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12.2: Installation Art (2000 - Present)

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    Installation art is a relatively new genre for the millennium defined as large-scale constructions, usually mixed media, and installed for a specified period. The artwork usually fills the space, and viewers must walk through the exhibit, often becoming part of the installation. However, some installations might be fragile or installed along a wall. A sculpture is generally one piece of art displayed in separate or individual spaces. An installation is a more unified experience, engaging the viewer in most of the environment. Technology has also contributed to artists' ability to create large installations involving LEDs, computerized movement, unusual formations, and even environmentally supported projects. One attribute of installation art is its immersive properties, how the art appears depending on the viewer's position. The works are also prominent in scale and site-specific, made to fit into the gallery and museum or outdoor space. Generally, they are placed in unique surroundings to complement the artwork. The artists in this section include:

    • Ai Weiwei (1957-)
    • Yayoi Kusama (1929-)
    • Do Ho Suh (1962-)
    • Subodh Gupta (1964-)
    • Jean Shin (1971-)
    • Liu Wei (1972-)
    • Maya Lin (1959-)
    • Tiffany Chung (1969 -)
    • Haegue Yang (1971-)
    • Chiharu Shiota (1972- )

    Ai Weiwei 

    Ai Weiwei (1957-) was born in China; his father was a poet. The family was sentenced to a labor camp when Ai was one, then sixteen years in exile in far northern China. After Mao Zedong's death, the Cultural Revolution ended, and the family moved back to Beijing, where Ai studied animation. He moved to the United States for twelve years to learn English and art. He returned to China when his father's health failed in 1993 and set up his studio. Ai began openly criticizing the Chinese government's human rights issues, corruption, and lack of democracy. Most of his work follows his political beliefs and feelings about the social problems in China, leading to harassment by the government and occasional house arrest. In 2011, Ai was jailed for three months; however, the government kept his passport when he was released, and he could not travel. When his passport was returned in 2015, he moved to Europe. Ai Weiwei uses his art as dissident art, protesting human abuses in China by the government. His work is international and brings his messages to the world. He used simple or everyday objects or materials to create his installation as he believed they were meaningful to people.

    Sunflower Seeds (12.2.1, 12.2.2) is composed of 100 million small seeds stacked evenly on the floor. Each seed appears the same; however, every seed is unique. The life-sized seeds are made by hand from porcelain, sculpted, and painted. The seeds were produced in small workshops in the city of Jingdezhen, known for producing porcelain since 1004 CE and originally produced the Imperial porcelain for the royal palaces. Revolutionary types of kilns and access to deposits of petuntse, the clay needed for porcelain, were part of the city's success in becoming the primary Chinese porcelain site, even today. Ai Weiwei used porcelain sunflower seeds to examine the idea of 'Made in China' and its position in the global economy. He created each seed piled in the installation to represent the relationship between an individual and the masses. He posed the question: "What does it mean to be an individual in today's society? Are we insignificant or powerless unless we act together? What do our increasing desires, materialism, and number mean for society, the environment, and the future?[1]

    a room rilled with sundflower seeds
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Sunflower Seeds (Анна АстаховаCC BY-SA 3.0)
    close up of sunflower seeds
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Sunflower Seeds closeup (Dominic's picsCC BY 2.0 )

    Ai Weiwei's installations reflect his commentary on society, politics, and economics in contemporary China, and he uses irony to create his installations. World Map (12.2.3) is an example of simple, basic objects to make a simple visual expression. The map comprises thousands of fine, thin cotton cloth layers (12.2.4). Making, cutting, stacking, and installing the cloth was exceptionally time-consuming and laborious. The map demonstrates China's position in the world as a place of cheap labor, especially in the clothing industry. Ai stated, "China is blindly producing for the demands of the market… My work very much relates to this blind production of things. I'm part of it, which is a bit of a nonsense.[2] He also uses other materials to make maps of China in protest, including 1,800 milk tins to protest China's tainted milk, making infants sick.

    stacks of paper cut into shapes of the continents
    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): World Map (2006-09, cotton and wooden base, 120 x 800 x 400 cm) (VilseskogenCC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
    close up paper cut into shapes

    Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\): World Map closeup (VilseskogenCC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

    In the installation, Moon Chest (12.2.5, 12.2.6), Ai made 81 chests of wood, each with four circles cut in the upper and lower panels on both sides. The openings vary on each chest, and the moon's phases are visible when the chests are carefully aligned (x.x). He wanted to create an installation of simplistic materials and construction while having a sense of functionality. The chests were made from Huali wood, a common material for Chinese furniture, and were constructed without any joining materials, the methods used for ancient furniture. The exhibition was one of the few of Ai's installations without a direct political message, emphasizing artistic beauty. Ai said, "In the 1980s, I saw many works by Donald Judd and Carl Andre, many minimalist sculptures. Moon Chest is a work in which I try to put together art and minimalist architecture, installation, and drawing to create an object that discusses the relations between functionality and the so-called highbrow art."[3]

    wooden boxes with two holes cut into them
    Figure \(\PageIndex{5}\): Moon Chest (2008, Huanghuali wood, 320 x 160 x 80 cm)  (maurizio.mwgCC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
    looking through the holes in the wooden boxes
    Figure \(\PageIndex{6}\): Moon Chest Closeup (Edna WintiCC BY 2.0.)

