The Art of Missing

James Guida in Orion Magazine:

Lin4IN ONE OF Aesop’s fables, “The Rogue and the Oracle,” a man approaches the Oracle at Delphi. In his hand, which he keeps hidden under a cloak, he has a little bird. The plan is to ask the oracle whether the bird is dead or alive: if the answer is “dead,” he will simply produce the living creature; if “alive,” he’ll crush it. But an oracle is not an oracle by being easily tricked, and the reply is this: “Stranger, whether the thing that you hold in your hand be alive or dead is a matter that depends entirely on your will.” I was reminded of that line while looking at artist and architect Maya Lin’s recent exhibition at New York’s Pace Gallery. There, from projectors attached to the ceiling of one of the gallery’s side rooms, ferries of sentence traveled across the wall, turning when they reached a corner as if hitting a bend or rapid. The words included historical accounts of the wolves that used to live in Manhattan, the oyster beds that once flourished around the Hudson, and a seven-foot sturgeon spotted in 1950 on the river’s New Jersey side by the writer Joseph Mitchell.

Lin is best known for designing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC, a competition she won in 1981 while still a student. The finished site, together with the precocious grit with which she met the obstacles to realizing it, turned her into a celebrity. Since then Lin has gone on to do other memorials, including the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama, but for a long time she has said her last such project is in the works. Launched in 2011, the new memorial is ongoing, dispersed, collaborative, a kind of museum—that room at Pace with the running text is a part of it, though just one of many. There are satellite sculptures and multimedia installations planted throughout various cities, but the core of the project lives online, on an unusually cool website called What Is Missing? As for the “missing,” well, that would be animals and their habitats. The site honors extinct or endangered species, ecosystems lost or degraded, and, on a positive note, conservation efforts that have done some good.

More here.