of your fields. And it's--it's--it's nice. I am so, you know, not a celebrity, and I never will be and--knock on wood.
LAMB: Now what happens when they find out that you're the person that designed the Lincoln--I mean, the Vietnam Memorial?
Ms. LIN: People have been incredibly kind and warm and, in a way, they've shared with me very moving, very personal stories about that piece. And I think it's amazing. I mean, I don't take it for granted that that first piece out works so well for so many people. As an artist, it's a double-edged sword, because you basically have to move on, and you move on emotionally as soon as it's done. So, you know, in a funny way, when a lot of people say, `You know, what do you do for an encore?' Well, frankly, like, the image you're looking at there is something--"The Wave Field," which is the sculpted ways of Earth. That's technically stumped me more, in a way, than the memorial.
LAMB: Explain this. Where is it?
Ms. LIN: This is in Ann Arbor, Michigan, at the University of Michigan for the Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Aerospace Engineering Building. And it is a 10,000-square-foot artwork I installed that is based on my studies of fluid dynamics in flight. I came across a--an image of a repetitive water wave and knew the piece would be about that. That's probably one of my strongest artworks, and that led to a body of work called "Topologies," which went inside a gallery and deal with the landscape. There's a--a piece in there that is, if you go the other way...
LAMB: Yeah. I've seen it. I'll have to find it. What's--what...
Ms. LIN: You're close. You're very close. Can I...
LAMB: Sure.
Ms. LIN: Right there.
LAMB: Thank you.
Ms. LIN: And that is...
LAMB: It's hard to see on camera.
Ms. LIN: It's very hard to see on camera.
LAMB: What is it?
Ms. LIN: If you pan back, if you--if the camera goes back a little bit, you can see the entire piece. It's a 16-foot by 18-foot sculpture made out of cut particle board. I'm very interested in stratographic--stratographic layers of the Earth. Except this one, I stacked vertically. And it's just an undulating wave field brought into a museum environment. So how could I take this large-scale landscape aesthetic and bring it inside the neutral grounds of a museum? So again, I'm right--I'm actually right now working on a series of mappings that will be almost--well, I can't really say, but they'll--they'll deal with the topography of the ocean floor.
LAMB: There is--I don't know if it's a memorial, but work that you've done in here for the Rockefeller...
Ms. LIN: Right.
LAMB: ...Building, Rockefeller Foundation in New York.
Ms. LIN: Yeah. It's called "10 Degrees North," and it's actually--its centerpiece is a map of the Earth. But when you first see it, it looks like much more of an abstracted landscape. And as you walk up to it, and especially from the second floor of their lobby, you realize it's a map of the world. Shall I find it? It's--you're very close to it. It's right here. Sorry.
LAMB: It's hard to juggle when you--here we go. There we go.
Ms. LIN: It's right there. it's a series of benches, tables, sculptures surrounding this entry area of which the centerpiece is this cut in stone map of the Earth. And water is percolating up from the different trenches, the Jave Trench, the Japan Trench, and the water is the sea-level water. Why is it called "10 Degrees North"? You know, when I started researching about the Rockefeller Foundation, the well-being of mankind throughout the world, well, when we start helping out, it's always through our perspective. And maps are inherently very political. And any rectangular projection of the Earth is distorted. And most of our views are a Mercator projection where you've taken an equal projection from the equator. Well, there's much more land mass in the Northern Hemisphere towards the top of the North Pole than in the South. So our--it enlarges those areas. So our images in North America and Asia are actually much larger than they really are. So I asked a map maker to take the projection from 5 degrees, 10 degrees, 15 degrees, trying to make it a little more equivalent. So it's all subtly about how maps are very political, and we actually have to be careful from what perspective we're looking at.
LAMB: You also talk in your book about this business about being an Asian-American...
Ms. LIN: Right.
LAMB: ...and that you--you were born in Athens, Ohio.
Ms. LIN: Right.
LAMB: What year did your parents come over to the United States?
Ms. LIN: They immigrated in the mid-'40s. They came out separately. My mother came out on a scholarship to go to Smith College. My dad came out a little earlier. And he--they met at the University of Washington. And they brought us up, my brother and I, we don't speak Chinese. It was an age before you were brought up bilingual. They wanted us to fit in, and we did. My, you know, friends will say, `You're--you're so Ohioan, you're so Midwestern. I've never met a more'--and then little by little in my -late 20s, 30s, as I started developing my work, I'm realizing I am really pulled to as much of an Asian aesthetic, this non-didactic, you sort of bring--allow people to bring their thoughts. It--it's more subtle, it's quieter. It's all about education and, in a way, about self-introspection. And I--in a way, I rebelled against a lot of sort of the standard, the Western European architectural great works. I ended up studying in Japan for a summer, just so I could absorb some of that cultural climate. I--I went to Kyoto and spent, you know, a good deal of that summer there. And, you know, I'm Chinese, so what am I doing with an affinity towards Japanese architecture? I always felt a little guilty.