    Ai Weiwei created different bicycle installations to acknowledge China's past reliance on bicycles, the mass-produced transportation becoming obsolete to the car culture. Forever (12.2.7) is one of the installations. Bicycles can be installed in multiple configurations, representing the universal use of the bicycles and the beauty found in the object. However, the chain and pedal have been removed from each unit, and they are now obsolete and unusable. However, the bicycles are arranged in a circle, giving the feeling of motion—the "forever" of the title belying the actuality. 

    night scene of metal bikes suspended on metal
    Figure \(\PageIndex{7}\): Forever (2003, forty-two bicycles) (Jackman ChiuCC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
    Forever Bicycles by Al Weiwei

    See Ai Weiwei's spectacular Forever Bicycles installation consisting of 3,144 bikes, come together on Toronto's Nathan Phillips Square over the course of two and a half weeks. The build began on September 19, 2013 and finished on October 4, 2013—just in time for the 8th annual Scotiabank Nuit Blanche. The open-air installation is available for viewing 24hrs a day until October 27, 2013.


    Ai Wei Wei's accumulations and use of single objects are used again in installations with stools. Both installations (Stool Installation 1 (12.2.8) and Stool Installation 2 (12.2.9) demonstrate how he combined small and large sets of stools. The three-legged wooden stool was typical in China and is now an antiquated object in today's Chinese society. Previously, the stools were carefully carved and passed down through the generations, an expression of centuries-old aesthetics. Today, stools are plastic or aluminum in China, modern and mass-produced objects that are disposable in today's society. A common symbol of the importance of and creativity of the individual as opposed to the massive state.

    wooden stools arranged in a circle
    Figure \(\PageIndex{8}\): Stool installation 1, (FaceMePLSCC BY 2.0)
    wooden stools stacked on top of each other
    Figure \(\PageIndex{9}\): Figure \(\PageIndex{9}\): Stool installation 2, (micmol, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

    Yayoi Kusama

    Yayoi Kusama (1929-) was born in Japan, where her parents owned a nursery for plants and seeds. Kusama has been drawing pumpkins since she was a child. She said she drew from hallucinations she observed, a concept that followed throughout her life. Kusama's childhood was traumatic; her mother did not support her art and was abusive. Her father had continual extramarital affairs, which her mother made Kusama follow him and spy, reporting back. By the time Kusama was ten, her hallucinations had included flashing lights and fields of dots she believed engulfed her. She studied the traditional Japanese Nihonga style, finding it unsatisfactory, and studied Western avant-garde. After success in Japan, at twenty-seven, she went to the United States from 1957 to 1972, believing Japan was too disparaging of women and too feudalistic.

    In the United States, Kusama developed her reflective mirror rooms and complex installations with mirrors, colored balls, and lights. She worked successfully with other artists in New York City; however, financial success eluded her. During this period, Kusama became heavily involved with the anti-Viet Nam war protesters, often doing unusual things to draw attention to her demonstrations, including painting polka dots on nude protesters. When Kusama returned to Japan in 1973, mentally ill and suicidal, she checked herself into a hospital. Since that period, she has resided in the psychiatric hospital, creating her art in a nearby studio.

    Dots have become Kusama's obsession in all her artwork and installations, with dots covering everything in repetitive patterns. Kusama said, "A polka-dot has the form of the sun, which is a symbol of the energy of the whole world and our living life, and the form of the moon, which is calm. Round, soft, colourful, senseless and unknowing. Polka-dots can't stay alone; like the communicative life of people, two or three and more polka-dots become movement. ...Polka-dots are a way to infinity.[4] Her work is based on the repetitive use of dots, beloved pumpkins, and mirrors in her installations. Dots Obsession (12.2.10) is like Kusama's hallucinations in childhood, believing her space was covered in patterns. In this installation, she used red and highly contrasting white dots for the base color. The room was enclosed with mirrors, multiple lights, and large balloon-like structures, giving the viewers an immersive involvement. 

    large red balls painted with white polka dots in a room with white polka dots
    Figure \(\PageIndex{10}\): Dots Obsession (2011, red paint, white dots, giant balloons, mirrors) (hmboo Electrician and AdventurerCC BY-ND 2.0.)

    Repetitive Vision (12.2.11) creates a startling, strange, and disorienting environment. The black mirrored walls and ceiling reflect the mannequins covered in red dots. The mirrors present views of the mannequins' front, back, and sides, confusing the viewer and making it impossible to know the limits of the room or the number of mannequins. The red dots on the floor, mannequins, and reflections add to the confusion of the room's boundaries. Kusama said, "A mirror is a device which obliterates everything, including myself and others in the light of another world or a gallant apparatus which creates nothingness.[5]

    mannequins with big red dots in a mirrored room
    Figure \(\PageIndex{11}\): Repetitive Vision (1996, adhesive dots, Formica, mirrors, mannequins) (simonkCC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

    Later in her career, Kusama's infinity rooms expanded, including her trademark dots and pumpkins. The mirrored and lighted ceiling and walls infinitely reflect the dotted pumpkins in All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins (12.2.12). The illusion of the installation stretched the concept of ad infinitum. Kusama has placed rows of yellow pumpkins painted with strips of black dots, making the room's depth impossible to judge. The space reflects Kusama's obsessive-compulsive disorder through the repetition of polka dots enclosing the person in the room, the pattern wrapping around and surrounding the viewer.  

    yellow pumpkins with black polka dots in a mirrored room
    Figure \(\PageIndex{12}\): All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins (Ron CogswellCC BY 2.0.)

