Maya Lin invites and challenges visitors to her website to help improve Earth's well-being


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If you're looking for something to do on Earth Day, consider a visit to www.whatismissing.net, the site developed by noted artist and activist Maya Lin that launches its second stage Sunday. Follow up by going to the stirring exhibition of her sculpture in the Heinz Architectural Center, Carnegie Museum of Art.

Ms. Lin conceived "What Is Missing?" as the fifth, and last, of her memorial projects, which began with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial built on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in 1982. She was an undergraduate at Yale University at the time and winning the design competition catapulted her to fame. That she chose to shy away from the spotlight reflects a persona characterized by integrity, intellect and a deep and genuine relationship with projects she commits to.

Those qualities bring the credibility required to conceive, grow and gain support for an endeavor as large as "What Is Missing?" which has as its subject nothing less than the environment in its totality and which exists in multiple forms and locations beyond the Web. The physical structure of "What Is Missing?" challenges and extends the notion of memorial, but the concept is also expanded, from the inspirational aspect found in many memorials to a proactive component.

It's also very democratic.

The site opens with a poetic segment that combines statistics of extinction with images (of fish, birds) formed from floating white dots on a black background, suggesting a connection between the life of our planet and the vast universe we are a part of. The tiny spheres take on color and coalesce into Earth's continents. Clicking on each brings up a story that someone has added in memory of a plant, animal or habitat.

Ms. Lin invited the more than 1,600 audience members at her February lecture in the Carnegie Music Hall to add their recollections to the Map of Memory: "I'm going to ask a little favor. Why don't you start to create a Pittsburgh timeline? Many [of you] saw the region at the height of industry. What we could start tonight: You could do a little research, look a little before [that time period]."

While there is room for many more, some Pittsburghers took her up on her offer (if you were one, please let us know by commenting on this article on Facebook, or send me an e-mail).

Sol Tinker, for example, wrote that when he was a child "all it took was a jar and five minutes in anybody's backyard to capture dozens of fireflies, to be enjoyed and set free." He doesn't recall when he last saw a dozen fireflies in an entire evening.

Karen Poirier recalled playing with her brothers in a forest stream where they would find crayfish under rocks at the base of a waterfall. Extensive development in the area has brought runoff that contaminated the stream and the crayfish are gone.

Mary Schinhofen and her mother enjoyed the beauty of a hillside of Bouncing bet or soapwort flowers seen from the windows of their home. They would harvest bunches of the blossoms that her mother would suds up in warm water to wash "her fragile silk stockings." The hillside is now gone.

University of Pittsburgh faculty member Kirk Savage, a specialist in memorials, wrote of the willows of Swissvale, beginning with the 1842 arrival of reformer and nature lover Jane Gray Swisshelm, who transplanted the trees for which Swissvalewas once known. They are now mostly gone, but Mr. Savage ends on a happy note: The Nine Mile Run project, initiated by a group of Carnegie Mellon University artists, is the country's largest federally funded urban stream restoration and is working to restore native animals and plants to the area.

John Holton comments on mountain tops lost when coal mining stripped them and pushed them into surrounding valleys, and the resultant acidic waterways that were produced. Court Gould laments the missing box turtles, which he always came across as a boy. His teenagers "have never seen, never felt the impressive weight of a single one," he says.

Those memories are part of the segment Past. On Sunday, the focus switches to the Present, "Conservation in Action," which, the site says, "highlights the work of collaborating institutions and select environmental organizations, charts a history of the environmental movement, and informs individuals as to what they can do in their own lives to help protect species and habitats."

The third, and last, stage, the hopeful and urgent "Greenprint for the Future," will launch on Earth Day 2013.

An excerpt from "What Is Missing?" may be seen in the museum's lobby. The 20 pieces exhibited in the Heinz Architectural Center show another side of the artist's expression, but observation and examination are common underpinnings. And the interrelatedness that appears to be her conscious and subconscious guide, connecting banal and elegant, macro and micro, and cultural- as well as bio-diversity.

"Drip/Drop" beads of recycled silver sliding down a wall suggest the rhythm of rain, the preciousness of jewelry. Works on paper that appear to represent rivers and estuaries were actually created from making rubbings over fractured glass. A "Paper Landscape" carved through an altered atlas places Moscow near Providence, R.I.

Most engaging, in part because the visitor may walk among its components, is "Blue Lake Pass," a room-sized installation comprising Duraflake particleboard inspired by the topography of the Rocky Mountain landscape near her Colorado home.

Ms. Lin can also be playful, as with "Mac World (Cupertino)," a re-presentation of the topography near the California home of Apple Inc., made of recycled packaging for an Apple computer purchased for her studio.

"She's really good at ... retaining her voice as an artist, as a personality, as a cultural thinker," while employing various media, said Raymund Ryan, Carnegie curator of architecture, who was in graduate school at Yale with Ms. Lin.

Particularly enjoyable is "Pin River -- Ohio (Allegheny and Monongahela)," created for this exhibition using hundreds of pins to trace the rivers' paths from the Point. Originally, the exhibition was to contain two other Pin Series works, but Ms. Lin pulled them when she informed Mr. Ryan that she was making the locally inspired work.

"Knowing Maya, I thought she might want to do something without telling us, because she wanted to test it first," he said.

She removed the pin Hudson River and substituted "Silver River -- Hudson," cast of recycled silver, that was completed at a foundry 10 days before the exhibition's opening.

The works in the show question as much as they affirm our relationship to the land, and that seems to be Ms. Lin's leitmotif.

"She asks the viewer to rethink certain givens," Mr. Ryan said.

"Maya Lin" continues through May 13. Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p..m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, until 8 pm. Thursdays, noon-5 p.m. Sundays. Admission is $17.95, seniors $14.95, students and children 3-18 $11.95, members and children under 3 free (includes Natural History Museum). For information: 412-622-3131 or www.cmoa.org.

Art in Bloom

For Art in Bloom last weekend at the Carnegie Museum of Art, bountiful bouquets complemented works in the galleries and spread color and fragrance throughout the museum. My favorites include the sensitive interpretations by the Fox Chapel Garden Club and Sogetsu School of Ikebana of paintings by Gustave Klimt and Robert Motherwell, respectively; the humorous sports take on Lucio Fontana and Rosenthal Porcelain Factory sculpture by The Gentlemen Fans of Window Box Garden Club; the Carnegie Women's Committee elegant, studied pairing with John Singer Sargent; and the Carnegie Docents' fabulous merging with Pierre Bonnard that drew the lush color play of "Nude in Bathtub" off the wall and into the viewer's space.

artarchitecture

Post-Gazette art critic Mary Thomas: mthomas@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1925.


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