BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Maya Lin, what is "Boundaries" about?
Ms. MAYA LIN, AUTHOR, "BOUNDARIES": "Boundaries" is--I call it a
visual-verbal sketchbook in that it's half written, -half
images. It's images of all my work, from the from the first
memorial and then basically from '89 to '99. It spans 10 years of
work: art, architecture, the monuments. And it's about the
in-between areas. I sort of see the memorials as being hybrid,
somewhere between art and architecture. But it's as much about, you
know, my East-West back--heritage, art and architecture, the fact that
I use science a lot in my work. It's between science and art.
It's--it's not in terms of when I taught--when I thought of the
word--title "Boundaries," I'm not thinking just of the space on either
side, but the actual line that divides, and thinking of that line as
being a place that takes on dimensionality, it takes on a sense of
LAMB: How much did you have to do with the photography?
Ms. LIN: I actually took, I would say, maybe 30 percent, 40 percent
of the pictures, and then I--then I selected everything else.
LAMB: What's this?
Ms. LIN: This is a picture taken by a friend of rocks in a stream.
And again, this one is the lead-in. I-- write a lot when I
make a work, so this one is water out of stone, glass that flows like
water, the fluidity of a rock stopping time. And it
just--sometimes I really sketch verbally, and that actually was just
thoughts I had about my work. And then the book designer started
working with me and started composing images. And the first four
lead-in photographs of the book and the end are all from nature. And
I--and I talk about how so much of my work is inspired by the natural
landscape, and so I deliberately wanted to end and begin the book with
works that are not--that are from nature.
LAMB: Where is this picture from?
Ms. LIN: This is an image stock photograph taken from, I think--I
can't remember which desert, but it's all about-- you know, I see myself as existing not on either side, but on the line that
divides, just like the image that starts the book is the edge of the
ocean, which is--again, where does the line of water end and where
does landscape begin? So the initial thought of the book is I feel I
exist on the boundaries. And then it's just--I actually again had a
friend go out and shoot that image for me.
LAMB: You dedicate the book to your family and your late father.
Ms. LIN: Yeah.
LAMB: Why? Why your father?
Ms. LIN: Because my father and my mother played a very strong
influence on my--my aesthetic, and my father was a ceramicist and a
potter. And actually, there's an essay in the book called Shaping the
Earth, which is about--which is, in a way, how I think when you're a
child, you--you're not a--you're not aware of things that are right
next to you that are so obvious to you. And the--the beginning of the
book is my hands holding a rock, and in this essay, Shaping the Earth,
I talk about how, you know, everything, from the pots we ate from--to
the furniture we--we grew up with, my father made, and it never
occurred to me until after my father died. And I was looking down at
him, that his hands were extremely delicate and graceful, a potter's
hands. You know, I thought of my father as a much stronger,
And in the end, I say it; I say --I didn't realize this, he gave
me his hands. And with that came, though I couldn't pull a pot to
save my life, but just his ability to work with clay, I translated
into other mediums, because a lot of the sculptural materials I use
are very plastic sculptural materials--clay, wax, lead,
beeswax--almost fluid, not quite hard. Glass is technically a
super cooled liquid; it's not a solid. So everything's slightly
plastic, fluid mediums. And--and I entitled that essay Shaping the
Earth because so much of my--even my buildings started in plasticine.
It's a model material that has oil as opposed to a water, so it never
dries. And I basically carve--carve artworks out of the earth in a
lot of what I do.
LAMB: Where was your father located that he was a ceramicist?
Ms. LIN: He trained at University of Washington, where my parents
met, and Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, where I grew up. And he was
first a ceramics profession--professor there, and then director of
fine arts and then dean of fine arts. So I actually grew up as a
child on an arts campus. I was casting bronzes by the time I was in
high school. I was sort of escaping from high school to go play in
the art department.
LAMB: One of the first things in your book is a page of--of
Ms. LIN: Right.
LAMB: ...work or it's actually printing. What is this?
Ms. LIN: This is the essay I wrote that I submitted along with the
drawings for the competition, entry number 1026, which I think is also
in the book, and I basically designed the memorial as part of a school
project. And then...
LAMB: Which memorial?
Ms. LIN: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial. And then when I decided to
enter the actual competition, I knew drawings wouldn't quite describe
it, so I actually took many more months to write that description,
which really was about an experiential passage of what that piece is
about and how you would walk through it to experience it. And I'm
pretty convinced it's that essay, with these various serial pastel
images. I think one of the jurors made--made a comment, as he was
walking past in the selection process, `He must really know what he's
doing to dare to do something so naive.' But then they kept coming
back to the design, and I think it was this, again, mix of something
very, very pastoral, these sketches, very, very--very young, and then
this written essay.
LAMB: Now what year was your design?
Ms. LIN: That was 1981; I designed it, and entered it in 1982.
LAMB: How old were you in '81?
Ms. LIN: I was 20--21.
LAMB: And where did you design it?
Ms. LIN: I was at Yale as an undergraduate.
LAMB: What year were you?
Ms. LIN: I was a senior. In fact, as I was graduating from
college--the day I graduated, I was driven down to Washington to begin
to work on the memorial.
LAMB: Now this copy that you have in this book, you say you wrote
back in 1983 and put it away.
Ms. LIN: Pretty much. I mean, I did do a little editing when it
finally came around to it. But yeah, I basically--a lot of people at
the time asked me if I would talk about the controversy. And I
didn't, and I didn't want to, and I think that article was actually
written for an arts magazine, and I couldn't--I couldn't get myself to
submit it. I don't know why. I think I realized after I saw the
documentary "Freedom Walk"--and it was a documentary that came out in
'95 and it covers the memorial, and it covers some of the controversy.
