Three Ways of Looking at the Earth
, a trio of installations by Maya Lin on display at Pace Wildenstein's West 22nd Street gallery space, re-imagines the world in an architectural and digital context. By applying mathematic disciplines like cartography to rugged and wild terrain, Lin is able to scale down some of the earth's most arresting and remote landscapes, placing them in our very immediate environment. Part of Lin's larger traveling exhibition, Systematic Landscapes, Three Ways
, the project lets viewers explore far-flung regions of the world from the comfort of a gallery. An outspoken environmentalist, Lin calls attention to the dynamism of the earth through a seemingly impossible union of the organic and inorganic. In Three Ways
, technology and the earth exist in harmony rather than competition, each element enhancing the beauty and capabilities of the other.
"Blue Lake Pass" (2006, above) is based on the geography of the area near Lin's summer home, a wooden reproduction of southwest Colorado's wilderness. Using hundreds of sheets of particleboard cut along a topographical line, Lin fused them together into a scaled-down model of the area's hills and valleys. Lin then imposed a 3'x3' grid onto the topography, allowing her to literally pull the earth apart, carving a lattice path through the model that echoes the modern highways now scarring much of the ancient mountainside. Despite the mathematical precision with which the boards are cut, they are neither cold nor unnatural. The gentle zig-zags of the fawn-colored wood resemble the ripples left behind in the sand by ocean waves, lending the models both the imposing power of the mountains and the grace of the sea. Even more remarkable than this elemental synthesis is the glow that the forms emanate during the day. When the light from the gallery's windows reaches the particleboard, from a distance they almost smolder with energy. But what is that glow: the warmth of sunlight as it reaches between trees? The incandescence of a computer monitor displaying a diagram? Somehow, both seem likely as "Blue Lake Pass" was born of equal parts science and nature.
Right alongside these soaring Rocky Mountain peaks is "Water Line" (2006, also above), a topographical grid of the ocean floor surrounding Bouvet Island
recreated in quarter-inch-thick aluminum tubes suspended from the gallery ceiling. The uninhabited island, located 1,000 miles off the coast of Antarctica, is represented at the model's highest point while the rest of the grid recreates the variety of geological forms hidden along the ocean floor. The tubes hang so far down that viewers have to crouch to pass under the island's lowest points, inviting exploration at every angle. To preserve the naturalism of the mysterious landscape, the grid of "Water Line" was slightly adjusted by Lin to ensure that it feels more like a drawing suspended in space than a blueprint.
The stand-out piece in the exhibition, though, is "2x4 Landscape" (2006, above). The only form in the installation whose design was not lifted from nature, Lin constructed a hill entirely with stepped pieces of 2x4s made from sustainable wood. Cut into rectangles, the blocks are stacked and staggered to soar to ten feet and cover a surface area of 1,900 square feet. The apex of the hill almost mingles with the gallery's ceiling rafters, bringing the viewer to that impossible place where the earth meets the sky. With a medium that first evokes a child's plaything, Lin somehow outmaneuvers the clumsiness of the wood; the smooth curves rise and dip with the same naturalism as "Bodies of Water"
, Lin's other environmental work now on view at Storm King Art Center
in upstate New York. But the real power of "2x4 Landscape" goes beyond its quiet dignity. Gaze long enough at the endless timber steps and allow your eyes to slip out of focus: the block's rough-hewn sides will smooth and the corners sharpen. Suddenly, "2x4 Landscape" loses some of its natural appearance and becomes pixilated in the mind's eye. Without losing the natural warmth of the wood, suddenly it looks digitized; somehow, "2x4 Landscape" exists simultaneously in nature and cyberspace. Here again, Lin seamlessly marries the symmetry of technology with natural disorder, perhaps a plaintive wish for us to strive after that same symbiosis with our environment.
By employing modern mapping technologies, Three Ways
makes hidden and far-away areas of the globe accessible, pulling them from the outdoors into our own field of vision. Lin's works embody this partnership; in all three installations, science and nature are equally drawn upon and therein lies their intriguing aesthetic quality. Three Ways of Looking at the Earth
is truly the work of an environmentalist, providing an almost utopian vision of humanity and earth not only co-existing, but reaching new heights together.
Also by Maya Lin, Recycled Landscapes
, a small-scale sculpture exhibition, is currently on view at Salon 94
, 12 E. 94th St, until November 13.