“I think I’ve always had that activist stance, yet at the same time, the other side of me-and this is where some people just don’t get it, or why they’d prefer it if he work was a lot uglier, a lot louder- I had this personality where I just want to put something out that’s a fact and then let you interpret it”.
“I always research something for three months, a year, six months. I think I do it because it’s an incubation period. And it’s also because I come from a family of academics, and I guess I miss school. So this is my way of being a little bit of a student. I never become an expert. And you can tell, the minute I’m done with the project, I forget, almost immediately, facts. And then I go onto the next one. It’s funny, but it’s for that moment that I’m — for the two or three years, I’m sort of immersed in it.”
“So, I started talking to the scientists, talking to the professors, and they started giving me books on aerodynamics, fluid dynamics. And one of the books I came across was this repetitive water wave. And I said, "That's the piece." Now, of course I presented it to the engineers. And they were going, "Well, that belongs over in naval engineering. It doesn't belong over here." I always now say, when I go mine for information, because I never know what I'm gonna find, that probably nothing I get from you will be used in the art work. Just, can I ask a lot of questions? Otherwise, especially scientists, they tend to get very specific and think you're gonna do it very literally. And I think art is about the non-literal connection. It's that one thing doesn't correlate directly to the other, or it's too obvious. It's too easy, and in a way, if it can be understood and explained, it will not have its own life.”
“I wasn’t fascinated with death. It was just sort of from an architectural point of view. It was interesting. And I think funereal works are very psychologically and emotionally-based. And I think I was very interested in almost the psychological effects architecture has on people. I’m beginning to understand the last line of your book, where you say, “Maybe I’m just asking you to pay closer attention to the land–” Yeah, definitely. “–whether the land is a cemetery or sports coliseum.” Right. Or in the middle of nowhere, just a little brief inclusion that you can’t tell if it’s man made or natural. I love that ambiguity.”
“You could’ve come out of any school, this is my awareness, and being called an artist; all my friends were coming to New York right after we all graduated, they were all artists. And I remember being at the table with a couple of art professors and they said, “Well you work isn’t art. You’re a memorialist.” And I went “Hmmm”.”
“I came across a phrase that actually sent chills down my spine. Women were allowed to sit in on classes in the 1800. They were called “silent listeners”. And I thought that was the most atrocious attitude about women. And then you find out that Yale officially went co-ed undergrad, it went co-ed with a very tough quota system. But the idea is, we still have to graduate X number of Yale men. Then, we’ll let a few other women in. The Vietnam has a closed time frame. It begins and ends at the apex. For the Civil Rights Memorial, there’s a gap between 1954, you walk around clockwise-and you end in ‘68. Commemorating women at Yale, we have a beginning, but certainly, it’s ongoing. So I thought of a spiral.”
“I could offer something out as an information table that would give people a brief glimpse of the era the way I had been, after having looked at this material, been given a glimpse? And of course, the idea is, you look at this. You’ll want to study it more. Because the one thing about sculptures, the one thing about memorials is: I can draw you in. I can make you think for 15 minutes, whatever, then it’s really about where you go after that. I was very focused on how it was teaching people about the history cause I think in the end, a lot of my world deal with history and teaching. It’s not so much about death. It’s really about sharing a history so that we don’t forget it, so that we can improve upon it”.
“I had two feelings at the time. One, I really did not want to be typecast as a memorial designer. Two, I could not believe that there hadn’t been a national civil rights memorial. What bothered me about going down thinking about the past in this one is that it’s not done. It’s not a closed timeline. It’s ongoing. So I needed something to connect the past, which would be the history, which became the water table, with the talk about the future which is the quote. And that’s the two elements and then the water pulls them back together symbolically”.
“This apolitical approach became the essential aim of my design; I did not want to civilize war by glorifying it or by forgetting the sacrifices involved. The price of human life in war should always be clearly remembered. But on a personal level, I wanted to focus on the nature of accepting and coming to terms with a loved one’s death. Simple as it may seem, I remember feeling that accepting a person’s death is the first step in being able to overcome that loss. I felt that as a culture we were extremely youth-oriented and not willing or able to accept death or dying as a part of life. The rites of mourning, which in more primitive and older cultures were very much a part of life, have been suppressed in our modern times. In the design of the memorial, a fundamental goal was to be honest about death, since we must accept that loss in order to begin to overcome it.”
“I made a conscious decision not to do any specific research on the Vietnam War and the political turmoil surrounding it. I felt that the politics had eclipsed the veterans, their service, and their lives. I wanted to create a memorial that everyone would be able to respond to, regardless of whether one thought our country should or should not have participated in the war. The power of a name was very much with me at the time, partly because of the Memorial Rotunda at Yale. In Woolsey Hall, the walls are inscribed with the names of all the Yale alumni who have been killed in wars. I had never been able to resist touching the names cut into these marble walls, and no matter how busy or crowded the place is, a sense of quiet, a reverence, always surrounds those names. Throughout my freshman and sophomore years, the stonecutters were carving in by hand the names of those killed in the Vietnam War, and I think it left a lasting impression on me…the sense of the power of a name.”
“I incorporate a lot of architecture with sustainability, being able to incorporate it in everyday life, I think there are a lot of outlets on campus that can really use that, especially where we have such a large sustainability office, and we have such a large arts presence on campus. I think it’s a great incorporation of both of the two.”
“My backyard was all woods and streams and nature, and I think that thoroughly grounded me, as well as coming of age during the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act. In the ‘70s, there was Civil Rights, the Vietnam anti war movement, women’s rights, but then it was the environment”.