When I returned to San Francisco after the winter holidays, I went to see Maya Lin’s Systematic Landscapes at the de Young Museum. The museum was packed, but fortunately the crowds were mostly interested in Yves Saint-Laurent (which after viewing, it turned out, I was mostly uninterested in).
Lin’s recent work represents landscape data rather than the landscape itself. It is a transformation of scientific viewing into artistic viewing. The direct observation of the world is done through mechanical, sonic, or digital means by non-human systems. Lin translates this information–the landscape as it is perceived by machines–into a new set of drawings or scaled-down landscape structures, allowing us to move around and inhabit the data. The work still looks very digital, but the transcription has an obvious human hand, and the bumps in the data are smoothed to the point where the analog feel of a landscape is restored.
After meandering through Lin’s constructions, I made my way through many of the other galleries at the museum. I was really happy to run into a lot of work by Al Farrow, whose reliquary series I first encountered at 21C in Louisville a week prior. Farrow constructs iconic religious structures from ammunition and weaponry. The structures themselves are beautiful, and the obvious subtext of religiously-sanctioned violence makes the work challenging without being didactic.
Systematic Landscapes was on view at the de Young museum October 25, 2008 – January 18, 2009. It traveled to be there, so there is a chance it will travel to a city near you in the future.
View more photos taken at The de Young Museum on Flickr.