An ongoing project initiated by designer Maya Lin is a stunning combination of big data, environmental awareness and subtle beauty.
Harvesting from a wide variety of historical documents, scientific research, citizen observations and memories, What is Missing looks at the spaces left by the decline and disappearance of species, habitats and ecosystems.
The web presence for the project features a global map sprinkled with bright dots, each dot marking an event.
The map can be navigated to look at events past and present.
Many of the dots for Past events mark a loss (in the case of a dot near my own village in France, the story is about the loss of open fields and forest to suburban sprawl), while some of the Present dots signify work being done by conservation and environmental groups.
There are short videos and sound recordings of landscapes, species, waterways. Visitors are invited to add their own memories.
On Earth Day 2014, April 22, a new navigation direction will open: the Future.
In an excellent interview last year with Yale e360, Lin said, “We have actually forgotten how abundant the planet used to be and I think if I can pique your memory and make you realize how incredible biodiversity was in your own backyard, then maybe it is going to spur you to action, at which point we also have something on the Web site called “what you can do” — simple things each one of us can do in our everyday lives.”
I am particularly fond of work that takes a long view, and this bears some relation to the spirit of another favorite of mine, The Long Now.
Temporary installations related to What is Missing have taken place around the world, but the interactive web site is available for exploration any time, anywhere, and is worth an extended visit.