Last Talk with Maya Lin

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Let’s finish up that conversation with Maya Lin about her new earthwork project, Storm King Wavefield.

LACAYO: The Wavefield is a succession of enormous grassy mounds. It’s made of planted earth, it’s outdoors and exposed to the elements. So do you expect that this piece will eventually decay?

LIN: It’ll erode, it’ll soften. In the design and construction process I think I actually increased the steepness of the slope because I knew that in time it would soften. People have asked me, “How do you deal with a living work and how it changes?” Well, you’re kind of welcoming the changes.

LACAYO: What do you want people to take away from this work? What’s the meaning?

LIN: A lot of what they’ll take away from a project is what they bring to it. What I love is that the piece changes completely in scale as you transition through it. And that’s what I’m really interested in – how people see. All I’m probably asking for is that they pay a bit closer attention to their surroundings.

LACAYO: Recently you also designed a new expanded home in lower Manhattan for the Museum of the Chinese in America (MOCA), which opens June 26.

LIN: I don’t take on much architectural work. If I did I wouldn’t be able to do the art. With architecture you end up with a business and I’ve always wanted to see this place as a studio. MOCA, which details a narrative history of Chinese Americans, had always been focused on the story of New York City’s Chinatown. With this new space, almost six times the size of their previous exhibition space, they can tell a national story. The dream of MOCA is also to create a digital MOCA, which we’ll start unfurling in the fall, to tell the story on line. And yeah, I’m really committed to the history of Chinese Americans —  how for decades we were the only race that wasn’t allowed to become American citizens, or the story of the Chinese who came over to build the railroads and the pain and discrimination they had to suffer.

LACAYO: By the way, why were you named Maya?

LIN: Because at Smith my mother had a roommate named Maya and she loved the name.

LACAYO: And of course you know what it means?

LIN: It means illusion! Or actually it’s an in-between state of being, between real and non-real. And my middle name, which is Chinese, means precious stone. I don’t know what my parents were thinking, but I think they got it right with that one.