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Students use Maya Lin’s memorial art installation to author new art [PHOTOS]

In an effort to create new art from existing art, Lori Esposito’s School of Art + Design “1240 Critical Perspectives” class constructed an art installation of charcoal and graphite rubbings on the fifth floor of Seigfred Hall this fall.

More than 120 students used their individual rubbings of the text engraved in Maya and Tan Lin’s memorial art piece “Input” at Ohio University’s Bicentennial Park at Walter Hall to create meaningful words, phrases and sentences.

Esposito said the assignment was a break from the typical lecture mode of teaching, which can be impersonal for a large class that is designed to teach students art theory and history.

Esposito teaching class

“The class explores a variety of contemporary theoretical ideas and topics, there is also quite a bit of history,” Esposito said. “It gives students who work in studio an opportunity to connect theory with practice.”

Angela Mendoza, a first-year graduate student who assisted Esposito with the class, said the students were instructed to create an interactive and improvisational art piece so that they could get a feel for letting go of their actual art and interacting with other people.

“Now it’s one huge community piece rather than their personal piece,” Mendoza said. “They also wrote an artist statement that explains what the words they chose mean and why they chose them.”

Student doing rubbings

Esposito said the project started off with a class lecture, followed by a discussion of public art, encompassing monuments, memorials, earth and environmental art and street art.

“We had been talking about appropriation and authorship, which is huge because it's part of media culture and a dominant experience for this generation,” Esposito said. “It's an idea of re-authoring that which already exists in the stream of culture. The process of interpretation is an act of authoring. As reader’s, we re-mix and re-contextualize to create possibilities for new meaning. 

“We explored a piece on campus that has been authored by an artist and her sibling and expanded the meaning of the work into individual constructions of language. Students created ‘rubbings’ of words engraved in the monument itself and used them to author their own pieces. To conclude the project, they returned their interpretations to another public site in Seigfred Hall, creating a collective voice in which no one person had total control."

Students doing rubbings

Esposito said she came up with this idea of the rubbings after realizing that when you go to Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., you can make a rubbing of your lost loved one’s name on paper and take a part of the monument with you.

She also noted that since the various phases of the class project was documented with video, it gives the videographers authority over the project as well.

“We can talk about how the text began as engraved stone, became something temporal (paper and graphite or charcoal) and now has become a digital time-based media piece,” Esposito said. “Everyone's re-authoring everyone's work. Everyone lays claim on meaning. It's about interpretation and how much the visual art form can be manipulated and changed. It can be shocking.”


Junior Heaven Herrold said her rubbings from the walls of “Input” formed the phrase “bits in me resemble bits of you.”

“I chose this phrase because I love my mother and wanted to let her know that,” Herrold said.

Interior architecture major Joanna Stoltzfus, who is taking the class as a prerequisite, said “giving thanks memories and moments” was her rubbings phrase.

“It is me recognizing that everything we do in life, every moment, is valuable and creates the memories that we have,” Stoltzfus said. “I’m just thankful for these memories.”

Rubbings on wall

Freshman studio art major Emily Herbst said she chose her words because they were beautiful and she always associates words with colors.

“I chose ‘rose, freeze, novel, map and silver,’” Herbst said. “I found them as the most beautiful words on that entire monument, they were the most brilliant and bright words that appeared to me.”

Student tracing

Herbst said the project was a creative way to look at public art, which is often misunderstood.

“People don’t always appreciate it and realize why it’s public,” Herbst said. “After this class, now I understand the Maya Lin piece. There’s no set meaning to it and it’s open to everyone’s interpretation.”

Rubbings wall

Esposito said there's been a lot of criticism of “Input” because people feel like they should be able to play football and other games at Bicentennial Park and there's no image to look at.

“They don't understand why it's there, but it's something they can celebrate,” Esposito said.

Esposito class rubbings

Esposito said “Input” was made to be an anti-monument because it’s not highly visible and unchanging like many traditional monuments, such as the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.

“In these times, anti-monuments are not static, but change with the participation of the viewer. You have an experience and it is there for people to take something away from it.” she said.

Rubbings wall

Esposito said it's important for us to appreciate Maya Lin’s vision and her contributions to memorials.

In November, President Barack Obama awarded Lin a Presidential Medal of Freedom for her career accomplishments. The award is the highest civilian honor for standouts in the arts, human rights, politics, public service and sports.

“Input is regional in its voice, but Maya Lin is a globally renowned artist. This project is an opportunity for students to tie a regional artwork to global ideas,” Esposito said.

Graffiti Wall

A closer look at ‘Input’ and the Lins

Maya Lin is one of the world’s most famous architectural designers and landscape artists, while her brother, Tan Lin, is a poet and English professor. The Lin siblings were born and raised in Athens, Ohio, while both of their parents worked at Ohio University.

Their earthwork installation, “Input,” which is part of the University’s 3.5-acre Bicentennial Park in front of Walter Hall on West Green, was revealed in May 2004 as part of Ohio University’s Bicentennial Celebration.

Maya Lin, who studied computer programming at Ohio University, as an Athens High School student said “Input” reflects the siblings’ shared memories of Athens and Ohio University. The installation, which has been described as a "landscape of words," consists of 21 rectangles, some raised and some depressed, resembling computer punch cards that were a mainstay of early programming courses. 

The Lins created “Input” as a memorial to their late father, Henry Lin, a former ceramics professor who served as dean of the Ohio University College of Fine Arts. He died in 1989. Their mother Julia Lin was a professor emerita of English who died in August 2013.