Maya Lin: Above and Below



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Who is Maya Lin?
Well known for her creation of The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C., Maya Lin's career as both architect and artist has spanned more than 25 years. There is more in this brief biography.

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Walla Walla Foundry
In southeastern Washington, Walla Walla Foundry casts, cuts, and welds pieces for artists all over the world.

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Planet Earth Collector's Edition
Such beautiful features from this series. Of course you can choose if you want the American Sigourney Weaver narrated version, or the original BBC David Attenborough narrated. Flip a coin?

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IMA's Asian Galleries
The IMA showcases, through innovative displays, one of the nation's largest and most significant collections of Asian art. More than 400 works of art in the gallery provide a panorama of more than 4,000 years of Asian art from China, Japan, Korea, India, Tibet, and West and Southeast Asia.

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100 Acres: The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park
Opening 2010. Until then check out the short promo video on ArtBabble. Keep up to date on the IMA website,, as info on this project is always coming in.

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More Commonly Known as "The Wall"
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. was built in 1982 and receives more than 3 million visitors a year. More info on this wiki.

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Wave Field from the Ground
Flickr photo taken at the installation on the campus of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

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IMA Blog Post On Classification of Artwork
This was a very intriguing post from Summer Intern Emily, where she questions how we classify art that is both "Contemporary" but also "African," "Asian," or "American." Discussed is El Anatsui's 'Duvor'. Emily writes "It is inherently African. It was created in 2007, so it is contemporary. It is also technically a part of the Fashion and Textile collection here at the museum. I know that designating categories is how we find things; we sort by time, place, origin, material, color, size, etc. But I wonder if something like this can ever be all three, equally.

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This Cat Is Not As Sneaky As....
NINJA CAT! I was there for this interview with Maya and I was worried the cat would MEOW the entire time...but this was one well-behaved feline.

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Athens, Ohio
The homepage of Maya's hometown.

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Bluespring Caverns
In Bedford, IN, just south of Bloomington, BlueSpring Caverns is a truly beautiful visit.

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Images from the Walla Walla video shoot

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An IMA Blog post about this documentary
This was during the capture and production phase.

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The United States Geological Survey
Lots of great photos on the site.

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The Mitchell Plateau is an Example of Karst Topography
Made of soluble layers of bedrock, karst topographies are generally lacking much surface water.

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Indiana Limestone
Indiana Limestone has been used in the Empire State Building, the Pentagon, the New Yankee Stadium, the National Cathedral, and others.

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How To Conquer YOUR Fear of the Dark
Remember that TV show on Nickelodeon, Are You Afraid of the Dark? Well if you answered "YES" this page gives useful tips on how to conquer your fear. For example #6 is to have friends sleep over. Maybe you could all watch Nickelodeon together...

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The Definitive Guide to Caving Technique, Safety, Gear, and Trip Leadership
Need to know what to bring on your caving expedition? Check out this handy book.

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A Talk about Maya Lin by Richard Andrews
From Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis.

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Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego
Such a beautiful city and building(s) including the satellite location in La Jolla. If you are ever in San Diego, be sure to visit the MCASD in between trips to Tijuana.

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Maya Lin: Systematic Landscapes Exhibition Catalogue
Would make a beautiful coffee table book.

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Minimalism (a brief history)
The first line kind of summed it up nicely for me, "Minimalism rejects the need for social comment, self-expression, narrative, or any other allusion to history, politics, or religion."

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Spiral Jetty on the Great Salt Lake in Utah
Detailed information on Spiral Jetty including how and when to visit.

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Michael Heizer
American artist Michael Heizer was born in 1944 and has created many "land art" installations. As always Wikipedia offers more info if you so desire.

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Blue Painters Tape
Gotta love it.

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The Architecture of Nature: A Talk By Maya Lin
Maya discusses all of these installations and much much more in her talk given at IMA and available on ArtBabble. If you want to know about all the different projects Maya has done and is currently working on, I highly recommend you check it out. Most interesting.

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Boundaries, by Maya Lin
Maya's book Boundaries gives more insight into her perception of the natural world and how her art and architecture reflects those insights.

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Define: Visceral
From Wiktionary (great name): "Having to do with the response of the body as opposed to the intellect, as in the distinction between thinking and feeling. Often described as intuition; cf. gut feeling, gut reaction."

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Above and Below
IMA's page on Above and Below.

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Maya Lin in the factory
The incredible IMA original series "in the factory" brings you an interview with Maya Lin. Want to know her favorite film of 2008? You have to go to find out.

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10 Incredible Underground Lakes and Rivers
There are some really beautiful pictures here of other underground formations.

