Monday, October 23, 2006

Life is more than a memorial…

"The Vietnam Memorial used to be the First Great Work of Maya Lin. But that Lin is gone, transformed into Lin the Artist, who, despite having served on the panel that chose a design for the memorial at the World Trade Center site, wants to project an image of disengagement from the huge civic issues she raised. When she speaks as an artist, she's so determined to be out of the fight that it's not clear she has any fight left in her." Washington Post 10/22/06

Click here to read the entire piece.

The above article in yesterday’s Washington Post is basically an attack upon a credible artist by a naïve critic. The writer seems surprised that Maya Lin has become a minimalist artist, consumed with environmentalist ideals… isn’t that a fairly accurate description of both the Vietnam War Memorial and the controversy around its early 1980’s inception?

This statement particularly bothered me:

The Vietnam Memorial used to be the First Great Work of Maya Lin. But that Lin is gone, transformed into Lin the Artist…

Are we to believe that “Artist” is a dirty word in Washington? Is it that creating memorials is viewed as a higher-call than creating general social commentary?

I have long been bothered by what I call “the culture of death” in the American Southwest. Nearly half of all newspaper obituaries are anniversary notices for people dead for numerous years. Anniversary obits bother me… its not my culture, I recognize that some people are in the habit of holding annual wakes rather than ignoring the annual round-up of terrible events. I just happen to be one of those people that prefer not to look back, if I can avoid it.

In other regions that I have chosen to hang my hat, I have always laughed at the cars with booming stereos and back-window stickers (like Rockford) that advertise what is worth stealing inside the automobile. Here it’s different. The vast majority of personal vehicles that pass on New Mexico streets have some statement of political dissidence (Defoliate Bush). The remaining cars and trucks have memorials to dead loved ones. I realize that this is one of those deep and meaningful ethnic moments of enlightenment that is the very rationale behind my “Immersion Travel Art” movement; yet I can’t help but feel a cold finger down my spine every time I witness a 3’x3’ memorial to a dead father or son on the back-window of a tricked-out Hyundai Tiburon.

Having seen it in person while fulfilling my Smithsonian Fellowship in 1999/2000, I have great respect for the Vietnam War memorial. Yet, I also recognize the importance of searching for and teaching the meaning of life; without invoking the realm of death and its continuous threat that lingers over our brief lives. - DN

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