Frieda was very careful to never let me be aware of how much taped
footage she was using, because she knew that I'd probably never agree
to let her do this documentary, because I was putting it aside. I was
saying, `I don't want to deal with this.' I was sort of shunting it
out. And it was actually quite emotional for me to see the
documentary. I didn't see it--I deliberately respected her view as an
artist. I waited till it was completely done, and then I saw it in a
theater and I--I--I was bawling. I was literally--for two days, I was
fairly upset, because it brought back a lot of, oh, tough times that I
happily had kind of put away.
LAMB: Before we ask you more about that, where do you live now?
Ms. LIN: New York.
LAMB: What do you do now?
Ms. LIN: I have a studio. I work downtown, and I basically spend my
time between art and architectural projects pretty much all over the
country. I don't take on too many architectural projects because I
s--because I want to spend as much time on the artworks. I don't want
to have a firm; I don't want to have a large place. I have maybe two
to three assistants at any given time, some trained in art, some in
architecture, because again, I can -very rarely find someone
who mixes the two and can balance. And--and then--like right now I'm
finishing up three or four or five buildings, and I'll go back into my
studio. So I, again, split my time, sort of back and forth. I
LAMB: How much education do you have?
Ms. LIN: How much education? I guess I went four years undergrad in
architecture at Yale, took a year off to build the memorial, tried to
go back to architecture school at Harvard, found myself taking one too
many shuttles down to Washington to testify, 'cause that's when the
controversy was fully blown, went back to Yale in '83 and finished up
my master's degree there.
LAMB: Do you have a family?
Ms. LIN: I have a family. I have a husband, Daniel Wolf, who's an
art dealer, and two children--two young children. I've got two girls,
a three-year-old an--and a 16-month-old. So I basically am going to
be spending as much time playing with them as working in my
studio. So I'm going to disappear for a while.
LAMB: Go back to what you said earlier. You said the `controversy.'
Ms. LIN: Yeah.
LAMB: What was the controversy?
Ms. LIN: You know--I mean, in a weird way, I don't --I briefly
talk about it in the book, what was the controversy? The controversy
was that people didn't like the design that was selected after it was
selected. And I think people felt that on a lot of different reasons.
It was not your traditional color. It was not your traditional shape.
It was not at all vertical. It listed all the names; it did so
chronologically. It was not usual. And I think--it also, I think,
was controversial partially because of who designed it. I was Asian,
and I think that was misinterpreted the wrong way.
And so I think for a brief period of time--and I do want to say it was
unusual how short a time it took to get this memorial built--it was, I
think, very hotly debated. I think there were many criticisms that
someone as young as I was, who could never have experienced or
understood that war, how could she be the one left to design
something? And I think oddly enough, because I was too young to have
been embroiled in the politics, I--I had made a choice; I
actually--unlike many of the designs that I've worked on since then, I
consciously decided not to read anything about the politics
surrounding that war. I made a call that the politics shouldn't get
in the way of this work, that you were going to have people whose
names are listed, who believed they should be there, and those who
protested it, who--who went because they were drafted. I wanted both
sides to be able to rest and not overtly get involved in forming an
And I think this happens in many of those--my works. And I think a
lot of people say, `Well, you're a political artist,' and I would go,
`No, not necessarily.' I am drawn or have been drawn to work on
issues: war, race, gender. But I don't have an overt political
statement that I want to get across. If anything, my approach to the
memo--the Vietnam Memorial was to make a piece that would be neutral
and yet would ask us to face these individual lives lost on an
individual basis. Now that's new. That's--to experience one-on-one.
And the veterans chose to have the names listed. Though I designed
this for a class, I found out halfway in the design that they
requested all the names to be listed. That inherently is a political
statement, that we want to recognize these individual lives lost. And
it--and I think a lot of artisan designers, when they saw that, almost
looked at that q--requirement as a chore. So they'd find a form, and
then they were trying to stuff the names on it. I basically allowed
the names to be the memorial. That's it. Because in a way--I mean, I
went back to the idea of what--I mean, a lot of criticism was it was
abstract, you know? `It's modernist, it's cold, it's inhuman.' And I
kept thinking, `Well, what's more realistic to bring back someone's
memory than the person's name?' No one image, no one edifice is going
to recollect and react to you the way a person's name will.
LAMB: You mentioned about being Asian. Where were you born?
Ms. LIN: Athens, Ohio.
LAMB: And where were your parents born?
Ms. LIN: My mother was born in Shanghai and my father was born in
LAMB: And you--you say in the book that you designed this before you
saw the land.
Ms. LIN: No. I thought up what ideas I had about how I wanted
to--to be honest about war, how I wanted it--to make it very honest
about the names and about--about acknowledging loss. I thought about
what a memorial, you know, to the Vietnam War should be. In terms of
thoughts generally behind it, then I put all that thinking aside and I
went to see the site. And it was on the site that I just decided I'd
cut open the Earth.
LAMB: Had you entered your--the--the contest?
Ms. LIN: No. I basically--it was the fall of 1981. No...
LAMB: And your class...
Ms. LIN: ...the spring--no, the spring of '80. Not the--the fall of
1980. We're in class, we're studying funereal architecture. A group of us--as a senior at Yale, you can choose your thesis. About
six of us got together and decided we wanted to study architecture and
how it relates to mortality. In other words, how man deals with his
own mortality in the built form. We found an adviser, Professor Andy
Burr, who agreed to be our professor and we started designing
projects. You know, one was a memorial to World War III. I can't
remember some of the other assignments.
Someone saw a poster up, Vietnam Veterans memorial competition, and we
thought, `What a great way to end the course. We'll have our own
design charette.' And so I designed it, but I star--I had started
researching it when I was researching the World War--the memorial to
World War III. And so I had started working into an idea of, `Well,
what is a war memorial? What--what has it been historically?
What is it now?'
