Maya Lin art and environmental activism featured in Berkeley exhibit

| Publication: Contra Costa Times | Author: Lou Fancher

The relationship between architect-artist Maya Lin and the Bay Area has deep roots.

She has been represented here by such works as her 11-ton, granite sculpture “Timetable” (2000, Stanford University) and the wiry stainless steel tubing of “Where the Land Meets the Sea” and the multimedia work that includes a giant listening cone “What Is Missing?” (2008 and 2009, California Academy of Sciences).

Now that connection has a new chapter with the exhibit “Art/Act: Maya Lin,” showing at the David Brower Center in Berkeley through Feb. 4. The exhibit is an annual display-award meant to honor artists who have devoted a considerable portion of their careers to ecological causes and awareness.

“Her work has a connection to environmental and social issues that are a deep part of our history here,” said Jackie Hasa, director of community partnerships and exhibitions at Brower. She added the nonprofit center’s mission lines up perfectly with Lin’s determination to “memorialize the environment.”

And Lin is famous for her memorials. She is best known for creating the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington, D.C. And there is the massive, six-installation, years-in-the-making Confluence Project, which combines art, teaching and activism and touches on efforts to restore state and national parks along the Columbia River, the legacy of Lewis and Clark and the history of Native American tribes.

Replacing the concept of static monuments with that of movable and evolving installations is one of Lin’s signatures. Examples include the traveling large-scale work “Systematic Landscapes,” in which thousands of boards of recycled wood are arranged to resemble an undulating wave, and the famed multimedia work “What Is Missing?,” the many elements of which are meant to document disappearing species and ecosystems.

If reframing environmental problems as social issues has been Lin’s particular focus of late, reductionism has been the nucleus of her work from the beginning. Since she is a master at distilling the unwieldy topics like war or social injustice to essential, artistic elements, it’s little wonder Lin has succeeded in making some powerful statements about the issue of species extinction.

“While her sculpture is compelling and beautifully minimalist, it is an artwork with a mission and a message to poetically educate its viewers,” said Jill Manton, director of public art trust and special initiatives for the San Francisco Arts Commission, referring to the bullhorn-shaped sculpture commissioned for the California Academy of Sciences. The sculpture is a centerpiece of “What Is Missing?,” aspects of which are represented in the Brower Center exhibit.

Lin has called the multimedia, multilocation “Missing” a “last memorial,” but there’s nothing finite about the project.

Branching from an interactive website, a collection of video presentations and evolving installations seek to apply energy, activism and hope to a subject steeped in loss. Urgency is most visibly expressed on the website in dark maps speckled with dots. Lin calls the dots “wormholes,” and clicking on a dot reveals stories of things lost, things currently endangered and real and imagined protections for the world’s habitats and species.

Chandra Cerrito, curator at the Brower Center, said that as the “Missing” project evolves, Lin’s collaboration with experts, researchers and community members is connecting otherwise disparate efforts. “Missing’s” collection of videos, audio recordings and photographs detailing personal accounts of diminishing or lost worlds creates a sense of community — paralleling the Brower Center’s central mission.

“(The project) is an ongoing, ever-changing archive and resource that memorializes the Earth’s past and present while offering pathways for its sustainable future,” Cerrito said.

The exhibit in Berkeley highlights Bay Area natural environments. Recycled silver is used to shimmering effect in “Silver San Francisco Bay,” a depiction of the area’s most prominent body of water. “Pin River — Tuolumne” depicts the meandering Yosemite waterway using custom-fabricated steel pins and the shadows they create. A small-scale model of “Where the Land Meets the Sea” outlines the topography between Angel Island and the Golden Gate Bridge. Large wall panels pose questions like “What crop uses the most insecticides worldwide?” (Answer: organic cotton.) And a 20-minute video loop of more than 75 short films encompass global ecological perspectives.

A series of public programs are planned, and Lin will appear at a Sept. 28 reception and a lecture on Sept. 29. More information is at

‘ART/ACT: MAYA LIN’ Through: Feb. 4
Where: David Brower Center, 2150 Allston Way, Berkeley
Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Sundays
Admission: Free
Events, information: Several events, including films, appearances by Maya Lin (Sunday and Monday) and discussions and presentations are scheduled in connection with the exhibit; more information is at