    In Japan, pumpkins are known as kabocha, an image Kusama spent hours drawing as a child. Pumpkins represented stability and comfort and were attractive in color and shape. By the late 1970s, she started to include pumpkins in some of her work, covering them with dots and incorporating them into the themes of her mirrored rooms. Pumpkins became major subjects by the new millennium, and Kusama made enormous sculptures. The Red Pumpkin (12.2.13) and the Orange Pumpkin (12.2.14) were constructed from fiberglass for installation on Naoshima Island in Japan. The oversized red pumpkin sits on the edge of a protected inlet. The sculpture is hollow inside, made from fiberglass, and covered with large black dots. The orange pumpkin with a different set of black vertical dots was installed on the end of a pier adjacent to the water. The pumpkin was dislodged when a typhoon swept the island in 2021, and waves took it into the sea. The sculpture cracked but was recovered and will be repaired. 

    giant red pumpkin with black polka dots
    Figure \(\PageIndex{13}\): Red Pumpkin (1994, reinforced fiberglass, 3.9 meters high x 7 meters wide) (Yohei YamashitaCC BY 2.0.)
    giant yellow pumpkin with black polka dots
    Figure \(\PageIndex{14}\): Orange Pumpkin (gszCC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

    Kusama also made immense pumpkins from stainless steel (12.2.15, 12.2.16). The metal is shiny and reflects light and images like her mirror rooms. The dots on the pumpkins were made with long-lasting urethane paint.

    large chrome pumpkin with circle cut outs
    Figure \(\PageIndex{15}\): Pumpkin, 2010 (stainless steel) (See-ming LeeCC BY-NC 2.0)
    large chrome pumpkin with cut out circles
    Figure \(\PageIndex{15}\): Pumpkin (2015, stainless steel, urethane paint, 173.7 x 182.2 x 167.6 cm) (artnthecityCC BY 2.0)
    Obsessed with Polka Dots

    The nine decades of artist Yayoi Kusama's life have taken her from rural Japan to the New York art scene to contemporary Tokyo, in a career in which she has continuously innovated and re-invented her style. Well-known for her repeating dot patterns, her art encompasses an astonishing variety of media, including painting, drawing, sculpture, film, performance, and immersive installation. It ranges from works on paper featuring intense semi-abstract imagery to soft sculpture known as 'Accumulations' to her 'Infinity Net' paintings, made up of carefully repeated arcs of paint built up into large patterns.


    Do Ho Suh

    Do Ho Suh (1962-) was born in Korea, the son of a famous artist who used traditional paintings in ink to create more abstract concepts. Originally, Suh wanted to be a marine biologist failing to achieve the grades. He went to art school in Korea and earned a master's degree in art based on traditional Korean painting. Suh relocated to the United States in 1991, freeing himself from his father's influence and traditional art, and he studied at the Rhode Island School of Design. Here, he was interested in how space was used and how people interacted in different cultures. Suh explicitly studied houses' psychological and physical dimensions and architectural structures.  

    Suh's major project was Home Within Home (12.2.16), a life-sized reconstruction of an actual home where he once lived. Suh also constructed a replica of his home in Korea, contrasting style and size inside the house. He used translucent fabrics to build the houses, interior rooms, and large appliances. He also displays hallways, doors, or specific rooms from various places he lived in other installation parts. Suh used a 2-D scanning machine to ensure accurate and exact specifications. Using the defined dimensions and outlines, Suh used a traditional Korean hand-sewing method to make every part of the building or object, adding precise details to the actual item. The oversized home is designed for the viewer to approach the building and see through the walls before entering the door and walking through the spaces. The rooms in the building create a dreamlike environment; shelves, doors, fixtures, windows, stairs, or appliances are viewable while still looking through to other spaces. 

    blue house made out of fabricFigure \(\PageIndex{16}\): Home Within Home (2013, fabric, 12 meters high x 15 meters wide) (準建築人手札網站CC BY 2.0)

    The bathtub (12.2.17) and the toilet (12.2.18) are created in exact sizes and placed in the bathroom. Suh used steel wire to frame the bathtub and toilet to hold the fabric properly. For the larger structures, he used stainless steel armature.

    bathtub made out of fabric
    Figure \(\PageIndex{17}\): Bathtub (2013, fabric, stainless steel wire, LED, 34 x 150.1 x 76.5 cm) (準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMediaCC BY 2.0)
    toilet made from fabric
    Figure \(\PageIndex{18}\): Toilet (2013, fabric stainless steel wire, LED, 34 x 150.1 x 76.5 cm) (準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMediaCC BY 2.0)

    Suh was raised in South Korea, the influence of North Korea, and the ever-present threat in the lives of those on the Korean peninsula. The two countries were a display of conflicting social and political societies. The images of North Korean soldiers in precise and continued marching demonstrated the control and collectivism the state had over the thoughts and activities of the individual. The sculpture Cause and Effect (12.2.19, 12.2.20) is made of 1,200 naked resin figures cast in different colors. Each small figure sits on the figure below it, portraying the relationship between the individual inside the collective or the concept of the individual supporting the larger society.

    small plastic pieced created into a chandlier
    Figure \(\PageIndex{19}\): Cause and Effect (2007, acrylic resin, aluminum disc, stainless steel frame, cable, monofilament, 120 x 295 cm) (foshieCC BY 2.0)
    small plastic people on shoulders
    Figure \(\PageIndex{20}\): Cause and Effect closeup, (foshieCC BY 2.0)

    Subodh Gupta (1964-)

