The shape of water

Maya Lin’s sprawling installations pay homage to – and ask questions about – watery ecologies

The Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art has invited world-renowned Chinese-American architect and artist Maya Lin to present an exhibition of selected works from 1994 to the present that reflect her sculptural interpretations of water. In addition to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, her other famous works include the Civil Rights Memorial in Alabama and The Women's Table at Yale University.


Lin's artistic output has always focused heavily on environmental issues, with water being a particularly important theme. The works on display depict various aspects of water, from rivers and their course to oceans and their tides to icebergs and the threat of melting. Together, they offer a glimpse into the many ways water shapes our world.


A Study of Water shows how she uses scale and material to create poetic experiences that reveal hidden aspects of our world. In her own words, Lin describes this as a way of "revealing things we may not be thinking about".


The centrepiece of the A Study of Water exhibition is “Marble Chesapeake & Delaware Bay”, an impressive array of glass marbles that map the local area’s waterways on the gallery's walls and floor. Surrounding it are other sculptures depicting water in various forms, including river courses made of steel pins, icebergs made of plaster, water droplets made of glass, and waves made of spruce, pine, and fir trees. 


Lin's works are not only aesthetically beautiful but also have a profound message about the urgent need to address climate change. “What Is Missing?” is an installation that allows people to share their memories and perspectives on the natural world surrounding them. These stories become part of an ongoing global timeline highlighting the importance of taking action to protect our planet.


The artist uses 21st-century science and technology to focus on the natural world, with extensive research translated into a visual representation of her findings. Lin opens up new ways of understanding these entities and the environmental threats by miniaturising a river system or isolating a sea from the surrounding topography, for example.


Melissa Messina, the exhibition's guest curator, had nothing but praise for the artist. "What I think is so brilliant about her work is that she's using basic materials to draw you in. Everyone understands what a marble looks like. But to use it in this way and transform it creates awe. And when we are in a moment of awe, we are open," she says.







Read more: 

Water wonderland.

For the birds.

A continental visionary. 


Credits: Image courtesy of the artist and Pace Gallery. Photo by Echard Wheeler.