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Maya Lin’s Confluence Project

by Susan Platt

Maya Lin and the Northwest are having an exciting conversation. Lin is half-way through a decade of work on the Confluence Project, seven widely separated sites along the Columbia River in Oregon and Washington that mark intersections of rivers, cultures, histories, and ecologies. While her work has always reverberated with conceptual frameworks both visible and invisible, she has also been endeavoring to bring the scale and presence of her land art inside an art gallery. For “Maya Lin: Systematic Landscapes,” a recent exhibition at the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle, she created three gallery-filling installations: a 10-foot hill/wave, a three-dimensional wire drawing of ocean trenches that form an island, and a mountain range. The three installations are in different scales, and they constantly change as viewers move up, down, around, under, and through them. The show also included documentation of the Confluence Project. Three of the outdoor sites have been dedicated, but only one is near completion. At Cape Disappointment, texts embedded in minimal shapes lead us to engage the subtleties of the natural landscape as well as the layered history of the place. Lin conceives her artworks not as discrete self-sufficient objects, but as part of the continuum of physical space, scientific principles, and historical events. She creates a dialogue with us, her installations, and the environment. Not content to simply reiterate her past work, she begins each project with a startling idea realized through intense research. Lin listens to other people, expands her thinking, and changes her mind. That process is particularly evident in the Confluence Project. Lin is even revealing her process long before thework is completed.

Sacred circle from Lin’s Confluence Project at Cape Disappointment, WA, 2005–06.

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