    Subodh Gupta was born in India; his father died when Gupta was young. He was sent to live with an uncle on a remote farm, where children went to school without shoes or roads. He attended the College of Arts & Crafts in Patna, which had no library. When he graduated in 1988, Gupta moved to Delhi, starting his career as an artist. He always loved steel and metal, from the dull brass plates the family used for eating to the replacement stainless steel plates. Gupta started using the everyday kitchen utensils used at home, a material he uses. Line of Control (12.2.21) is a sculpture based on the mushroom clouds developed from atomic bombs and represents the dismaying deployment of nuclear war. Nuclear weapons are always an issue between Pakistan and India and the potential of their use in war. The sculpture also represents geopolitical borders, limitations, disputed territories globally, and potential nuclear warfare potential. The work was constructed with twenty-six tons of stainless-steel pans, thalis, bowls, milk pails, tiffin boxes, and various utensils. Each element was welded together to assemble the sculpture.

    large tree sculpture make out of metal pots
    Figure \(\PageIndex{21}\): Line of Control (2008, stainless steel utensils, 10.9 x 10.9 meters, 26 tons) (CC BY 2.0)

    Gupta has always been interested in the migration or displacement in India, even why they travel to other places, carefully noting the changes in Indian society. The Silk Route (12.2.22) comprises stacks of an abundant supply of pots, bowls, and plates carefully arranged on a giant conveyor belt. He presents the growth of the middle class and its constant need for more. The reference to the old Silk Road defines the influence and threat of globalization changing local communities and the spread of consumerism. The towers of tiffin pots (stackable containers) move along the installation, much like India's rapid pace of change. The tiffin pots were a standard method of carrying food when Gupta was a child; the objects now have a different meaning. 

    Gupta said, "My work is about where I came from, but at the same time, the expansion of the art world means that, to a certain extent, everything is shrinking together, and you have to be aware of international discourses in your work.[6]

    metal pots stacked on a table
    Figure \(\PageIndex{22}\): The Silk Route (2007, stainless steel kitchen utensils) (Glen BowmanCC BY-SA 2.0)

    Gupta created the magnificent, stainless-steel banyan tree, stating, "I'd like this sculpture to be a place where families gather and get photographed.[7] The structure has become a place for people to sit and pose and ponder the illusion of the sculpture. The tree, Specimen No. 108 (12.2.23), was exceptionally complex to construct. Gupta first made the metal trunk with the branches before the utensils were individually welded to the tree. The tree is shiny with the beauty of an actual tree, elegant and graceful, combined with the ubiquity of common household elements hanging like fruit. The banyan tree is incorporated into Indian culture as sacred and a worship center; however, 108 is meaningful in multiple religions. The imposing tree is a symbol for other meanings. The mystical formation of the tree is further enhanced by the sun bouncing off the steel and the utensils softly moving in the breeze. 

    large metal tree with pots for leaves
    Figure \(\PageIndex{23}\): Specimen No. 108 (2014, stainless steel utensils) (gauravmishrCC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

    Jean Shin

    Jean Shin (1971-) was born in Korea, where her parents were professors. When she was six years old, they moved to the United States. Shin graduated with a BFA from Pratt Institute and an MS in History. Her artwork is made from cast-off materials she collects and forms into installations. She is not particular in accumulations, including one sock or a broken ceramic, discarded lottery tickets, and even old pill bottles. Shin creates large-scale sculptures and needs large numbers of any one element. She believes the objects in an installation may all look the same until closer observation reveals individuality and variety. Shin wants the viewer to continually shift between the group and the individuals within the group, some things more intimate and others appearing excessive.

    Huddled Masses (12.2.24) connects the idea of the environmental waste of technology and the desire from society for more and more technological products. The sculpture is made of old cell phones, obsolete by the following year's model. Meters of old, no longer viable computer cables encircle the structure, capturing the phones into piles of meaninglessness. The toxic waste now sits, planned obsolescence forcing the new technology to the detriment of the environment from the masses of unusable waste. Large forms jut out of the middle like the ancient rocks of Chinese art, the purity of natural, long-lasting stones of the past, now covered by today's pollution. Oddly, the sounds on phones made to carry the noise and discourse of society are now silent in their obsolescence. The most significant part of the sculpture is 2.28 meters tall. Shin collected over 3,000 different styles of phones, some as long as twenty years ago, for the sculpture.

    rocks covered with mirrors on a wood floor
    Figure \(\PageIndex{24}\): Huddled Masses (2020, cellphones and computer cables) (Asian Art MuseumCC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

    Chance City (12.2.25, 12.2.26) was constructed from thousands of losing scratch-and-win lottery tickets, discarded as useless. People purchase them hoping to make money; the losing tickets reveal the unfulfilled dream someone had when they bought the ticket. The worthless tickets are the blocks Shin uses for her colorful house of cards; it is also a temporary structure full of chance and optimism. She uses no glue when erecting the house of cards, only balancing one on top of another. Although the sculpture looks fragile, gravity and friction hold the cards in place. 

    Shin believes, "Picking up your life and moving to the city and giving all you can, your dreams may change-transform. But somehow, I think all of us retain that memory of something that they really wanted to do, and against all odds, are able to succeed.[7] The ticket may not bring instant riches, but our odds of success are achievable.

    tall apartment buildings made out of lotto cards
    Figure \(\PageIndex{25}\): Chance City (2001, raffle tickets) (americanartmuseumCC BY-NC-ND 2.0.)
    close up of lottery tickets
    Figure \(\PageIndex{26}\): Chance City closeup, (nicknormalCC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

    Liu Wei

    Liu Wei (1972-) is from China and graduated from the China Academy of Art. At first, he created realistic paintings before working on installations. He moved to Beijing and was associated with other artists who produced exhibitions protesting the government. Their video, photography, and performances contained pictures of corpses, cadavers, or other gross and visceral images. Their concept was to repel Western audiences, revealing their resentment of Western powers. However, as China expanded its trade globally, the artists opened to Western investors. Since the new millennium, Liu has been creating models of cityscapes using unusual materials. The massive construction of cities in China inspired him to create installations based on the continual change, decay, and construction found daily in cities. Today, Liu creates his images digitally before assembling an installation, continuing to change them over time.

