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Throughout her career, Maya Lin has created a remarkable body of work that balances large-scale site-specific installations, intimate studio artworks, architectural projects, and memorials. She created Groundswell in response to the unique architecture of the Wexner Center in 1992–93 as the recipient of the second Wexner Center Artist Residency Award in visual arts.
The work was installed in the spring of 1993 and formally dedicated on October 17, 1993, in conjunction with the opening of Maya Lin: Public / Private, an exhibition that presented Lin's studio objects for the first time, showing them in conjunction with photographs and models documenting her large-scale public projects.
Groundswell occupies three separate sites on three different levels of the Wexner Center, filling what Lin saw as "residual spaces" in the building's design. Lin has said of Groundswell that "the piece is a conscious effort on my part to combine my Eastern and Western cultural heritage—namely, mixing my affinity for the southeastern Ohio terrain and its regional burial mounds with my love for the raked-sand gardens of Japan." As Sarah J. Rogers, Wexner Center director of exhibitions at the time of Lin's residency, remarked in her essay for the Maya Lin: Public / Private catalogue, "Lin's interpretation of these forms reflects her own forthright vision." In nature, a "ground swell" is a major undulation or shift of the ocean or the earth's surface caused by seismic activity or a powerful storm. "Lin's Groundswell is similarly aggressive in its fluid interruption of these previously vacant spaces," Rogers noted.
Lin has also commented that Groundswell relates to both her studio artworks and her public projects, enabling her to bring her "private studio sculptures into the public domain." Its material, shattered tempered glass, is something she had previously used in her artworks, finding it "incredibly seductive [and] very beautiful," but with a kind of edginess as a potentially "dangerous" substance. The glass came from recycled glass doors (clear) and recycled car windows (green), mixed together to create a color that suggests water.
To mark the 20th anniversary of Groundswell's original installation, the Wexner Center and Lin worked together to restore the work and recover the original glistening qualities of the glass. Notes then Wexner Center Director Sherri Geldin, "From the moment Maya Lin completed Groundswell it became an inextricable part of the Wexner Center, ingeniously filling and transforming the concrete voids of Peter Eisenman's design. And while the Wex does not have a collection, this work has become a permanent part of our institutional identity and landscape."
Lin was particularly interested in using as much of the original recycled glass as possible. In January 2013, all of the glass was removed, sifted utilizing a modified grain separator, and cleaned with an eco-friendly detergent. The restored glass, augmented by a small amount of recycled and tumbled clear plate glass, was reinstalled by Lin in April 2013. Lin returned with two new site-specific works for the exhibition HERE: Ann Hamilton, Jenny Holzer, Maya Lin, organized as part of the center's 30th anniversary season in 2019.
Groundswell was made possible through the Wexner Center Artist Residency Award program.
The daughter of Chinese immigrants, Maya Lin (b. 1959) grew up in Athens, Ohio, where her parents served on the faculty of Ohio University. She graduated from Yale University, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1981 and a Master of Architecture in 1986, and has maintained a professional studio in New York City ever since.
Originally a project for an undergraduate class, Lin's visionary design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, catapulted her to international attention in 1981. Her subsequent memorials include A Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama, and Women's Table at Yale. Lin's more recent endeavors include an earthwork in New Zealand; a medical research center in Cambridge, Massachusetts; a park in Newport, Rhode Island; the Confluence Project, a multisite installation spanning the Columbia River system in the Pacific Northwest; and What is Missing?, an interactive multisite artwork intended to raise awareness about global biodiversity and habitat loss (described by Lin as her last memorial).
The documentary Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 1995. Lin's book Boundaries, about her work and creative processes, was first published by Simon & Schuster in 2006. Among her many honors, Lin is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the National Women's Hall of Fame. She was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama in 2009.
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Quotations come from Maya Lin: Public / Private (Columbus, OH: Wexner Center for the Arts, The Ohio State University, 1994) and Maya Lin, Boundaries (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006).