And--and then I went to see the site. It was around Thanksgiving
time. I had actually gone to see my parents, and then on my way back,
I rendezvoused with a bunch of the students in the class and we went
to see the site. And it was a very cold day. I took one look at the
site and I actually thought it was a beautiful park, and again, I
didn't want to make a piece that would overwhelm the site.
LAMB: Got some video that was shot yesterday, and this is, you know,
near the end of October.
Ms. LIN: Right.
LAMB: And on the screen there is the Capitol to show you kind of a
perspective for someone who's never been here.
Ms. LIN: Right.
LAMB: This is what you saw when you came.
Ms. LIN: Yeah. Well, I didn't see that.
LAMB: No, but you saw this piece of land.
Ms. LIN: I saw this beautiful park, and I think in the end essay, I
say I still want the site to remain a park, a place where people could
come to it, that nothing I...
LAMB: That's the Lincoln Memorial.
Ms. LIN: Right.
LAMB: I didn't mean to interrupt. I wanted people to see where it
was. Go ahead.
Ms. LIN: Nothing I did--I still wanted you to be able to walk on to
the site. And again, anything I've done has been a merger with the
landscape. It's not been about creating some large, powerful form
that in a way supplants the land. So it's about working with. I
mean, there's a real--there's sort of a harmony going on. And in a
way, you know, I--I basically had wonderful agreements--disagreements
with the architects of record, Kupelecci, because they could not
understand why I wouldn't want to make such a thin, veneer surface.
This is a monument. Make those walls two to three feet thick.
And I kept going, `No, no, no. I don't see it as like a physical
presence inserted into the land. I literally see it as a geode. I'm
polishing the Earth and putting the names on that surface.'
LAMB: You can see there how thin it is.
Ms. LIN: Yeah. How--it's very, very thin.
LAMB: You said that the black granite couldn't be bought from Canada
Ms. LIN: Yeah. I mean, we--I mean, this is the funny thing. It was
very odd. All of a sudden, we were working with the veterans
about--everything got politicized, down to--we looked at Swedish black
granite, we looked at Canadian black granite, we looked at South
African black granite. We settled on Indian black granite. And I
remember one of the comments from the veterans was it would be very
hard to find a granite from Canada or Sweden because, again, there
were draft dodgers who went there, so we--they didn't--they wanted a
LAMB: Why? I mean, what was the...
Ms. LIN: Again, it was highly--by that point, it had become fairly
highly political, and I think there were questions about one of the
juries being a member of the Communist Party, things like that. They
wanted the thing to remain as neutral as possible because I think at
that time, it had gone in under the Carter administration. It was
being built under the Reagan administration. And you had, basically,
an attempt--at one point, I think a politician said, `Even though this
is a neutral statement, we need to politicize the design.'
And there was actually a real question as to--at the apex, because I
had not put an--anything there. Well, they came up with a paragraph,
and a paragraph that would ad--have added sort of a political meaning.
And I kept going, `Well, we've got 1959 and it's yea high, and we've
got 1975 and it's--let's put in three lines. And again, just keep it
very simple, keep it so that you don't add a political meaning. You
let people come to this place and come away with their own thoughts.'
LAMB: We've got some video where one of the park rangers is, you
Ms. LIN: Right.
LAMB: ...the--on the piece of paper for somebody who wants to see the
name. Did you think that would happen?
Ms. LIN: I didn't think past one thought. I knew people would touch
the names, and I actually knew people would cry. I--I don't know why
I knew that. Other than that, I really didn't think of how it would
be read as being a--such a popular piece. I think--I mean, I think
it's the only way I got through that time. I only could think of one
person's reaction to it always. And that's the way I always am. It's
a one-on-one experience, no matter how many people are there.
LAMB: You wanted the names chronological?
Ms. LIN: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: And they aren't?
Ms. LIN: They are.
LAMB: They are chronological?
Ms. LIN: Absolutely.
LAMB: But chronological in--in--in time, but not by--not by
Ms. LIN: Chronological in time. No, absolutely. The chronology, to
me--and it begins and ends at the apex. It's like an open book. '59,
the beginning of the war, with the short prologue; '75, at the bottom
on the left. It's like an open book, the beginning and the--the end
of the war meet, the war comes full circle. It's a closed time line,
but it's broken by the Earth. By having the names be listed
chronologically, any returning veteran can find his or her time place
on the memorial. And in so doing, if you know one call, you'll find
others in close proximity. And I--I was trying to tap into a sense of
bringing them back to that immediate memory. There's something
called--you know, I--I talk about stopping time, where present, past,
future--it all kind of comes to a point. And by having to relive that
past, it forces you to face it, and then you have to walk out
into--into the present time.
LAMB: Tell the story about how you found out you had won.
Ms. LIN: Oh, it's a --it's a strange one. I was in class,
actually. And I had entered the competition as an exercise. You
know, students do it. It's good practice. I believed in it. But,
you--you know, you don't enter something like this at the age of 20,
21. You forget about it.
I get a call from my roommate, and she calls me out of class and goes,
`You just got a phone call from Washington. They're calling back in
five minutes.' You've never seen someone run faster out of a class.
My professor was sort of wondering what's going on. And they called
up. Some people that said, `Well, we're from the Vietnam Veterans
Memorial Fund. Could we come ask you a few questions about your
And I was convinced I was number 100, not a big deal. They just were
asking me a few questions, like drainage or something like that, and
they all flew up. And there were three of them, and they sat down in
my dorm room. And I think it--what they told me later is they were
freaking out because I wasn't just a student, I was an undergraduate.
And they were going to an undergraduate dorm in Saybrook College at
Yale. And they're all sort of hunched into our--the living room, and
Colonel Shay was talking in this very sort of unemotional way about,
`Well, this was the largest competition ever held, open to everyone,
and you won.'