    Liu's installation Love it! Bite it! is made from the unusual material of dog chews. He tried to create buildings from across Western history. The work was exceptionally detailed, with ornate columns, domes, towers, and cornices. However, most of them resembled ruins of the dystopia of fallen empires. After seeing his dog gnaw on its chew, Liu made the construction from dog chews as it was crumbled with saliva and dirt. He observed the dog's lust for food like a human's hunger for power, the city the representative of that power. Love it! Bite it! (12.2.27) displays the falling coliseum, a church, and other collapsing buildings. Love it! Bite it! (12.2.28) is part of the United States Capitol building exhibit showing the buildings eroded by greed and time.

    city scape made of dog rawhide
    Figure \(\PageIndex{27}\): Love it! Bite it! (2013, edible dog chews, dimensions vary) (mr.pushCC BY-NC 2.0)
    capitol building made out of rawhide bones
    Figure \(\PageIndex{28}\): Love it! Bite it! (2013, edible dog chews, dimensions vary) (mr.pushCC BY-NC 2.0)

    In Library II-II (12.2.429), Liu constructed four sections displaying another dystopian city with seemingly familiar buildings, although anonymous. Some buildings are leaning at ninety degrees; a few resemble old New York skyscrapers. All the buildings were made and sculpted with books. Liu said, "I was drawn to books at first because of the uniform density; the morphology of books seems to give them the ability to replace all other architectural and urban features; books represent a real world and expand wantonly.[8] Liu used iron and hardware for the basic frame covered by wood to assemble the books into buildings.

    city scape of metal
    Figure \(\PageIndex{29}\): Library II-I (I2013, books, wood, iron, hardware, 290 x 140 x 170 cm) (nicknormalCC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

    Maya Lin

    Maya Lin (born 1959) was born in Ohio after her parents emigrated from China. Both of her parents were professors at Ohio University. In high school, Lin studied bronze casting methods at a nearby university. After high school, she attended Yale University and earned bachelor's and master's degrees. Lin was always interested in the environment, respecting nature, and balancing the man-made and the natural world. The video discusses Lin's projects.

    Interactive Element: Maya Lin

    In this milestone video, we feature visual artist/designer Maya Lin, who has a long history with the NEA, starting with her winning the public design competition for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which the NEA administered. She has also received an NEA Visual Arts Fellowship and the National Medal of Arts, as well as having her exhibitions and projects supported by the agency, including the most significant and longest project she has undertaken, the Confluence Project in Northwest U.S.

    In this milestone video, we feature visual artist/designer Maya Lin, who has a long history with the NEA, starting with her winning the public design competition for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which the NEA administered. She has also received an NEA Visual Arts Fellowship and the National Medal of Arts, as well as having her exhibitions and projects supported by the agency, including the most significant and most prolonged project she has undertaken, the Confluence Project in Northwest U.S.

    Lin was a university student studying architecture when she submitted her design for a nationwide competition for concepts of a new memorial to Vietnam veterans. Her design was very unusual and unlike the general tradition of memorial tributes. She proposed to build a V-shaped granite wall where the names of every soldier who was killed or still missing were inscribed on the wall. One end of the V-shape pointed towards the Washington Monument and the other towards the Lincoln Memorial, tying the design into existing structures. The black granite walls mirror each other as they slope below ground level with a long walkway in front of the polished, reflective wall (12.2.30). The new, controversial wall has become an accepted and essential tribute to the veterans of the contentious war, attended by many to visit a fallen soldier, lay flowers, or hang flags. The wall designed by Lin became a model for new and unusual memorials and sculptures. The names of the fallen (12.2.31) are inscribed on the highly polished wall as a man in uniform stands at attention. The man's reflection becomes part of the wall as though he was one with the other fallen names. The video describes her ideas for the Vietnam War Memorial.

    marble wall with names of fallen warriors in a v shape
    Figure \(\PageIndex{30}\): Wall at the memorial (Timothy J BrownCC BY-SA 3.0)
    navy man standing in front of a wall of names
    Figure \(\PageIndex{31}\): Reflection on the wall (Public Domain)
    Maya Lin: Veterans Memorial

    Maya Lin, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, 1982, granite, 2 acres within Constitution Gardens, (National Mall, Washington, D.C.)


    Systematic Landscapes was a series of different installations Lin created to give viewers unusual sights of the earth and how it looks. She used today's technologies to build the installations and generate unique views of the physical world. Lin stated, "I would say that I'm no different than an eighteenth-century landscape painter, but I have more than my eyes to take a look at nature." [9] Lin created multiple diverse exhibits using different technologies. Water Line (12.2.32) (metal structure in background) appears as an outline in space. Using aluminum tubing, Lin positions the frames as they would trace mountains buried deep underwater. The strong lines forming the contours give the viewer an intimate view of a previously unseen mountain range. The sculpture hangs from the ceiling, presenting a vision of walking on the ocean floor and looking skyward. Lin brings ambiguity to the image, blurring the concepts of where the sky and water intersect and challenging the viewers' idea of distinct environments. In the foreground, Blue Lake Pass (12.2.32) represents mountains cut into segments. The viewer can walk through the exhibit, experiencing the different valleys and peaks, a feeling of walking under the earth's crust. Lin was always interested in the various geological forces creating other regions, and she incorporated unusual views of the earth.

