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For Madison Square Park Conservancy’s next public art commission, Maya Lin realizes a site-responsive installation that brings into focus the ravages of climate change on woodlands around the world. “Ghost Forest” takes the form of a towering grove of spectral cedar trees, all sourced from the region and presented in sharp contrast to the Park’s lush tree line. The installation builds on Lin’s practice of addressing species loss, habitat loss, and climate change within her work and serves as a call to action to the thousands of visitors who pass through the Park daily. Originally planned for summer 2020, the exhibition will now open on May 10, 2021.
A series of virtual public events as well as in-person, socially distanced programs at the Park will complement the installation. These include a new soundscape composed by Lin in collaboration with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology that weaves together the calls and songs of endangered and extinct animals once native to the New York City area , as well as a series of meditative music performances inspired by nature and presented within the installation in conjunction with Carnegie Hall. The project will culminate in the fall with the planting of 1,000 native trees and shrubs in public natural area parks throughout each of New York City’s five boroughs. In addition to these programs, Madison Square Park Conservancy will host its sixth annual public art symposium on June 4, a dynamic virtual event exploring key issues raised by Ghost Forest, anchored by a keynote conversation with Maya Lin moderated by Andrew Revkin of Columbia University’s Earth Institute.
“Ghost Forest presents two striking alternatives within the context of Madison Square Park—the ashen trees standing in contrast to the vibrancy of the Park,” said Brooke Kamin Rapaport, Deputy Director and Martin Friedman Chief Curator of Madison Square Park Conservancy. “Maya’s installation underscores the concept of transience and fragility in the natural world and stands as a grave reminder of the consequences of inaction to the climate crisis and poor land use practices. Within a minimal visual language of austerity and starkness, Maya brings her role as an environmental activist and her vision as an artist to this work.”
Ghost Forest derives its name from the eponymous natural phenomenon: vast tracts of forestland that have died off due to extreme weather events related to climate change as well as sea-level rise and saltwater infiltration. To create the installation, Lin worked together with the Conservancy to source dead trees from a restoration project in the Pine Barrens in New Jersey, a vulnerable site that has suffered severe deprivation. Atlantic white cedars were once plentiful on the East Coast, but their population has dwindled to below 50,000 acres because of historic forestry practices as well as the threats posed from climate change. The cedar trees that will be installed in the Park were all slated to be cleared as part of regeneration efforts. In the Park, visitors will be able to wander through the trees, which will be organically interspersed in a dense cluster and stand 25 to 40 feet high. The installation brings the dire reality of this naturally occurring phenomenon to audiences in a dense urban environment and encourages a consideration of nature-based practices that can protect and restore the ecosystem.
“As one of New York’s beloved public greenspaces, the Conservancy is committed to advancing environmental stewardship at the Park through our mission and program. We are honored to be collaborating with Maya Lin to realize this powerful new commission that will heighten awareness of the realities of climate change and of urgent environmental issues that affect us all,” added the Conservancy’s Executive Director Keats Myer.