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Above and Below, is a major documentary produced by the Indianapolis Museum of Art featuring landscape sculptor Maya Lin’s new installation at the IMA and the recent development of her work. This video reveals behind-the-scenes footage from the Walla Walla Foundry in Washington State, Lin's Manhattan studio, and an underground cave system in Bedford, Indiana – her inspiration for the work Above and Below at the IMA. Interviews from leading curators and scholars of art, as well as architectural and geological history highlight Lin’s dynamic and expansive career. Importantly, the documentary includes several interviews with Maya Lin, shot throughout the duration of this project.


Maya Lin's creativeness in her piece Above and Below conveys aspects of the natural world. I thought this arts creativity shows how Asian or Japanese people love the outside culture. I would have never guessed her main purpose for the art was to join the Contemporary and the Asian gallery's together. Lin's installations always ties back to geography so it was hard for her to find something to get inspiration from because the state of Indiana has few hills and is a very flat state. Once she notices the numerous amonuts of streams and rivers that flow through Indiana, she had her mind set on making her piece connect to water some way. Blue Springs Cavern is where Lin got her inspiration for her ideas. Not only did she tie the cavern back to geological features, she also drew attention to the fact the second largest undergroung river,Blue Springs Cavern, is in fact in the state of Indiana. It was interesting to see how tedious the crossing of the wire was. Once Maya Lin finished with the entire piece she explains how it relates to the cavern. She says the top loop represents the cave itself and the bottom loop represents what is actually below the water level. It is amazing as to how she connects this piece of art to the natural world in the state of Indiana.

I think Maya Lin is wonderful and it was very interesting to hear her speak about where she gets her ideas and her processes. Thanks.

I like Maya Lin, her piece and the video in general. I thought the two female curators were very affected and not original, especially the one in stripes and the 'director of education' really did not sound very erudite, just shallow platitudes.."using line in a really amazing a pencil...". They were distracting.

i think it was very interesting

iT WAS A GOOD MOVIe.I would give it a 15or a 10. By Mckenzie Cash.

The black screen in the beginning, leading to the quote is marvelous, especially as it sets up the caves themselves
I wonder what this mound is made of?

Love the Maya Lin video! I could envision showing that in my Art Appreciation class when we talk about sculpture, installation, contemporary art, etc. What a great resource!!


By Nicholas (age 9 almost10)

I love the IMA! I would rate it five stars!*****

By Nicholas, age 9 (almost 10)


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00:00:03 [Music]

00:00:03 I think a lot of these works are very much about revealing parts of nature that we're overlooking, or we're not even thinking about

00:00:15 and we never tend to look where we can't see.

00:00:56 [Music]

00:01:08 We have so many different technological means of looking at our land, looking at the planet, aerial views, microscopic sonar views,

00:01:19 stop frame, freeze-frame motion, and my attitude is, but I am doing the same thing, I'm looking at the land and I'm conveying aspects of the natural world

00:01:30 that you might not realize.

00:01:32 [And how does he sit?]

00:01:34 Well back in 1990 when the Asian Galleries moved to the second floor, I was delighted because it had a balcony, which I think has one of the best views in all of Indianapolis

00:01:44 overlooking the Art and Nature Park, and so I always thought it would be a good idea if we could somehow incorporate Asian art onto the balcony.

00:01:56 [Okay, so we're looking at it at the right way we're going to be seeing the piece, right?]

00:02:01 [I think that line right there is a little, it arcs up too much...]

00:02:06 We immediately thought of Maya Lin. Though she's well known for her things outside on the landscape, including earthworks and mounds, she's also been working more and more with metal and

00:02:16 wall installations.

00:02:18 This terrace at 16 feet x 100 feet posed an interesting problem because it's a very long, skinny site, but I kept thinking of

00:02:29 the way in which an Asian landscape frames the view or even from an architectural point of view the way a Japanese house gives you a very tight

00:02:40 closed-in view, almost a framed view of the world outside.

00:02:45 When Maya first agreed to consider doing something out on the balcony, she was thinking in terms of the floor of the balcony itself, nothing really satisfied her

00:02:55 and then she had the wonderful idea of doing something suspended above the balcony, basically joining the Contemporary Galleries with the Asian Gallery

00:03:05 and I thought this would a perfect joining, as it were, of Asian and Contemporary art to go in a location that is shared by both the Contemporary and the Asian Galleries.

00:03:15 I started building this idea up and it just wasn't working. I think it wasn't working partly because the space was so contained and it actually posed an incredible safety issue for the terrace

00:03:26 and secondly it wasn't quite the right fit.

00:03:29 [Music]

00:03:36 You're always balancing between the intellectual conceptual idea and then the actual realized artwork.

00:03:45 Maya has an idea about how to go about doing an installation, she always ties things back to the landscape and so when we stared working in Indianapolis,

00:03:57 she immediately started to think about the geography of Indiana as a state and how often times it's thought of as flat.