    wood sheets carved into contours
    Figure \(\PageIndex{32}\): Systematic Landscape series Water Line (aluminum tubing and paint, 2006, 579.1 x 914.4 x 1,059.2 cm) (CC BY-NC 2.0)

    When Lin was growing up, she watched her father start an experimental glass studio. Her father even brought her a box of marbles; she thought they were like opening a water container. In her installation, Folding the Chesapeake (10.3.27), Lin used the same fiberglass material her father used in his experiments. Lin studied the Chesapeake Bay region and its changes over the decades. She used the water-colored marbles to recreate the area, installing the marbles up and down the walls and across the floor, appearing to be floating. Lin used 54,000 marbles to create the installation and bring the ecological importance of the entire waterway as a totality, a complete living system. The video described Lin's ideas when she made the installation. Installation art is based on multiple earlier movements, including the reuse and small installations of Dada or Performance Art creatively using and interpreting space, even conceptual art, and the focus on the ideas over the aesthetic.

    green marbles arranged on the wooden floor
    Figure \(\PageIndex{33}\): Folding the Chesapeake (glass marble, 2015) (Ron CogswellCC BY-NC 2.0)
    Maya Lin

    Growing up in an artistic environment, Maya Lin sees the materials used in Folding the Chesapeake, installed at the Renwick Gallery, as a reflection of her childhood.


    Tiffany Chung (1969-)

    Tiffany Chung was born in Da Nang, Vietnam before her family migrated to the United States as war refugees. She received her bachelor's degree from California State University, Long Beach, and a master's from the University of California, Santa Barbara. After graduating, Chung returned to Vietnam to work in Ho Chi Minh City. Chung first became known for the cartographic maps she made into installations. The maps were based on her memories of migrating from Vietnam, and she extended those memories into the more significant experiences of all Southeast Asian people who fled their countries during wartime and afterward. Chung wove people's experiences onto maps with multimedia, sculptures, drawings, paintings, embroidered, and even video media to demonstrate and illustrate people's journeys. Chung incorporated the impacts of war, political, economic, and environmental destruction into the maps and travels of migrating people. 

    Rivers and their effects on populations have been of particular interest to Chung since her father was imprisoned after his helicopter was shot down over North Vietnam, and he became a POW. A prisoner swap was set to occur on the river Thach Han. The bridges were bombed out, and when the North Vietnamese decided to cancel the swap of South Vietnamese and American prisoners, many prisoners went across the river anyway. Chung's mother stood on the south side of the river, waiting for Chung's father, who was never released. The wall between North and South Vietnam was invisible; however, it was very painful.[10]

    As part of that memory, Chung created a series of maps based on not only rivers but also how traumatic events affected the surrounding populations. Some maps covered the earthquake in San Francisco and the Berlin Wall in Germany. Chung draws the maps, and the foundation stitches are embroidered with additional hand stitching. She also adds buttons and grommets. The positions and colors of the threads, buttons, and grommets have meaning. As part of her River Project, she documented different river systems in Asia. In this project, she made maps with two layers, vellum and paper. The map of the Mekong Delta (12.2.34) demonstrated the continual flooding of the land and how hydropower development and dams change the river's flow, aggravate people's poverty, disrupt spawning fish, and damage the agricultural soil. 

    ariel view of a blue river with orange dots
    Figure \(\PageIndex{34}\): The River Project (micro-pigment ink, oil, vellum, paper, 2010) (veritatemCC BY 2.0.)

    Chung's installation, For the Living (12.2.35), is an immense world map constructed on a large grass mound. The map is centered on the migration routes of exiles from Southeast Asia who the Vietnam War displaced. Chung explores the stories of the refugee movements and how the pathways are part of the American story of assimilation and acceptance. A color-coded rope represents each line (12.2.36) and corresponds to how people moved across the globe. The yellow rope represented those transported by air, blue by boat, and orange by land, with the connecting points indicated with red dome caps. The maps noted people's routes from their homes to refugee camps and their resettlement countries. Refugees ended up all over the world, with large numbers in the United States and France, while others went to places where they knew someone, could get accepted by a government, or found some type of transportation. 

    The monument is only temporary but was constructed by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Chung wanted to give life to each person displaced or forced to migrate. She noted that the Veteran Memorial commemorates the names of American soldiers who died in the war, and the memorial is 137 meters long. To build a memorial listing the names of dead Vietnamese, a nine-mile-long wall would be needed (and this does not include Laotians, Hmong, and Cambodians who died).[11]  

    Chung said, "The Vietnamese experience is an anchor point and reminder of America being a second chance many people have risked their lives for."[12]

    grass with red balls connected by rope
    Figure \(\PageIndex{35}\): For the Living (mixed media earthwork, 2023, 50 x 60.0 meters)(Ron CogswellCC BY 2.0)
    red balls linked together by colored rope
    Figure \(\PageIndex{36}\): For the Living closeup (Elvert BarnesCC BY-SA 2.0)
    Beyond Granite: Pulling Together

    In Summer 2023, Beyond Granite will present a dynamic new series of installations designed to create a more inclusive, equitable, and representative commemorative landscape on the National Mall. The Beyond Granite initiative is led by the Trust for the National Mall in partnership with the National Capital Planning Commission and the National Park Service, and is funded by the Mellon Foundation. The inaugural exhibition, Beyond Granite: Pulling Together, will feature installations from six leading contemporary artists that respond to a central question: What stories remain untold on the National Mall? 


