Memorializing the Natural Environment: Maya Lin in conversation with Jessamine Batario, Danae Jacobson, and Chris Walker

Recorded on via Zoom on Thursday, May 6, 2021, at 6 p.m., this program is part of the Spring 2021 Lunder Institute Talks, a series of live, unscripted conversations with scholars and artists who are shaping the field of American art.

Consider how art, science, and history converge in Maya Lin’s “last memorial,” What is Missing?, a multi-sited and multimedia project devoted to the global biodiversity crisis related to habitat loss. As a 2020–21 Lunder Institute senior fellow, Lin has been working with several Colby College courses and engaging with the local community to make contributions to the project. This Lunder Institute Talk features Lin in conversation with her Colby faculty collaborators, Chris Walker (Assistant Professor of English) and Danae Jacobson (Visiting Assistant Professor in History). Together, they reflect on this year’s creative projects and research, discussing art’s capacity to convey urgent scientific information and the role of community participation in the formation of a public history project.

Maya Lin is an artist, designer, and environmentalist who has received both the National Medal of Arts (2009) and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2016). Since designing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC (1982), Lin has built a practice that balances her interests in art, architecture, and the natural environment. She has remained firmly committed to her Memory Works, of which What is Missing? is the ongoing final project. Lin has consistently focused on utilizing scientific methodology to create artworks that draw the viewer’s attention to nature in order to consider our relationship to it. From large-scale earthworks to intimate sculptural mappings of terrain, waterways, and mountains, Lin’s work reveals aspects of the natural world that are oftentimes overlooked.

Danae Jacobson is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Colby College. She received her PhD in Environmental History from Notre Dame in 2019, and is now working on a book manuscript. Her work focuses on intersections of gender, religion, and race in the U.S. West; specifically, she studies the roles of Catholic nuns in 19th century settler colonialism and empire. In addition to her research, Danae enjoys engaging with students about the multiple ways history shapes the kinds of communities we build, the kind of earth we inhabit, the kind of people we identify with, and the kind of change we imagine possible.

Christopher Allen Walker is Assistant Professor in English at Colby College, where he researches and teaches in the environmental humanities. His book project, Narratives of Decay: Environmental Change and Speculative Form, argues that 20th-century scientists and artists developed shared speculative languages in response to newly discovered processes of material decay. He is co-director of the Colby Summer Institute in Environmental Humanities.

Jessamine Batario is an art historian of modern and contemporary art and the Linde Family Foundation Curator of Academic Engagement at the Colby College Museum of Art. She received her PhD in Art History from The University of Texas at Austin, where her research project, Contemporary Transgressions: the Byzantine-Modern Connection, received support from the Dedalus Foundation, Getty Research Institute Library, and the Vivian L. Smith Foundation at The Menil Collection. Her published work can be found in the Journal of Art HistoriographyDifferent Visions, and the Brooklyn Rail

Featured Image: Maya Lin, Interrupted River: Penobscot (detail), 2019. Glass marbles and adhesive, 288 x 264 x 120 in. (732 x 671 x 305 cm). Museum purchase from Sandy ’78 and Sissy Buck, Laura Keeler Pierce ’07 and M. Vassar Pierce Jr., Seth A. Thayer ’89 and Gregory N. Tinder, the Bruce C. Drouin ’74 and Janet L. Hansen ’75 Maine Art Endowed Fund, and the Robert Cross Vergobbi ’51 Museum Acquisition Fund; 2020.026.