And then he kept going. He didn't miss a beat. And I'm, like--just
listening and my roommate catches it before I do. But again--I mean,
I'm a funny person in that it took me--until it was built, I did not
believe this would get built, that--I knew it was formalistically
extremely different. And I'm also someone who never, like,
counts--you know, counts on anything until it's real. And so I
basically braced myself, because having studied competition processes,
as an architecture student will, it's very rare that something gets
built the way it was conceived. It just doesn't happen that way.
LAMB: Did you--what'd you get for--for building it, for designing
Ms. LIN: Oh, I got--I got an award. I got an award.
Ms. LIN: They didn't pay you?
Ms. LIN: No, they--they gave me a--the--the competition award.
LAMB: And there were 1,400 entries?
Ms. LIN: Yeah.
LAMB: When did you know that it was going to be tough? What was the
first time you said, `This isn't going to be all that much fun?'
Ms. LIN: I think very early on. It was--they had shuttled me
down--they had flown me down to Washington to meet with the whole
Vietnam Veteran Fund. And I'm actually very--shy person, and I didn't
know what to do. And they wanted the thing kept very closed, so I called my parents, but they didn't want me going--talking to anyone,
so I was fairly isolated.
And it was the very initial -press conference. And they made a
model. They didn't talk to me, they just made the model and they had
pushed the design way to the back. And I said at one point, `You
know, that model isn't accurate. You really want to split the
difference between for'--`No, no, no, it's just a press conference
model. Don't--don't worry about it.' And I'm going, `It is such a
simple piece, everything matters.' And I could just--I instantly read
that there was going to be interesting issues coming up as to how
something like this was going to get realized.
And I actually--I talk about it in the book a little, that I basically
went through a very internal, very tough struggle as to who the
architect of record would be, al--who would work with me to get the
thing built. And I--I think at the time--I think they took one look
at me and to be fair to them, they thought, `She's a kid and she
can't--she certainly'--you know, and I did a lot of publicity, because
it--it was sort of a direct fund-driven situation, and--and they--and
I was caught doing a lot of interviews. But basically, all I was
concerned about was making sure that what I--what I envisioned got
So I think from the start, we had sort of cross purposes. They sort
of assumed, `Oh, you wouldn't want to be interested, and--and you're
just a kid. And--and it's so simple. It's so simple.' Well, and
I'm like, `I am obsessive about detailing, down to the whatever.'
Anyway, the end result is the architect of record selected was
who--Cesar Pelli, who was then dean of Yale, had recommended. I think
he was the absolute right choice. But there was a little bit of an
internal power struggle that left grudges. And I think those grudges
left a little bit of ill will, so that they didn't know where I was
coming from and I didn't know where they were coming from. And it all
was--you know, it all smoothed over in the end, but it left the entire
process a little difficult going through.
LAMB: The name--one of the few names you use in the book is Ross
Ms. LIN: Right.
LAMB: What do you think of his involvement?
Ms. LIN: You know, Ross was part of a group that basically felt that
the veterans--what they really needed--in fact, I think he came over
once. I was working in the architect's office and he said,
`Aren't--are--aren't you sure they just don't need a parade?' And I
was sitting there going, `No, that's actually not what--they need
something that makes them real--feel the catharsis. You have to face
the situation in order to get over it. If you pretend it never
happened, if you pretend it wasn't traumatic, that's not going to help
you.' So I basically saw Ross and company as a group of very
well-intentioned people. We just basically had a huge disagreement as
to what would help.
LAMB: I want to ask you about two statues.
Ms. LIN: Yes.
LAMB: I know they're not your favorite topic. The first one we'll
Ms. LIN: Right.
LAMB: ...is the statue of the soldiers. Do you know when this was
Ms. LIN: '82, '83.
LAMB: And why was it built?
Ms. LIN: I would say it was built--and it was a done deal before
anyone had seen or experienced the memorial--and that a compromise had
to be agreed upon. When Perot and company started fighting the fund,
and they were very admiral to defend the design--we were fighting for
groundbreaking. Groundbreaking was not allowed to go forward, unless
the idea of a compromise, a more human, more figurative work, would be
LAMB: Did you design this?
Ms. LIN: No, I did not. Sculptor Frederick Hart was--was given the
commission. Now originally, those statues, which are higher than 10
feet--and the wall is only 10 feet h--tall--their original intention
was to place the statues right at the apex, so their heads would be
poking up above the design. I fought that very hard. I--I can say
that, yes, at the time, they didn't understand what the piece would
be. They thought it was going to be this very cold, modernist, Ivy
Leaguer doing this intellectual thing. The sad thing is through the
course of the summer, I actually was told by Park Service officials
that the then-Secretary of the Interior Watt would visit the site
quite often. And at one point, he--he apparently told a Park
Service employee, `You know, it's too bad. I kind of like this
piece.' But it was too late. They had already decided on the
addition. So then it became a battle as to where those statues would
be placed, and I can only be happy that they were moved outside, so
that you don't have a confusion of two works, working right on top of
each other. And you basically have--I mean, I say it. I mean, it's
sort of like the memorial--that placement, in a way, con--memorializes
the battle because you had an idea of figurative is less--figurative
is more responsive to humans than--than the abstraction of the names.
LAMB: The other statues are the nurses.
Ms. LIN: The nurses--my only comment on that is one--I-- again, I
heard someone say, `Well, if the three men weren't there, we wouldn't
want the three women.' And it's a pity that--that, basically, one is
added to balance out the other, and both I find totally
LAMB: And when was this?
Ms. LIN: This one, I can't remember.
LAMB: But it was later?
Ms. LIN: It was later.
LAMB: And it sits a little bit farther...