    After the war, the new communist government changed the structure of those living in the south with reeducation, population redistribution, new agricultural changes, and changing the rivers. Chung, her mother, and sister were forcibly relocated in 1978. A massive undertaking was to remove and modify the landscape, marshlands, and mangroves around the rivers and transform them into urban areas, eliminating memories and forcing new ideologies. Stored in a Jar: Monsoon, Drowning Fish, Color of Water, and the Floating World (12.2.37) was an installation Chung created to accommodate climate change. The floating town contained forty-three houseboats and seventy riverboats. "Chung proposed a floating village model combining vernacular architectural forms of farming and houseboat communities in Asia as a sustainable way of living with chronic floods instead of suggesting mobility adaptations. This work also draws on and critiques the modernist ethos of master planning, highlighting universal design principles that have existed for generations and underscoring that these ecological concerns and strategies for sustainability are neither a contemporary nor Western phenomenon."[13] Chung wanted the work to contradict the usual urban planning and focus on what is good for the environment, adapting to change, and what is suitable for the local population. 

    four different house scenes on the water
    Figure \(\PageIndex{37}\): Store in a jar: Monsoon, Drowning fish, Color of water and the floating world (2011, plexiglass, wood veneer, aluminum, paint, steel cables, foam, copper wire, etc., 600 x 300 cm) (Amasou UmasouCC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
    Tiffany Chung

    Artist Tiffany Chung probes the legacies of the Vietnam War and its aftermath through maps, videos, and paintings that highlight the voices and stories of former Vietnamese refugees.


    Haegue Yang (1971-)

    Haegue Yang is from South Korea and received her bachelor's degree from Seoul National University and a master's degree from Stadelschule in Berlin. Yang lives in both Berlin and Seoul. Yang's father went to work in the Middle East, and her parents divorced when he returned. The turmoil in Korea and her family inspired her works to reflect historical events, human migration, and industrialization. Yang generally creates work for a specific site and the history or culture of the region. Yang creates multisensory installation environments from ordinary manufactured objects and everyday household items. Each installation combines contrasting disparate materials with elements like light bulbs juxtaposed with feather boas. She also incorporates knitting and weaving methods into her work using unusual materials. Yang generally makes her work site-specific and interweaves personal and local histories into the installation, frequently adding audio for an immersive effect. 

    Yang believes "abstraction is not a…simplified way of thinking: it's a leap-a leap into a dimension that cannot otherwise be understood."[14]

    Yang is known for her installation using Venetian blinds to convert large spaces with filtered light and segmented spaces, forcing the viewer to move to multiple viewing points. "Her light sculptures and signature Venetian blind installations are often metaphors for her life of willful isolation and her refusal to embody any single nationality in her work."[15] Lingering Nous (12.2.38) is a site-specific installation in Paris constructed in contrast to the linear structures of the museum complex itself. Each color is angled to reflect the color scheme of the museum's service apparatus, as seen in the ventilation, electrical, and other connective building facilities. The blind installation consists of 166 Venetian blinds hanging in the vast space of the three-story lobby. The iridescent green and pink blinds glow at different times based on the light streaming in. Each of the blinds is also hung askew—the installation moves between ornamental and abstraction. 

    colored window blinds handing from the ceiling
    Figure \(\PageIndex{38}\): Lingering Nous (2016, aluminum Venetian blinds, aluminum hanging structure, powder coating) (dalberaCC BY 2.0)

    Yang was known for using utilitarian objects in a typical household and creating images with objects out of context. The work has a transitory feeling, with images ready to move at any time, reflecting geographical and personal displacement happening to people worldwide. Female Natives and Medicine Men (12.2.39) come together in an installation of structures that are both visual and auditory. Yang used drying racks draped and adorned with hanging materials, light bulbs, wire, and other household paraphernalia. Yarn and fabric instill color into the figure, with reflected light bulbs changing the movement of the whole structure. The objects are surreal as the bodies hung on chrome skeletons appear to glow. The inhuman structures form a community and appear ready to move at any time. In the image Close up 1 (12.2.40), the figure appears clothed in soft, fluffy, white fur, betraying the aggressive position of the stiff, brown wooden arms. It seems to wear a ceremonial headdress, and the lights are visible, conveying strength. Close-up 2 (12.2.41) is much softer and more closed. The lights hang inside the structure, surrounded and protected by large balls and draped material, much daintier than the adjacent figure.

    metal racks with wires and fabric hanging on themFigure \(\PageIndex{39}\): Female Natives and Medicine Men (2010) (clothing rack, casters, light bulbs, cable, cord, plastic items, papier mâché, water color, varnish, metal rings, zip ties, yarn, wire, 180 x 99 x 103 cm ) (準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMediaCC BY 2.0)
    metal cart with wood, lights, fabric hanging
    Figure \(\PageIndex{40}\): Female Natives and Medicine Men Close up one (準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMediaCC BY 2.0)
    metal rack with wigs and lights hanging
    Figure \(\PageIndex{41}\): Female Natives and Medicine Men Close up two (準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMediaCC BY 2.0)

    As part of Yang's show, Changing From From to From, the wallpaper for the installation, Non-Linear and Non-Periodic Dynamics (12.2.42), in the background, is based on the model of how chaotic weather behaves. The butterfly effect of the weather model is visible in the design, where the chaos theory of a small change causes incalculable and dramatic outcomes. The design incorporates water and weather patterns. The wallpaper wraps around the walls and is printed with digital color print on self-adhesive vinyl film. 

