Maya Lin Shows Us What Is Missing


“Listen to the earth,” pleaded Maya Lin during an intimate unveiling of the first component of her last public memorial at the California Academy of Sciences. Taking the shape of a very large megaphone, the large bronze and reclaimed redwood sound sculpture and video installation is sending a very clear aural and visual message: The world is speaking to us. Act now to save our planet before it’s too late.  

Mysterious animal voices and video are projected from the sculpture’s “mouthpiece” as the listening cone beckons the audience to come closer to take it all in. Text and images fade in and out of focus and connect the viewer to the causes of extinction while the ever-present sound of each animal species depicted serves as a seductive reminder of what we stand to lose. The work focuses on species already extinct like the dodo bird and golden toad, species that will most likely disappear in our lifetime like the monarch butterfly and jaguar and also on the endangered habitats these animals need to survive.

With What Is Missing?, Lin turns the idea of a static memorial on its head and instead re-imagines the monument as a dynamic object and source for continued dialogue. The piece serves as a catalyst for change and a reminder that conscientious, daily decisions can really make a difference, citing the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and DDT ban as real-life examples to prove her point. Currently the work consists of 50 slides, each segment about 20 minutes long (to mimic the frequency at which a new species becomes extinct), but Lin plans to continually expand the content, working again with such research and conservation organizations as the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Webcor, SF Arts Commission, California Academy of Sciences, World Wildlife Fund, Wildlife Conservation Society, The Nature Conservancy, IUCN, National Geographic Society, Natural Resources Defense Council and so many more.  

Commissioned by and developed in collaboration with the SF Arts Commission, this permanent addition to the City's Civic Art Collection is the perfect complement to Lin’s existing piece, Where the Land Meets the Sea. Together, they flank the East and West wings of Cal Academy and act as buttresses that reinforce the museum's mission to explore, explain and protect the natural world.

On view now at the California Academy of Sciences, 55 Music Concourse Dr., Golden Gate Park.

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