Ms. LIN: It sits on the other end, farther away. So that basically,
it's almost like the one is to balance off the earlier one, the
women there to balance the men. The men, I think, had they only
waited till this was up, they would have understood that it is a
memorial meant for the living, as well as the dead. See, their
argument was, `Oh, no, that's for the dead. We need something for the
living soldier,' when they didn't really understand what the impact
LAMB: How did this whole experience change your life?
Ms. LIN: Oh, I went right back into graduate school and got to work,
very hard at work. And I mean--I mean, I think the body of the work
that's in the book is 10 years, '89 to '99. And it's a body of work
that spans monuments, artworks and architecture. And I think, you
know, the Civil Rights Memorial was the work I completed after the
Vietnam. And in so doing, the Southern Poverty Law Center asked me
to--if I would consider making a memorial to civil rights, and I was of two minds. One, I was very aware of how large the Vietnam
Memorial would be in people's minds. And if I did yet another
memorial, would I indeed be typecast? But secondly, I was stunned
that there hadn't been a national Civil Rights Memorial. And as I
started reading about the history of the civil rights movement, I was
shocked. I didn't even realize that in 1963, someone was killed for
using a--the wrong bathroom; that even though I was a child growing up
in these time periods, I hadn't been really taught it in school. And
how frightening it is that we can lose track of history, we can forget
so quickly. And so I began to think of this piece as a-- in a way,
a teaching tool, a historical teaching tool.
LAMB: It's hard to see it--I mean, it--it's hard to see what it
really does here.
Ms. LIN: Right.
LAMB: I'm going to show it again in your book. Where is it located?
Ms. LIN: It's located at Montgomery, Alabama, at the Southern
Poverty Law Center's headquarters. And it consists of a water table,
which is a conically shaped, very asymmetrical table. It's only 31
inches tall, with water coming up out of the that hole--center
LAMB: Right there.
Ms. LIN: ...and streaming over text. And what the text is, it's a
time line. And it begins in 1954, Brown vs. Board of Education. The
text goes around clockwise, ending with Martin Luther King's
assassination in '68. It intertwines people's deaths with legislative
events, issues that happened, a riot happened, a protest happened,
someone was killed. And again, what I was trying to say is that, in
history, this was a people's movement. And sometimes one person's
actions led to better legislation, and sometimes legislation led to
someone's death through a riot. And it's like a causal effect. And
so what I was trying to attempt was giving people a brief glimpse of
what that era was about.
LAMB: Now what's this?
Ms. LIN: This is the Women's Table, which is for Yale University. I
was asked--it's a sculpture. It's a water table, again, where water
comes up. And if you go to the next page, I don't know if you can
LAMB: Not right. The next page is...
Ms. LIN: No, I guess it's before then.
LAMB: It's the page before it, yeah.
Ms. LIN: Page before. It's hard to tell.
LAMB: It's hard--it's hard to read this, so...
Ms. LIN: There's a spiral of numbers coming out of that water font,
a group of zeroes. Then it goes to single digits, double digits...
LAMB: Goes around there, yeah.
Ms. LIN: ...ends with quadruple digits. What does it do? Well, I
think then-President Benno Schmidt had asked me to design a sculpture
dedicated to women at Yale, and I had no idea what that meant. He was
thinking that--it was 1988 when he called me in '88-'89. '69 to '89
would mark the 20th anniversary of co-education at Yale. And so I
think he was thinking commemorate that. And I started researching all
about the history of women at Yale, and I started discovering, you
know, the very first class of women was in the 1890s. It was a school
of art. And before that, women were allowed to sit in on classes, and
they were called silent listeners. And I thought, `That--that's sort
of a horrible phrase. We're there, but we're--we're--you know, we're
seen, but we're not heard.' So I counted them. So that spiral of
numbers counts the women at--at Yale enrolled, both undergrad and
grad, from when there were none to the date in which I put the piece
in, which was 1993. And so the enrollment stops there. And it's an
open-ended time line. Unlike the Vietnam, which is closed, the civil
rights, which we use the gap to sort of signify past and future, and
then the Yale table marks a beginning. But, of course, there is no
end, and it's a spiral.
LAMB: How long does it take you to do something like the Civil Rights
Ms. LIN: Oh, they all take about two to three years, from beginning
LAMB: What do you do?
Ms. LIN: I sit down and I research and read for maybe three months,
six months, sometimes nine months. For the artworks especially, I
don't--I don't have a deadline. I basically tell people these
projects take two to three years, but I will not work on a--you have
to submit an idea by this time, because I don't want to force it. So
I go through a very studied process, and then...
LAMB: Is this you?
Ms. LIN: This is me climbing all over what will become the Civil
Rights Memorial. I'm checking the seams on it in the quarry.
LAMB: Where is this?
Ms. LIN: This is in a quarry in Vermont, which put the piece
together for me. So basically, it's two to three years to make a
piece, just figuring out how the water would flow. The water doesn't
drop at the lip. It turns the edge of that piece and flows to the
base, so you don't get wet when you walk up to it. So there are many
technical aspects. In fact, all of these works--there's a clock in
there, "Eclipse Time," and actually a clock I just dedicated at
Stanford University. The one at Stanford, it's a 14-ton--no, 11-ton
piece of stone that tells the minutes, the seconds, the hours, and
then what you don't realize is the entire piece of stone is making a
rotation. It makes one rotation every year. So it's slowly moving.
So every time I seem to--when I've made the artworks, I've sort of
reinvented and I've had to kind of figure out how to get it built.
LAMB: Jumping to the end, this is the Langston Hughes Library, Haley
Farm, Clinton, Tennessee.
Ms. LIN: Right.
LAMB: And we'll pull back--Richard Hall's working our camera here--to
show us this. Explain this.
Ms. LIN: This is a library. I was asked by Marian Wright Edelman.
