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Artist Maya Lin's 'Systematic Landscapes' at the Corcoran Have Monumental Scope

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Lin continues her stroll through the new exhibit.

" 'Silver Chesapeake' is a no-show," she says, indicating a blank wall that was to display her newest piece in -- and about -- Washington. The delivery company sent it to the wrong city. She sounds tranquil about it. But the next day when the work finally arrives she'll be so excited she'll run down to the gallery's delivery room to see it removed from the wooden crate marked, appropriately enough, "Fragile."

How does "Silver Chesapeake" look, anyway? "It's beaut-- " she says, catching herself from sounding boastful. "It's pretty nice."

In these rooms, her sculptures of threatened bays, disappearing seas, hidden ocean floors get her riffing widely on environmental subjects like fertilizers, deforestation, certified sustainable lumber, green turtles and river dams.

"Sorry, I'm preaching again," she says periodically.

But the preaching gets her thinking about her next memorial work, the fifth and, she says, the final one of her career. (Besides the Vietnam and civil rights memorials, she also designed a women's monument at Yale University and an ongoing Native American project along the Columbia River Basin in Washington and Oregon.) The new project is called "What Is Missing?"

It will be dedicated to extinct and endangered species, and to threatened habitats. More subtly, it will highlight "landscape amnesia" and "shifting base lines," the notions that we don't know what is missing because we have forgotten the way things were -- the lost sound of songbirds in the yard when we were children.

Where will this memorial be?

Nowhere, everywhere, says Lin. An installation in San Francisco is scheduled to open in the fall, followed eventually by a book, a Web site, iPod content, contributions from experts, talk-back from viewers, calls to action. It is the first memorial project Lin conceived from the start, rather than being commissioned. Support has come from the San Francisco Arts Commission, and Lin is raising more funding through her own nonprofit group.

"Let's rethink what a monument can be, and what if a monument can, in a funny way, be formless," she says. "A memorial that can go wherever it wants to go. It's basically free."

She talks on enthusiastically, next to her wooden indoor hill, sketching a new vision of multimedia artistic remembrance. It makes the Vietnam Veterans Memorial seem terribly old-school.


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