And then my mother takes my brother and I back to China, and we get to visit my father's childhood home. And...
LAMB: To Fukien?
Ms. LIN: Fukien Province.
LAMB: Province. Where is it?
Ms. LIN: It's built on a river. It's--God, it's near Xuzhou. I'm terrible. We sort of did a circuit. We went from Shiyan, Shanghai, Xuzhou, then into Fukien. And I'm looking at this house or what remains of it, and it's a Japanese-style house. And I'm going to my mother, `Mother, what is this?' And it's, like, `Oh, your grandmother loved--your grandmother loved Japanese architecture,' and they had this house built in the style of a Japanese house. So there I am--obviously, my dad grew up in this house. He designed much of the furniture in the way out of our house in Athens, and I--you know, you grow up and you absorb what your cultural surrounding is. So I--I--again, something clicked, and I'm going, `That's perhaps--this is where I get this in--strong affinity towards sort of the Shinto Shrines of Japan, the--the Japanese courtyard-style houses.' It's also, I mean, the amazing ability they have of framing the landscape. So no matter where you are in the building, you're really asking someone to look out into a very specific view of nature.
LAMB: Is your mom still alive?
Ms. LIN: Yes, she is. She's--she's retired. She lives in Athens, Ohio. And I'm actually going to go back and spend, with my kids, a very long Thanksgiving with her, which I'm looking forward to.
LAMB: Did your father live long enough to see all this?
Ms. LIN: Unfortunately not, and I think that's--that's painful to me. He didn't even--he didn't get to see the dedication of the Civil Rights Memorial.
LAMB: Did he get to see the dedication of the Vietnam Memorial?
Ms. LIN: Yes, he did. And that was great. And, you know, I mean, you just wish for certain things, and I think when you're--you're younger, you think your parents are always going to be there for you. So my father was considerably older than my mother, so, yeah, the book is very special, because it's dedicated to him. So much is about him, in a way.
LAMB: When did you decide to do a book?
Ms. LIN: After I saw the documentary.
LAMB: In five--'95?
Ms. LIN: Yeah.
LAMB: And then how did you go about doing this book?
Ms. LIN: Well, in a way, the writing was all there, because as I've made these works, I've written a lot about them. Sometimes I started with w--a written sketch. But to put it all together, I deliberately made a book that its size is odd. It's--well, is it a coffee table book or is it a textbook? So it's all about ambiguity. And in so doing, I deliberately asked--I chose the publisher, Simon & Schuster, which is much more known for, in a way, written books. And then I asked Michael Rock of 2x4 to be the book designer, who's coming out of sort of the high architecture design world. And I watched as they just, at times, did not know how to communicate with one another, because here's Simon & Schuster, and they're really used to dealing with book designers who do the jacket, thank you very much. And here's Michael Rock, used to totally controlling the show. And--and it was a nice, nice collaboration tussle at times that--that built up the work. But in the end, their--the--the idea that the text and the writing would be an equal balance to the images was sort of the hybrid I was--I was trying to attempt here.
LAMB: How long did it take you?
Ms. LIN: Three years.
LAMB: And it's...
Ms. LIN: Everything takes three years. Don't ask me why.
LAMB: And at the very end, you talk about you have--you want to--you--you...
Ms. LIN: One last one, right?
LAMB: You don't like the monument business.
Ms. LIN: I don't like the monument business. Well, I retired after '89, didn't want to get typecast. I hope you can appreciate the--the position. People were joking, `You know, put up a sign, Monuments by Maya.' I mean, I basically stepped away from it, except I realized I have always been, since I was a child, very concerned about what man is doing to the environment. I look at us, and, you know, scientists have called what we're going through the sixth largest extinction of the history of the planet.
LAMB: What is this, by the way, while we're talking?
Ms. LIN: This is an aerial satellite image of the Earth, and I actually don't remember where this is taken from. But again, I study mappings, aerial views, glacial patterns, again, taking inspiration, like I--I've contacted NASA. This is an image I took of an ice cave, the detail of.
LAMB: Did you take this picture?
Ms. LIN: Yeah, I took this picture.
LAMB: Where?
Ms. LIN: This is in Seattle--outside of Seattle. It's in a--near Pilcheck, where I did a residency blowing glass.
LAMB: And so what's that last monument going to look like?