She invited me down to Haley Farm. It's in Tennessee. And she wanted
me to think about designing a library and a chapel. And I saw this
barn. It was an existing barn. It was not being used. It was
completely derelict. And--and I asked Marian, `What about putting the
library in this barn?' And so I cut open the barn. Whatever is new is
sort of on the inside skin, and I left the outside very raw, rustic,
except to maximize the amount of daylight. And then as you walk up,
one of the cribs that raises the barn up is your entry-level stairs
and elevator upstairs. The other one is a--is a bookstore. And you
go upstairs, and the entire inside is completely new with a view out
to the barn. And so it's all about mixing old and new, creating a
raised--a reading room up sort of overlooking the pond. And that pond
is also where I'm going to site the chapel, which I'm presently
working on. So the idea was, again, I'm fixated in time, old and new.
So I've done something old and something completely new.
LAMB: Who was Langston Hughes?
Ms. LIN: Langston Hughes was an Afro--African-American writer, and
actually, the sponsor of the chapel--I mean, of the library. When
Regio and his wife, Louise, requested that the--the chapel be--I mean,
the library be dedicated to him.
LAMB: Where is Clinton, Tennessee?
Ms. LIN: Clinton, Tennessee is very near Knoxville, and it is the
site of Alex Haley's old--his estates.
LAMB: And do you have to politically agree with whatever's going on
in these things? I know you said you weren't very--you weren't trying
to make political statements, but do you have to agree with the
politics or you can't do it?
Ms. LIN: I--yes, pretty much. I mean, they have to be near and dear
to me. And I think I take on--I work with a lot of educational
institutions, certain--like right now, I'm working for a--a--a
foundation called The Greyston Foundation. We're building a bakery in
Yonkers. All their profits--they bake all of the brownies for Ben &
Jerry's, and they--all the profits go to housing for the homeless and
AIDS hospice. I get drawn in the architecture to working with a lot
of people that actually probably wouldn't consider bringing in design,
because they think they can't afford it. And like I finished for NYU,
an Asian-American department. We had about--oh, we had about three to
four months, start to finish. The director called me up and said,
`You know, I don't know if you have the time.' But I actually am
challenged sometimes by that because if I can make good design, where
normally you wouldn't see a design, it's sort of a joy.
LAMB: How often, when somebody--you introduce yourself to somebody
and say, `I'm Maya Lin,' do they immediately know the name?
Ms. LIN: Nobody knows me.
Ms. LIN: Nobody knows me. I mean, I have been recognized so
seldomly, and I like that. The works--I mean, everybody knows the
Vietnam Memorial, but nobody would connect my face to it or even my
name. And I--I kin--I'm lucky that way. Because I really do believe
the works are out there and they're very public, but that allows me to
remain very, very private, which again, it's that dichotomy. Can you
be very public, you know? And in this world, I'm lucky. But I don't
think in art and architecture, you're recognizable normally outside of
your fields. And it's--it's--it's nice. I am so, you know, not a
celebrity, and I never will be and--knock on wood.
LAMB: Now what happens when they find out that you're the person that
designed the Lincoln--I mean, the Vietnam Memorial?
Ms. LIN: People have been incredibly kind and warm and, in a way,
they've shared with me very moving, very personal stories about that
piece. And I think it's amazing. I mean, I don't take it for granted
that that first piece out works so well for so many people. As an
artist, it's a double-edged sword, because you basically have to move
on, and you move on emotionally as soon as it's done. So, you know,
in a funny way, when a lot of people say, `You know, what do you do
for an encore?' Well, frankly, like, the image you're looking at there
is something--"The Wave Field," which is the sculpted ways of Earth.
That's technically stumped me more, in a way, than the memorial.
LAMB: Explain this. Where is it?
Ms. LIN: This is in Ann Arbor, Michigan, at the University of
Michigan for the Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Aerospace Engineering
Building. And it is a 10,000-square-foot artwork I installed that is
based on my studies of fluid dynamics in flight. I came across a--an
image of a repetitive water wave and knew the piece would be about
that. That's probably one of my strongest artworks, and that led to a
body of work called "Topologies," which went inside a gallery and deal
with the landscape. There's a--a piece in there that is, if you go
the other way...
LAMB: Yeah. I've seen it. I'll have to find it. What's--what...
Ms. LIN: You're close. You're very close. Can I...
Ms. LIN: Right there.
LAMB: Thank you.
Ms. LIN: And that is...
LAMB: It's hard to see on camera.
Ms. LIN: It's very hard to see on camera.
LAMB: What is it?
Ms. LIN: If you pan back, if you--if the camera goes back a little
bit, you can see the entire piece. It's a 16-foot by 18-foot
sculpture made out of cut particle board. I'm very interested in
stratographic--stratographic layers of the Earth. Except this one, I
stacked vertically. And it's just an undulating wave field brought
into a museum environment. So how could I take this large-scale
landscape aesthetic and bring it inside the neutral grounds of a
museum? So again, I'm right--I'm actually right now working on a
series of mappings that will be almost--well, I can't really say, but
they'll--they'll deal with the topography of the ocean floor.
LAMB: There is--I don't know if it's a memorial, but work that you've
done in here for the Rockefeller...
Ms. LIN: Right.
LAMB: ...Building, Rockefeller Foundation in New York.
Ms. LIN: Yeah. It's called "10 Degrees North," and it's
actually--its centerpiece is a map of the Earth. But when you first
see it, it looks like much more of an abstracted landscape. And as
you walk up to it, and especially from the second floor of their
lobby, you realize it's a map of the world. Shall I find it?
It's--you're very close to it. It's right here. Sorry.
LAMB: It's hard to juggle when you--here we go. There we go.
