The growing degradation of the natural world haunts Lin ? celebrated as the creator of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the reinventor of the American memorial genre ? as she pulls together the plans for what she says will be her ?last memorial.?
The title of this work-in-progress, like many of the details, is evolving: Perhaps ?What is Missing,? perhaps simply ?Missing.? But the theme is clear: Lin?s finale will grieve for the animals, birds and plants driven into extinction ? and warn of the urgency of acting now to halt the devastation.
Lin envisions it as a multisite chronicle at places around the world and with a commemorative list of names ? this time the names of extinct species. It is to be launched with a memorial table on Earth Day in April 2009 commissioned by the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, which chose her design to include in its new building in Golden Gate Park that opened Saturday.
?Do the math, guys. Where do we want to be in 50 years? That?s the question,? Lin says. ?We?re in the sixth-largest extinction in the Earth?s history, and it?s the only one caused by a single species? - man.
?The top 10 songbirds we grew up with are in a 40 percent to 70 percent decline. Our oceans are being devastated by overfishing. The landscape we grew up with has been significantly diminished. I just want to bring attention to it and give people the idea that you can do something about it.?
At 48, Lin might seem young to hold the status of eminence grise of memorials, a position of gravitas that began when her design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., was chosen when she was just 21 and still a student at Yale. She has become so associated with monuments that when terrorists attacked on 9/11, a flood of faxes cascaded into her Soho studio asking her to prepare a memorial sketch.
? ?What is Missing,? ? Lin says, ?will close the series for me. It?s so near and dear to my heart. . . . I want the last one to be so personal, something I care so deeply about.?
Lin has attained international recognition ? and at times, fierce opposition ? for spare, elegant monuments whose emotional punch uncoils as viewers follow the march of history. There are the names of the American dead at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which was initially opposed by critics who wanted the work to personify fallen veterans with statues. At her Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Ala., water flows over the names of murdered civil rights activists.
Lin would like her new memorial to have global reach. She wants to use the Internet, interactive media and a book to tell people specific steps they can take to spare the environment, like avoiding plastic bags, insisting on shade-grown coffee or joining a program to ?adopt? an endangered species and help protect it.
?I grew up surrounded by land, and it had a huge impact on me,? she says. ?We forget to look out and see how incredibly beautiful the world is. We forget that.?
Land, and the shape of the world, is the theme of her ?Systematic Landscapes,? currently ensconced at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and due to arrive at San Francisco?s de Young Museum on Oct. 25. It?s an exhibit that brings indoors her environmental sculptures ? and the spiritual meditations that fuel them.