00:04:06 One of my assistants is from Indiana and she said, "Well there isn't that much above ground, but did you realize there are these incredibly long

00:04:17 underground river systems?" I can remember coming in to present and everyone thought I was going to be doing this rubber landscape piece. It just didn't seem the right place for it

00:04:28 and so I had, secretly, been working on what I had fallen in love with, which is this underground river system built out in wire.

00:04:41 [You know, you see how it's just a little, you've got to attack almost, take it right in, can you get in there?]

00:04:52 [...and just mess with it a little.]

00:04:55 My work has always dealt with terrain, topology and I would look around having grown up where it's a little more hilly kind of assuming Indiana's kind of on the flat side.

00:05:06 What can I take, because I'm very site specific, what can I take from the site that really talks about what my artworks are about.

00:05:14 And so we did some research and we came up with Bluesprings Cavern, and we started looking at the Lost River and the White River, which are one of the

00:05:24 largest underground river systems in the world.

00:05:28 And that unique specialty is what inspired Maya to investigate that to see if she could somehow incorporate that into her work of art.

00:05:37 I don't think people really understand how intricate and beautiful some of these systems are.

00:05:44 Generally, when Maya starts a project, she starts sketching pretty small and we just start talking about ideas, about how to make it extremely interesting.

00:05:55 And then we started looking for certain formations that we liked and then we went in and had them target that and give us photographs every ten feet.

00:06:05 "Above and Below", basically, deals with geological features. What she has done here, has been to recreate the experience and feeling of this landscape

00:06:15 with various thicknesses of wire.

00:06:17 What is behind me is the final iteration, it's called "Above and Below" where three-fifths of the length is devoted to detailing the upper part

00:06:27 at the Bluespings Cavern and then the last two bays are describing what's below the water level in that cave.

00:06:35 [Music]

00:06:51 Well, we're sixteen feet across then 100 feet long and I don't know what scale the model was at, like, quarter inch to a foot or something like that, so it's a pretty vast

00:07:03 upscale. Then today being the first day that we have put it in space, it seemed pretty true to the model, that's a nice moment

00:07:11 when you see that happen at full scale.

00:07:14 You know it's a drawing, it's not dense with stuff or mass.

00:07:19 [This one's close to the joint.]

00:07:21 How many people realize that the second largest underground river in the United States is under the state of Indiana?

00:07:29 [Music]

00:07:53 I've been associated with the people doing the earliest mapping and exploration, back in the 1960s and early '70s.

00:08:02 The story of the cave is kind of the story of what's called the Mitchell Plateau, which is kind of a low sinkhole plane covering the south central

00:08:12 part of Indiana that's developed as erosion during what we call late Tertiary time was the streams then were cutting into the ground surface.

00:08:23 Now listen...

00:08:31 kind of reverberates.

00:08:32 The limestone being quite porous that, from the standpoint of fractures, and the water just flows through it naturally, instead of on the surface.

00:08:40 We started researching what the possibility was to begin to analyze the data and begin to reveal one of these enormous,

00:08:51 complex, beautiful underground river systems.

00:08:57 The sculpture is of part of the cave, a really grand part of the cave, that is not seen often by anyone except the explorers and people who actually

00:09:08 do the work in the cave. I didn't get to go spelunking into the caves. I saw a lot of pictures from it and it, like, really looks like the cave, which I thought,

00:09:17 I hadn't realized it was going to translate.

00:09:20 I am afraid of the dark and having to go into a cave...we had a very rushed idea because it was right before Memorial Day weekend, and

00:09:31 the cave that we went into is Bluesprings Cavern, and they get very crowded after the Memorial Day weekend. So we get this call because we've been trying to search down the data

00:09:40 and trying to get the data and they said, "Well you got to come in before Memorial Day or it'll be impossible, there'll be too many people around, you won't be able to get the data you want." So before we know it, we had about two days notice,

00:09:50 I was buying like spelunking gear having no idea how dark it was going to be, how far down, because they told us we are going to be wading up to about to here,

00:09:58 the water was going to be like fifty-five degrees. That turned out to be incredibly fun.

00:10:05 You know, pretty light weight. I can't really call it spelunking, I really haven't spelunked yet, but it was amazing.

00:10:15 This is an acoustic Doppler current profiler, and I've set it up so that it will float near surface on a real small boat,

00:10:26 so this is not our normal set up, but underneath here these four disks will shoot an acoustic beam into the water.

00:10:38 We're going across, we're making these S-curves back and forth across the cave channel and as we do, we're tracking the bottom of this particular stream,

00:10:49 so we've had depths as great as six and one-half and shallow as somewhere around a foot.

00:11:00 So I think a lot of us look at the land and because we think we know what it is, we're not seeing it anymore.

00:11:06 [I will send you these drawings...]