Ms. LIN: It's right there. it's a
series of benches, tables, sculptures surrounding this entry area of
which the centerpiece is this cut in stone map of the Earth. And
water is percolating up from the different trenches, the Jave Trench,
the Japan Trench, and the water is the sea-level water. Why is it
called "10 Degrees North"? You know, when I started researching about
the Rockefeller Foundation, the well-being of mankind throughout the
world, well, when we start helping out, it's always through our
perspective. And maps are inherently very political. And any
rectangular projection of the Earth is distorted. And most of our
views are a Mercator projection where you've taken an equal projection
from the equator. Well, there's much more land mass in the Northern
Hemisphere towards the top of the North Pole than in the South. So
our--it enlarges those areas. So our images in North America and Asia
are actually much larger than they really are. So I asked a map maker
to take the projection from 5 degrees, 10 degrees, 15 degrees, trying
to make it a little more equivalent. So it's all subtly about how
maps are very political, and we actually have to be careful from what
perspective we're looking at.
LAMB: You also talk in your book about this business about being an
Ms. LIN: Right.
LAMB: ...and that you--you were born in Athens, Ohio.
Ms. LIN: Right.
LAMB: What year did your parents come over to the United States?
Ms. LIN: They immigrated in the mid-'40s. They came out separately.
My mother came out on a scholarship to go to Smith College. My dad
came out a little earlier. And he--they met at the University of
Washington. And they brought us up, my brother and I, we don't
speak Chinese. It was an age before you were brought up bilingual.
They wanted us to fit in, and we did. My, you know, friends will say,
`You're--you're so Ohioan, you're so Midwestern. I've never met a
more'--and then little by little in my -late 20s, 30s, as I started
developing my work, I'm realizing I am really pulled to as much of an
Asian aesthetic, this non-didactic, you sort of bring--allow people to
bring their thoughts. It--it's more subtle, it's quieter. It's all
about education and, in a way, about self-introspection. And I--in a
way, I rebelled against a lot of sort of the standard, the Western
European architectural great works. I ended up studying in Japan
for a summer, just so I could absorb some of that cultural climate.
I--I went to Kyoto and spent, you know, a good deal of that summer
there. And, you know, I'm Chinese, so what am I doing with an
affinity towards Japanese architecture? I always felt a little
And then my mother takes my brother and I back to China, and we
get to visit my father's childhood home. And...
LAMB: To Fukien?
Ms. LIN: Fukien Province.
LAMB: Province. Where is it?
Ms. LIN: It's built on a river. It's--God, it's near Xuzhou. I'm
terrible. We sort of did a circuit. We went from Shiyan, Shanghai,
Xuzhou, then into Fukien. And I'm looking at this house or what
remains of it, and it's a Japanese-style house. And I'm going to my
mother, `Mother, what is this?' And it's, like, `Oh, your grandmother
loved--your grandmother loved Japanese architecture,' and they had
this house built in the style of a Japanese house. So there I
am--obviously, my dad grew up in this house. He designed much of the
furniture in the way out of our house in Athens, and I--you know, you
grow up and you absorb what your cultural surrounding is. So
I--I--again, something clicked, and I'm going, `That's perhaps--this
is where I get this in--strong affinity towards sort of the Shinto
Shrines of Japan, the--the Japanese courtyard-style houses.' It's
also, I mean, the amazing ability they have of framing the landscape.
So no matter where you are in the building, you're really asking
someone to look out into a very specific view of nature.
LAMB: Is your mom still alive?
Ms. LIN: Yes, she is. She's--she's retired. She lives in Athens,
Ohio. And I'm actually going to go back and spend, with my kids, a
very long Thanksgiving with her, which I'm looking forward to.
LAMB: Did your father live long enough to see all this?
Ms. LIN: Unfortunately not, and I think that's--that's painful to
me. He didn't even--he didn't get to see the dedication of the Civil
LAMB: Did he get to see the dedication of the Vietnam Memorial?
Ms. LIN: Yes, he did. And that was great. And, you know, I mean,
you just wish for certain things, and I think when you're--you're
younger, you think your parents are always going to be there for you.
So my father was considerably older than my mother, so, yeah, the book
is very special, because it's dedicated to him. So much is about him,
in a way.
LAMB: When did you decide to do a book?
Ms. LIN: After I saw the documentary.
LAMB: In five--'95?
Ms. LIN: Yeah.
LAMB: And then how did you go about doing this book?
Ms. LIN: Well, in a way, the writing was all there, because as I've
made these works, I've written a lot about them. Sometimes I started
with w--a written sketch. But to put it all together, I deliberately
made a book that its size is odd. It's--well, is it a coffee table
book or is it a textbook? So it's all about ambiguity. And in so
doing, I deliberately asked--I chose the publisher, Simon & Schuster,
which is much more known for, in a way, written books. And then I
asked Michael Rock of 2x4 to be the book designer, who's coming out of
sort of the high architecture design world. And I watched as they
just, at times, did not know how to communicate with one another,
because here's Simon & Schuster, and they're really used to dealing
with book designers who do the jacket, thank you very much. And
here's Michael Rock, used to totally controlling the show. And--and
it was a nice, nice collaboration tussle at times that--that built up
the work. But in the end, their--the--the idea that the text and the
writing would be an equal balance to the images was sort of the hybrid
I was--I was trying to attempt here.
LAMB: How long did it take you?
Ms. LIN: Three years.
LAMB: And it's...
Ms. LIN: Everything takes three years. Don't ask me why.
LAMB: And at the very end, you talk about you have--you want
Ms. LIN: One last one, right?
LAMB: You don't like the monument business.
Ms. LIN: I don't like the monument business. Well, I retired after
'89, didn't want to get typecast. I hope you can appreciate
the--the position. People were joking, `You know, put up a sign,
Monuments by Maya.' I mean, I basically stepped away from it, except I
realized I have always been, since I was a child, very concerned about
what man is doing to the environment. I look at us, and, you know,
scientists have called what we're going through the sixth largest
extinction of the history of the planet.