    Yang stated, "Historical figures inhabit my head like creatures in a mystic landscape. They are my tools to carve this landscape, finally becoming mountain peaks and rivers in my idiosyncratic way."[16] 

    The exhibition's second part includes Sonic Intermediates – Three Differential Equations (12.2.42), three sculptures in the foreground, that move and fill the air with ritualistic rattling and ringing of bells. The objects are moveable through space and bring the feeling of abstract humans or intermediaries for the human and spirit world. The steel frames are covered in mesh, bells, and twine, all waiting to come to life. Yang constructs the figures to have remnants of human or animal characteristics: a head, fuzzy brown fur, or moveable parts. 

    steel frames with red beads, booms, ties, etc

    Figure \(\PageIndex{42}\): Non-Linear and Non-Periodic Dynamics –in background (2020, ink, vinyl film) and Sonic Intermediates–Three Differential Equations - in foreground (2020, steel frame, mesh, handles, casters, red brass, copper, nickel, plated bells, rings, plastic twine, broom, zip ties, turbine vent, size variable) (SandwichCafeCC BY 2.0)

    Haehue Yang: Changing from to from

    The exhibition title, drawn from a poem by Chinese-British conceptual artist Li Yuan-chia, evokes the notion of migration between locations. The exhibition features four works that express different strands of Yang’s multivalent practice, linked by her abiding interest in mobility and transformation. Each work explores physical, social and conceptual movement: from the activation of the sculptures, Sonic Intermediates – Three Differential Equations 2020 to the layered imagery of shifting water and weather patterns in the wallpaper, Non-Linear and Non-Periodic Dynamics 2020.


    Chiharu Shiota (1972-)

    Chiharu Shiota was born in Japan, where her father manufactured boxes for fish. She always wanted to be an artist and attended Kyoto Seika University and other universities in Australia and Germany. Shiota lives in Berlin, and her installations are based on memories, emotions, and the cycle of life and death. She uses red, black, or white yarn for her construction material and weaves intricate and meticulous environments with massive webs covering large parts of a gallery or museum. Shiota forms the yarn into shapes based on ordinary cobwebs, human veins, or mathematical fractals. She also incorporates everyday objects in her work, adding to her personal feelings and emotions. 

    Living Inside (12.2.43) was created during the forced lockdowns of the pandemic. Staying inside, Shiota became interested in scale, remembrances, and our ties to ordinary household things. Shiota made a miniature world where pieces are frozen in time, reflecting a familiar place yet unseeingly still and quiet. The objects are trapped and tied together with red and black threads and enclosed in a tangled, interwoven web of red. Shiota explained, "We are connected since we are all in the same situation. Everyone is sitting at home looking at their furniture and asking questions about the outside world, which right now has been reduced to a mere memory."[17]

    red rope from ceiling stretched down to furnitureFigure \(\PageIndex{43}\): Living Inside (2021) (dalberaCC BY 2.0)

    Shiota used almost 430 suitcases for her work Accumulation: Searching for the Destination (12.2.44). She believed the suitcases held memories about the movement and migration of people. The suitcases themselves witness the journeys of life. Shiota started collecting suitcases from flea markets. In one suitcase, she found a newspaper from 1947 and became interested in hidden stories. The red strings unite the suitcases and the beginning of someone's journey. The suitcases hang and move on the strings because no journey is precisely known, and change occurs throughout any journey. Shiota said:

    "When I look at a heaping pile of suitcases,

    all I see is a corresponding number of human lives.

    Why did these people leave the place they were born,

    in search of some destination?

    Why did they go on this voyage?

    I think back on the feelings of these people

    on the morning of their departure."[18]

    suitcases hanging with red rope
    Figure \(\PageIndex{44}\): Accumulation: Searching for Destination (2016, old suitcases, rope) (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

    When Shiota was a child, her neighbor's home burned down, and only their charred piano remained in the silence of the ashes. She remembers the silence and the smell of the smoke, an image staying with her twenty years later. The silence of the piano significantly impacted her; the piano burned, and no longer able to make music. For her installation, In Silence (12.2.45), Shiota burned an old piano and the chairs and tied them together, never more to play, have people watching, singing, or talking, only silence. The black string covers and envelops the piano and chairs, trapping the sounds inside; now, everything is useless. 

    black rope from ceiling to piano
    Figure \(\PageIndex{45}\): In Silence (2011, burned piano and chairs, black string) (玉心CC BY-SA 2.0.)
    Meet the Artists

    This short film follows Chiharu Shiota as she takes us through her monumental installation Uncertain Journey at Blain|Southern Berlin. You can see the artist discussing the allusions to a journey, the symbolism of the interwoven strands and the importance she places on memory.




    [2] World Map

    [3] Yayoi Kusama Guidepost to the New Space


    [4] Yayoi Kusama Infinity Dots Mirrored Room


    [5] Ibid.

    [6] Subodh Gupta: Cow Dung, Curry Pots, and a Hungry God

    [7] Stainless Steel Nirvana: India most audacious artist Subodh Gupta and his creation

    [8] Jean Shin, Turning Trash Into Artistic Treasure

    [9] The Jewish story behind SLAM’s ‘Breaking of the Vessels’ masterpiece

    [10] TenBrink, M. (n.d.). Maya Lin's environmental installations: bringing the outside in

    [11] Anselm Kiefer: a beginner's guide

    [12] New York Times


    [14] Ugo Rondinone 


    [15] Urs Fischer: The Raw and the (Over)Cooked


    [17] BHARTI KHER