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we're in Washington DC on the mall at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial which is situated right between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial Mile in the architect of the memorial thought about uniting the memorial to the nation's pass bringing together the past and the present well it's this very long series of slabs of stone this highly reflective black granite that actually points to both of those monuments although the architect didn't like to refer to these as walls but in a way they are also very thin sunk into the ground and inscribed with the names of the servicemen who died in the Vietnam War now there are more than 58,000 names and in fact more names are being added it is overwhelming in the density of names what happens as you walk down this path you sink into the earth the earth opens up and reveals these names and because the surface of the stone is so reflective it becomes a mirror and really all that seems to have substance is the rougher surface of the names themselves Mayans idea was that it was the names that were the reality the substance of the and that the reflectivity of the granite opened up into another world that we could not enter but which was there for us to see and she describes when she first visited the site that she wanted to reveal that edge well in fact she said I had a simple impulse to cut into the earth I imagined taking a knife and cutting into the earth opening it up an initial violence and pain that in time would heal she writes that the experience of the monument would help people to come to terms with the death of their loved ones there is a real journey involved here you walk down in you find the name of your loved one embedded within the chronological sequence of the death of all of these soldiers and then you walk back out that's right in the center the chronology begins and goes down toward the right as we're facing the wall and then picks up again on the low edge of the left side and moves toward the center again and as we move down the center the path widens and the granite Rises more than ten feet above us the names become a symbol of this person multiplied more than 58,000 times but even though you've got that abstraction you also have this very concrete reality you have this place for family to come to gather to reflect on that name Maya Lin talks about the name as an abstraction that in fact means more to family and loved ones than a picture the picture represents someone at a particular time at a particular place at one moment in their lives whereas a name might recall everything about that person there is this powerful accumulation of all of the names as you descend as you walk into the densest middle of the monument it becomes absolutely overwhelming and it's a very different experience than most previous war memorials when we think about the history of war memorials we often think about memorials to military heroes like the monument to Lord Nelson in Trafalgar Square or we might think about the Shaw Memorial by August the Saint Gaudens in the National Gallery where you have a hero leading an anonymous army with an allegorical figure representing peace and death this combination of allegory and heroism that's usually in memorials and is completely absent here how can one create a meaningful monument in the late 20th century what does it mean to strip away all of the representational form what does it mean to create something so self-consciously abstract and yet also so powerful and so meaningful evidently the committee that touched this decided that this abstraction would be best and it's interesting to think about how the committee didn't know who Milan was there were fourteen hundred entries completely anonymous Milan at that point was an undergraduate at Yale she was an architecture student she's an Asian American it's interesting to think about what might have happened had they known who this application was from well once her identity had been revealed there was real backlash and racism and it was backlash also about the abstraction of ultimately that was resolved by a much more naturalistic sculpture adjacent to the main memorial one that shows soldiers in a very naturalistic way three dimensionally which is also powerful but in a way that feels much more public and far less intimate well Milan was brilliant I think in creating a public space and yet tremendous intimacy we can feel those names inscribed and the act of reading is to come close to internalize those names my Lin's Vietnam Memorial is one of the most successful memorials in the nation and apparently one of the most visited monuments in Washington DC in a article that was published much later writing about her ideas for the monument Milan said it would be an interface between our world and the quieter darker more peaceful world beyond I chose black granite in order to make the surface reflective and peaceful I never looked at the memorial as a wall an object but as an edge to the earth and opened side the mirrored effect would double the size of the park creating two worlds one we are part of and one cannot enter but even that black granite created controversy she also talked about how she couldn't spec granite that came from Canada or from Sweden to countries that had really good quality black granite because there was too much political baggage because draft dodgers had gone to both of those countries and one opponent of her design said one needs no artistic education to see this memorial design for what it is a black scar in a hole hidden as if out of shame now this is very different I think than what Milam intended for the wall she specifically took an apolitical approach and wanted to design to be about those veterans who had sacrificed their lives and not about the political controversy at all not about whether the war was something shameful or something honorable well the country had not only fought the war but then fought itself over the meaning of the war but Milan I think was very wise in sidestepping that and putting to the fore simply the names the numerical power of all of those fallen and she wrote the wall D materializes as a form and allows the names to become the object pure and reflective surfaces that would allow visitors the chance to see themselves with the names
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