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How a Miniature Redwood Forest Landed in Downtown Brooklyn

You can now take a “nature bath” in the middle of New York City, thanks to artist Spencer Finch.

by Kara Weisenstein
Oct 10 2016, 12:55pm
Spencer Finch, Lost Man Creek, 2016. All images courtesy of the artist and Public Art Fund, NY. Photos by Timothy Schenck.

Good news! New Yorkers no longer have to venture upstate to find themselves in a forest. Thanks to artist Spencer Finch, anybody crossing MetroTech Commons can visit Lost Man Creek, Finch's recreation of a California woodland. In partnership with the Public Art Fund, his living artwork matches the topography and tree canopy of a 790-acre section of Redwood National Park, which New Yorkers will get to watch grow and change for the next 18 months.

Lost Man Creek is a peaceful oasis in the thick of the office buildings of downtown Brooklyn. That much green amidst the concrete is stunning, and the smell of pine needles, mulch, and clean air is meditative. Walking the perimeter of the installation makes you feel like a giant, since Finch shrank trees ranging from 98' to 380' tall in the wild, to one to four feet tall in miniature. There’s a viewing platform at one end, and if passerby don’t stop to read placards, the piece looks like a serene grove of ferns.

A landscape from the West Coast popping up cross-country can be disorienting, but the exhibition is geographically confused for a reason. “To bring something that seemed so out of context to an urban center, I think Spencer thought it would be quite strange and disruptive but also very poetic,” associate curator Emma Enderby, who organized the exhibition, tells The Creators Project. “He wanted to give people a slice of understanding of the scale, range, and depth of these forests.”

The Redwood National Forest in Northern California is one of the nation’s most treasured natural wonders. It’s home to the tallest trees in the world, and though its 131,983 acres are now protected, 96% of the original old-growth trees were logged more than a century ago. Today, detailed maps of the area are kept private to protect the trees, so Finch worked with the Save the Redwoods League to ensure his 4,500 sq. ft. miniature forest was topographically and botanically accurate.

For nature-deprived New Yorkers, the exhibition is a chance to reflect on the importance of conserving parts of the world that are still wild. “If you were to scale up, these trees would be taller than any of the surrounding buildings,” Enderby says. “Making something that’s sort of intangible really tangible and presenting it here is perhaps jarring. It’s a little confrontational, by making us think about these natural wonders.” Like the real landscape, Finch’s installation includes swaths of nearly-bare earth, where logging decimated the landscape. In California, the new-growth trees that were re-planted nearly 100 years ago are still just saplings.

Finch worked with arborists and architects to engineer a planting and irrigation system designed to help the trees flourish. Though the Redwood National Forest is filled with Coast Redwoods, the 4,000 trees in the installation are Dawn Redwoods, better suited to the East Coast climate. After incubating in Brooklyn till March 2018, the young trees will all be rehoused.

The Public Art Fund champions varied and inventive work for the public realm, and Lost Man Creek feels like a natural extension of Finch’s practice. “Through both a scientific approach to gathering data—including precise measurements and record keeping—and a poetic sensibility, Finch’s works often inhabit the area between objective investigations of science and the subjectivity of lived experience,” Enderby says. “In a world where climate change is at the core of societal debates, Finch’s installation in the heart of one of the most urbanized neighborhoods of the city presents us with the universal reality of nature’s power to awe and inspire, and the importance to remember and protect such wonders.”

To learn more about Lost Man Creek, visit the Public Art Fund’s website and follow them on Instagram. The installation is free and open to the public, on view in MetroTech Commons through March 2018.

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