Ms. LIN: Well, that's the interesting thing. It's going to--if you think of a memorial monument not existing in one place but in many places all over the world, each site different, each site unique, all taken together, they will help give us an idea of--in a way, the health of the planet from global climate change to land mass to extinction and endangered species. I can imagine one of the sites I would love to make out of a huge toxic waste dump. So --I'll try to reclaim a site, maybe make one out of garbage. Some of them will be in existing parks, trying to get them to be larger, because I think if we're really going to talk about preserving -by diversity, we have to talk about very large areas that we--we leave untouched. I don't know, I literally started it with the book. I start with the sketch, I met with a group of biodiversity scientists, experts in the field from plant to mammals. And we met last Tuesday, and I--my guess is I'll take a year to quietly ask a lot of questions and then surface with a team. But if I could do something that would help us prevent this mass extinction, that would be what I'd really love to do. I mean, I--I sort of--I--I'm starting with Yellowstone. I'm actually doing an artwork within Yellowstone. They're our first national park. And I'd love to try to help make -Antarctica our first international park. Because conceptually, what that would mean is that, globally, we're working together to protect the land.
LAMB: Was there ever a time in all that--those early '80s where you s--you wished that this had never happened?
Ms. LIN: Yeah. At times. I mean, yes and no. I think what I did was I just forgot about it, which I--I have a lovely habit of doing, and just focusing on what I'm interested in at the time. I'm pretty--in that sense, I think being an artist saved me, because I basically--I just tunnel in. I have tunnel vision. So I'm in--intensely interested in what I'm working on now than what I did, you know, 10 years ago, two years ago. So in an odd way, what I'm interested in is the learning process I go through in making each of these works, and then I kind of move on from it.
LAMB: Where's your brother today?
Ms. LIN: He's in New York. He actually moved back to New York, teaching at a small college. And he's doing his artwork. He's actually--I mean, his poetry. He's working on his second volume of poetry. And he'll be in an art show in Chelsea in--in the spring. So he's basic--and he's teaching creative writing, which is what he really wants to do. So both of us sort of followed in our parents' footsteps and have taken--you know, we're--we're in the arts pretty solidly.
LAMB: What's his name?
Ms. LIN: Ton Lin.
LAMB: And you have three names, Maya Ying Lin.
Ms. LIN: Ying Lin, yeah.
LAMB: Ying (pronounced ING). It's pronounced Ing?
Ms. LIN: Yeah. Silent Y.
Ms. LIN: N-G. It's my Chinese name. It's my Chinese given name. And it means precious stone.
LAMB: Where'd you meet your husband?
Ms. LIN: In New York at a dinner party.
LAMB: And he does?
Ms. LIN: He's an art dealer, photography, specialty is the 19th century photographs.
LAMB: Does he work with you at any--in any of these projects?
Ms. LIN: No, he's very sweet and supportive, though. He puts up with my incredible nervousness as I'm making these things. He's actually got an incredibly good eye.
LAMB: When you went back to China, what was your reaction overall to...
Ms. LIN: Well, I had just come from Japan, and I found Japan very--very formal. And I think, you know, they actually thought I was Japanese in Japan. And if you're English speaking, if you don't speak Japanese, they look at you with a little bit of odd suspicion. And so you're not from--you--you left. And--and I got to China, and you're overseas Chinese. They embrace you. They welcome you. You're coming home. It--it--it was a very welcoming feeling. And--and then I got to meet my relatives, a lot of them for the very first time. And for someone who grow--basically grew up isolated with a family of three other people, it was pretty wonderful.
LAMB: Did--what was their reaction to your involvement with the Vietnam Memorial? Did they understand that?
Ms. LIN: They--they understood that I was basically an architect. I think I'm--I'm following in the footsteps of my aunts, my half-sister on my father's side, where essentially--I mean, I have a funny legacy, which I wasn't really that apparent of. Lynn Way Yin and Lang Su Chang were my aunt and uncle. They were, like, sort of the strong art historians of China. They catalogued most of the architectural works--historical works of China. They also helped to bring modernism. They studied at University of Pennsylvania, went back to China in the Communist Revolution, and they designed Tiananmen Square. So I was out there on the plaza with one of the officials saying, `Well, what do you think of Tiananmen Square?' And I'm going, `It--it's very large.' What was I going to say?

Obviously, Lang Su Chang, after my aunt had passed away, later on, realized how modernism had he--you know, bringing modernism to China has helped start, you know, tearing down a lot of the old parts. And he tried to prevent it and tried to preserve. And he fell out of favor at that time, because everything was still about progress. But they went through the same thing we went through, which is why we lost Penn--you know, Penn Station in New York, where modernism was going to come in and wipe the slate clean. And then 10 years later, we all turned around and said, `My God, what--what have we taken down?' So you kind of have to mix the old and the new.
LAMB: This is the book we've been talking about. It's called "Boundaries" by Maya Lin. This is the cover. It sells retail, $40. Thank you very much for joining us.
Ms. LIN: You're welcome. Thank you.

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