00:11:08 She has this passion for the beauty and the wonder of nature, but she also has the scientist's mind in the sense that the ability to go out and look at data

00:11:19 and consider how we as a species both affect our environment and also understand our environment.

00:11:27 [Music]

00:11:47 My interest in science was always there and ironically now, through the art, I'm exploring issues that I was really drawn to as a child.

00:11:59 If you think about this particular exhibition, Systematic Landscapes, for example, she is taking nature and moving it into the frame of architecture, but she approaches it

00:12:09 in a fairly unique way. She uses technology, she uses science but it begins and ends with her hand and her sense of craft.

00:12:18 That comes very much out of a sculptural tradition and when you look at her work and the abstract forms and the language that she is creating,

00:12:29 she's doing something on a massive environmental scale in Contemporary art that no one else is doing.

00:12:37 Well, I think for one thing she used line in a really amazing way, and it's a line in the same way that a pencil line or an ink brush line might define a contour.

00:12:53 [Very skewy grid of it up top...if you see what I mean...]

00:12:58 But, in this case, the line is actually made out of metal, and so the linear rendition of this landscape form is sculpture.

00:13:09 "Above and Below" is a sculpture that very much comes out of the minimalist tradition and the post-minimalist tradition in the '60s and the '70s.

00:13:17 In the early 1970s, artists went outside of the gallery into the landscape to investigate the forms of nature and the way that

00:13:27 they could intervene with those forms on a large scale, and so Maya falls within that legacy.

00:13:34 It's all about as you're working with nature, trying to make something look natural and, again, linking that to something that is handmade

00:13:43 versus manmade, industrialized, codified, mathematically organized, and taken apart bit by bit

00:13:53 and becoming almost too perfect.

00:13:59 [I would just shift those all off the ridge, but I don't know how to get the slack out of it because it almost has to take the slack out...]

00:14:16 My voice, my art, is really based completely on land and on finding inspiration from the natural world.

00:14:26 [Music]

00:14:47 I would argue that my closest links would be, historically, the 19th century landscape painters. What did they do? They gave us a way of looking at places that a lot of people

00:14:57 would never visit, but they looked at it through the means that they had, which were their eyes.

00:15:03 If you think about landscape painting as a tradition, for me the notion of landscape is it's a fragment of nature. Nature is

00:15:13 all that surrounds us, the cosmos, the life that surrounds us, huge intertwining thing. And it's something that we really cannot

00:15:23 comprehend because we're suspended in nature itself.

00:15:27 I do think that an artist like Maya Lin is an individual who has developed pretty great capacity to encounter things

00:15:38 in the world, in the natural world and derive insights from them.

00:15:44 What she's doing is using sculpture and landscape and it's the scale and it's the way she allows the viewer to physically walk through that space,

00:15:57 allows a really different type of relationship, not only with sculpture but also with landscape, as well, because her work really does live in between

00:16:07 these worlds that she operates in.

00:16:09 But I think it's the relationship between architecture and sculpture and landscape that is really crucial with her work that she contributes because it's an understanding

00:16:20 of these three major forms that happen in the environment and she brings them together.

00:16:27 She works between, in and around boundaries whether they are art and design, architecture and nature, being an Asian American, having

00:16:37 roots in Chinese culture, raised in the United States.

00:16:41 [Music]

00:17:00 Where she combines, I think, some of her own personal background and interests is that she is a modernist, great love of minimal form

00:17:10 and the ideas that were so powerful in late 20th century art, environmental art, land art, and in architecture and design.

00:17:19 Every artist who sits down to make that kind of work is making a huge number

00:17:28 of very personal and cultural choices.

00:17:32 She has, I think, an equal feeling for almost an Asian sensibility of trying to understand the world around her and,

00:17:43 like a poet in a sense, bring it back to us so that we can understand or learn from the world.

00:17:50 One could say that all of my work is exceedingly intimate no matter how public the works might be because at times I'm after a very unlearned response,

00:18:00 a very visceral response, a very immediate response where you're actually, how do you react to this piece, and it's definitely framed around an individual's experience.

00:18:11 A complete work of art requires not only the artist's creation but the viewer's interpretation and reaction to it.

00:18:19 I think all my work ends up being in-between things. Otherwise, it could exist in a science museum. It could exist in a science exhibit

00:18:28 and the only way I can ensure that it really always has lived in the world of art is that it's always a hand drawn, hand sculpted form

00:18:38 that I'm literally allowing the knowledge and the scientific information, the data, be the base or the inspiration

00:18:48 but then I'm translating it.

00:18:50 [Music]

00:19:04 I think they'll see the art in it but, intellectually, they'll need to then understand, well what is this? And that's when there'll be that moment where as they connect it back

00:19:15 to what is, literally, underneath their feet, that's part of the wonder of this piece.