The Listening Cone is a sound and video installation highlighting the destruction of the natural world
Maya Lin first rose to fame as an undergraduate architecture student by winning the competition to design the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. After facing down various controversies related to that project, she continued to design memorials such as the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama and the Women’s Table which documents the role of women at Yale University, among many others. Also known for landscape and gallery installations, Lin began designing what she says is her last memorial in 2009.
The project, called “What is Missing?,” seeks to highlight issues surrounding biodiversity and species loss due to human action and inaction through a variety of installations and media including sculptures like the Listening Cone at the California Academy of Sciences, over 150 videos such as “Unchopping a Tree,” and hundreds of stories collected through the What is Missing? Foundation’s website. Strongly focused on individual experiences of what Lin calls ‘the Sixth Great Extinction,’ the What is Missing? project seeks to educate world citizens about the dangers of habitat destruction and the former vitality and diversity of places around the globe.
The What is Missing? Foundation’s website displays user-submitted stories about lost biodiversity
The fact that the project straddles the disciplinary boundaries between architecture, landscape, sculpture, and information design makes it especially accessible and compelling, and raises the question of whether a memorial need be a static object, such as a statue on a pedestal. In fact, this memorial is constantly changing as visitors to the website submit memories of rivers that used to teem with fish but now run empty, or of forests where now only subdivisions run to the horizon.
In many ways, this project is the epitome of a memorial, since it holds the memory of acts already done, of species or natural features that cannot be brought back. It delivers the message that for much of the planet’s living things, it is already too late, and encourages us to prevent the situation from getting even more desperate.