New Yorkers used to brag about their aversion to nature. Frank O’Hara’s lines from Meditations in an Emergency, “I can’t even enjoy a blade of grass unless I know there’s a subway handy, or a record store or some other sign that people do not totally regret life,” our rallying cry. Somewhere between the deportation of porn theaters and the arrival of rock climbing gyms, however, New Yorkers have become consumed with a desire for greenery and wide open spaces, it seems.
If you long for camping trips in the Adirondacks, but lack the time, or you’d like your foliage with a side of installation art, head to MetroTech Commons for Spencer Finch’s Lost Man Creek in Downtown Brooklyn.
Finch, in collaboration with the Public Art Fund, has created nothing short of a miniature forest. The Save The Redwoods Foundation provided Finch with topographical and canopy height maps of a 790-acre section of forest, which he recreated on a 1:100 scale, on a 4,500-square-foot plot.
The trees, all 4,000 of them, are all about 1-4 feet tall, toddlers compared to majestic fully grown redwoods, which can reach up to 380 feet. These saplings are smaller than both the plaza’s trees, and the office and university buildings surrounding it, which reminded me of how big these trees normally are in California, and how small they seem transported to Brooklyn. They are also housed in a wooden enclosure, presumably to protect the installation from urban elements, that their West Coast cousins don’t have to put up with.
“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,” explained Emma Enderby, Public Art Fund curator in a statement about Finch’s work. My own first impressions of the piece were more conflicted. Just knowing that Finch planted 4,000 trees, that he recreated the redwoods in Downtown Brooklyn was enough to get me racing to MetroTech. And objectively, it’s technically stunning. Subjectively, however, I had a nagging feeling that the experience of seeing the piece couldn’t possibly live up to all of the work that went into it, all that scaling down, using topographical maps, and planting thousands of trees.
Were these 4,000 trees more interesting to think about than to look at?
As I discovered on a second visit, Lost Man Creek is actually as intriguing and captivating to experience as it is to consider. The key here is not to skip the viewing platform that has been constructed for maximum tree appreciation. First of all, there is a staircase that leads to the platform. Who can resist a stairway to a forest, which feels like an invitation to Narnia smack in the middle of Downtown Brooklyn? The added height on the platform helps the trees show off and makes you feel like you’re actually in the forest, rather than viewing it from a distance.
The trees may be short, but they are lush, and it is a pleasure to experience them, even on a small scale. The short flight of stairs and small platform forces you to pause, to breathe, to take in your surroundings fully, for once, instead of rushing past them. Lost Man Creek will be on display for nearly six months, all told, so think of it this way–this work of art quite literally encourages you to watch trees grow.
It turns out I can enjoy a blade of grass, and this one just happens to be within spitting distance of multiple subway stations (though in 2016, sadly no record stores). Perhaps even O’Hara would approve.
Lost Man Creek is on view through March 11 2018 at MetroTech Commons, between Jay Street and Flatbush Avenue at Myrtle Avenue. Visit the Public Art Fund for more information.