Maya Lin is an artist on a mission. Since rising to prominence as a student, after her controversial design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington was picked over 1,400 other entries, she is no stranger to political polemic. There, she set out to reimagine the war memorial, rejecting the phallic protrusions of traditional cenotaphs and monuments in favour of a yonic gash, symbolic of a nation's wound that was at once fresh and slowly healing. Now, she is at it again, defying the idea of a memorial as a single, static point through the ambitious work, What is Missing? Conceived as Lin's last memorial, it is in fact a whole series of works, designed to highlight the devastating impact of mankind on the earth's environment. 

Here and There at Pace London is an exhibition that reflects this broad and ambitious attempt. The second part of a two-leg exhibition, the London show is the "There" to New York's "Here", and explores the natural phenomena of Europe, Asia, Africa and the Artic – a rather broad sweep of the globe compared to the first show's focus on New York State. The idea of geography is central to each of the works, with Lin mapping out various rivers and waterways in silver and steel pins. Of these, the works in silver are the much more successful – the smooth, lustrous surface of the medium replicates water much more convincingly than the disjointed effect of a row of steel pins embedded in the wall's surface. These silver pieces are also much more attractive: the use of casting giving the works a sculptural quality sadly lacking in the pieces made up of pins.

Indeed, Lin is perhaps most effective when she is borrowing from the media and vocabulary of traditional sculpture – a move that allows her to subvert our expectations of the genre, as she so successfully did with the Washington memorial. My favourite works here were the Disappearing Bodies of Water, sculptures made up of diminishing layers of carved marble that represented the gradual shrinking state of Lake Chad, the Aral Sea and (most poignantly) the Arctic Ice mass. The resultant works seem solid, permanent, even monumental, whilst their form – developing upwards from their large bases to the ever-smaller upper layers – is more reminiscent of a range of mountains than a body of water. Discovering that they actually represent something so fluid, temporal and even endangered, is quite a revelation. 

Whilst the works are beautiful and the ideas behind them intriguing, the exhibition itself often feels a little superficial. In the text that accompanies the exhibition, much is made of Lin's use of scientific data, the careful mapping of the earth's surface and the ocean's depths that led to the development of works such as Greenwich Mean Time. This sculpture replicates in marble a longitudinal section of the world, stretching from pole to pole along the Greenwich meridian. There is a certain pleasure in puzzling out the exact geography of this piece, working out which peaks and troughs corresponded to different oceans and landmasses. However, it would have been fascinating to see some of the sketches and charts that Lin used to design the work, not only for the insight that they could offer into her artistic process, but also because they would help to deconstruct the false dichotomy of art and science we are so often presented with. Such exposition would also help to pad the exhibition out a bit – with only nine works on view, many of which are fairly similar, the show does feel slightly sparse.

Maya Lin: Here and There, at Pace Gallery LondonKitty Walsh's review of Maya Lin: Here and There at Pace London.3