LAMB: What is this, by the way, while we're talking?
Ms. LIN: This is an aerial satellite image of the Earth, and I
actually don't remember where this is taken from. But again, I study
mappings, aerial views, glacial patterns, again, taking inspiration,
like I--I've contacted NASA. This is an image I took of an ice cave,
the detail of.
LAMB: Did you take this picture?
Ms. LIN: Yeah, I took this picture.
Ms. LIN: This is in Seattle--outside of Seattle. It's in a--near
Pilcheck, where I did a residency blowing glass.
LAMB: And so what's that last monument going to look like?
Ms. LIN: Well, that's the interesting thing. It's going to--if you
think of a memorial monument not existing in one place but in many
places all over the world, each site different, each site unique, all
taken together, they will help give us an idea of--in a way, the
health of the planet from global climate change to land mass to
extinction and endangered species. I can imagine one of the sites I
would love to make out of a huge toxic waste dump. So --I'll
try to reclaim a site, maybe make one out of garbage. Some of them
will be in existing parks, trying to get them to be larger, because I
think if we're really going to talk about preserving -by diversity,
we have to talk about very large areas that we--we leave untouched. I
don't know, I literally started it with the book. I start with the
sketch, I met with a group of biodiversity scientists, experts in the
field from plant to mammals. And we met last Tuesday, and I--my guess
is I'll take a year to quietly ask a lot of questions and then surface
with a team. But if I could do something that would help us prevent
this mass extinction, that would be what I'd really love to do. I
mean, I--I sort of--I--I'm starting with Yellowstone. I'm actually
doing an artwork within Yellowstone. They're our first national park.
And I'd love to try to help make -Antarctica our first
international park. Because conceptually, what that would mean is
that, globally, we're working together to protect the land.
LAMB: Was there ever a time in all that--those early '80s where you
s--you wished that this had never happened?
Ms. LIN: Yeah. At times. I mean, yes and no. I think what I did
was I just forgot about it, which I--I have a lovely habit of doing,
and just focusing on what I'm interested in at the time. I'm
pretty--in that sense, I think being an artist saved me, because I
basically--I just tunnel in. I have tunnel vision. So I'm
in--intensely interested in what I'm working on now than what I did,
you know, 10 years ago, two years ago. So in an odd way, what I'm
interested in is the learning process I go through in making each of
these works, and then I kind of move on from it.
LAMB: Where's your brother today?
Ms. LIN: He's in New York. He actually moved back to New York,
teaching at a small college. And he's doing his artwork. He's
actually--I mean, his poetry. He's working on his second volume of
poetry. And he'll be in an art show in Chelsea in--in the
spring. So he's basic--and he's teaching creative writing, which is
what he really wants to do. So both of us sort of followed in our
parents' footsteps and have taken--you know, we're--we're in the arts
LAMB: What's his name?
Ms. LIN: Ton Lin.
LAMB: And you have three names, Maya Ying Lin.
Ms. LIN: Ying Lin, yeah.
LAMB: Ying (pronounced ING). It's pronounced Ing?
Ms. LIN: Yeah. Silent Y.
Ms. LIN: N-G. It's my Chinese name. It's my Chinese given name.
And it means precious stone.
LAMB: Where'd you meet your husband?
Ms. LIN: In New York at a dinner party.
LAMB: And he does?
Ms. LIN: He's an art dealer, photography, specialty is the 19th
LAMB: Does he work with you at any--in any of these projects?
Ms. LIN: No, he's very sweet and supportive, though. He puts up
with my incredible nervousness as I'm making these things. He's
actually got an incredibly good eye.
LAMB: When you went back to China, what was your reaction overall
Ms. LIN: Well, I had just come from Japan, and I found Japan
very--very formal. And I think, you know, they actually thought I was
Japanese in Japan. And if you're English speaking, if you don't speak
Japanese, they look at you with a little bit of odd suspicion. And so
you're not from--you--you left. And--and I got to China, and you're
overseas Chinese. They embrace you. They welcome you. You're coming
home. It--it--it was a very welcoming feeling. And--and then I got
to meet my relatives, a lot of them for the very first time. And for
someone who grow--basically grew up isolated with a family of three
other people, it was pretty wonderful.
LAMB: Did--what was their reaction to your involvement with the
Vietnam Memorial? Did they understand that?
Ms. LIN: They--they understood that I was basically an architect. I
think I'm--I'm following in the footsteps of my aunts, my half-sister
on my father's side, where essentially--I mean, I have a funny legacy,
which I wasn't really that apparent of. Lynn Way Yin and Lang Su
Chang were my aunt and uncle. They were, like, sort of the strong art
historians of China. They catalogued most of the architectural
works--historical works of China. They also helped to bring
modernism. They studied at University of Pennsylvania, went back to
China in the Communist Revolution, and they designed Tiananmen Square.
So I was out there on the plaza with one of the officials saying,
`Well, what do you think of Tiananmen Square?' And I'm going,
`It--it's very large.' What was I going to say?
Obviously, Lang Su Chang, after my aunt had passed away, later on,
realized how modernism had he--you know, bringing modernism to China
has helped start, you know, tearing down a lot of the old parts.
And he tried to prevent it and tried to preserve. And he fell out of
favor at that time, because everything was still about progress. But
they went through the same thing we went through, which is why we lost
Penn--you know, Penn Station in New York, where modernism was going to
come in and wipe the slate clean. And then 10 years later, we all
turned around and said, `My God, what--what have we taken down?' So
you kind of have to mix the old and the new.
LAMB: This is the book we've been talking about. It's called
"Boundaries" by Maya Lin. This is the cover. It sells retail, $40.
Thank you very much for joining us.
Ms. LIN: You're welcome. Thank you.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 2004. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.