In the normal world, you ordinarily wouldn’t find a dense stand of redwood trees anywhere close, not even remotely, to a Chipotle.
Or a Starbucks, an Au Bon Pain or a bustling subterranean transit center where three different subway lines converge.
But rapidly gentrifying downtown Brooklyn — with its wig stores, iconic cheesecake outlets and super-sized rats — isn’t, for all intents and purposes, the normal world.
And so, MetroTech Center, a high-rise laden business district tucked between historic Brooklyn Heights and Flatbush Avenue, has recently indeed become home to a real-deal Californian redwood forest en miniatura.
Covering 4,500 square feet, the Lilliputian thicket is technically an arboreal art installation – a “living artwork” as presenting organization the Public Art Fund calls it — composed of roughly 4,000 individual young Metasequoia — the fast-growing dawn redwood. On public display through May 2018, the exhibition is a remarkably faithful replica of an actual 790-acre section of California’s Redwood National and State Parks realized in 1:100 scale.
Composed of miniature foam hills, several tons of soil and roughly 4,000 redwood saplings, 'Lost Man Creek"' is described as a 'universal reminder of nature's power to inspire.' (Photo: Timothy Schenck/Public Art Fund)
MetroTech Commons, the park bench-heavy 3.5-acre green space at the heart of the 11-building MetroTech campus, has long played host to a number of revolving art installations and provocative permanent sculptures courtesy the Public Art Fund. The art serves as intriguing eye candy for those working at MetroTech (tenants range from MakerBot Industries to JPMorgan Chase to the FDNY) as well as those passing through on their way to somewhere else.
While past art and current installations at MetroTech Commons have undoubtedly done a fine job of commanding the attention of those who encounter them (Tony Matelli’s uncannily lifelike service dog sculpture gets me every single time), there’s something truly magical about the lush mini-forest — a little slice of Humboldt County in Kings County — growing within the glass, steel and concrete confines of Brooklyn’s “premier urban office campus.”
Dubbed “Lost Man Creek,” the undulating, specially irrigated work was created by Brooklyn-based artist Spencer Finch in collaboration with conservation group Save the Redwoods League, which provided Finch with various resources such as topographical and canopy height maps. These resources enabled Finch to create a work that truly mimics an ancient redwood forest located 3,000 some miles away on the opposite coast, hills, valleys and specific tree heights included. As the Public Art Fund puts it, “Lost Man Creek” — named after an actual physical feature and hiking trail within the vast rain forests of Redwoods National and State Parks — makes “the intangible scale of a redwood forest tangible.”
Like the real swath of redwood forest it recreates, 'Lost Man Creek' features the same topographic features such as hills and valleys. Even the heights of the trees are the same, albeit at a smaller scale. (Photo: Timothy Schenck/Public Art Fund)
Writes Emma Enderby, associate curator with the Public Art Fund, in a press statement:
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. 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.
“Lost Man Creek” is the first time that Finch, an artist best known for light installations and blue-hued permanent works featured at the High Line (“The River the Flows Both Ways”) and at the National 9/11 Memorial Museum (Trying to Remember the Color of the Sky on That September Morning”), has worked with living trees as a medium.
“This is in the tradition of a landscape, it’s like a landscape painting," Finch tells the Guardian of his latest work. "I hope people will have a sort of reverie, that it’s an escape for them. So much about urban life now is about commerce. Maybe people can have a magical moment here.”
With a little bit of magic and a whole lot of soil, artist Spencer Finch brings the protected rain forests of northern California to an urban office campus in downtown Brooklyn. (Photo: Timothy Schenck/Public Art Fund)
It’s worth noting that outside of MetroTech Commons, Metasequoia can be found in New York City’s parks and along city sidewalks. But 4,000 of these trees clustered together in an arrangement that recreates an actual swath of old-growth forest? It’s certainly a first.
On that note, mature dawn redwoods are famous for positively soaring, reaching heights between 98 and a staggering 380 feet tall. As to comply with zoning regulations and not potentially dwarf the office towers that surround them as they would in a real redwood forest, the 4,000 or so saplings used in “Lost Man Creek” will be pruned and top out at a max of 4-feet-tall and. When the exhibition closes in 2018, they'll be transplanted to new homes.