Artist and architect Maya Lin’s interactive tribute to extinct animals, their songs and their names – a call to action

by Sabrina I. Pacifici on November 10, 2013

The Art of Missing - Encounters with the sights, sounds, and stories of the species we hardly knew, by James Guida

What is Missing - the interactive website

“But what of the site itself? As you enter to a concert of twittering and croaks, little dots move in a swarm across the screen, assume the forms of certain animals, and then take their allotted seats on a darkened map of the world. Placing the cursor over a dot reveals the name of an animal, place, or ecosystem; click on it, and a number of things might happen. An excerpt from Captain Cook’s journals may pop up, or a video begins, suddenly placing you in a mangrove swamp or before the enthralling dance show of a prairie chicken (he’s a must-see). As at the Pace show, brief sentences accompany the video entries—data about shrinking glaciers, bald eagles and DDT, commercial fishing laws unenforced, the disastrous toll of hunting and poaching for rare animals. With a video of pteropods, the text only has to explain what we’re looking at: the marine snail’s lack of shell is a new development, the result of ocean acidification. Visitors to the site are welcome to add their own memories, too. A resident of Spring, Texas, on the disappearance of fireflies from her town, writes: “It’s been twenty-five years, and I have not seen one since. I miss them.” I won’t describe how the website functions in every detail—there are too many facets to it, and the point seems to be to discover them for yourself. Also, tech-impaired, I’m still working them out. Yet the sheer sensory pleasure of the site is worth noting. The quality doesn’t seem incidental: in a memorial to extinct animals, it won’t do to simply list names—the reduction of wildlife to text and statistics, to be filed away and forgotten, is part of the problem. A reconstructed memory would require that we picture the beast in question, read stories of actual encounters, hear the animal’s voice itself. All of this is included in What Is Missing? and among its auditory treasures are growling jaguars, the shrill yet somehow fetching cry of Indri lemurs, and “The Most Beautiful Sound of the Humpback Whale.” So-called “background” noises of forest and ocean are acknowledged as dynamic foregrounds; from what I can tell, there are no narrating human voices…”

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