Many of us are intimately familiar with Maya Lin’s Vietnam War Memorial. Before I ever lived in the Washington D.C. area, I visited my friend Elizabeth who dropped me off at the entrance to the memorial and pointed me in the right direction. It was not until what Lin refers to as “the pages of this book” had reached the level of my shins – I had been wading into the memorial and not even realized it – that I came to realize that my experience paralleled our entry into the war. We waded in. I wept that day, as I found the name of our local town hero David Hackett. I traced the letters of my cousin Farwell Long. I wandered through page after page of names until I arrived back where I’d started, subdued and shaken.
Maya Lin is the creator of another memorial – she claims it’s her last – every bit as powerful and troubling as the Vietnam Memorial. It’s called “What Is Missing?” In a multi-media installation that made its debut in San Francisco, Lin not only introduces us to mammals, birds, amphibians, and myriad creatures gone extinct or nearing extinction, but she matches them with their haunting and unique voices. Lin was interviewed on WBUR’s Tom Ashbrook’s On Point, and the interview itself is worth hearing. I invite you to spend a little time with her on her website.
We all know the reasons that the world’s creatures are disappearing at such an alarming rate: habitat loss, chemical threats, climate change, over-hunting, and more. We hear about the reasons, and we hear about them often, but seem to have become inured. Seem not to put faces and voices together with the reporting. This exhibit is haunting. It makes real what humans, in a blindness born of our human-centeredness, have come to see as normative behavior – what we want, we get, no matter the consequences.
I also want to introduce you to a blog devoted to creatures going extinct. Simple and elegant.