MetroTech Commons in the middle of downtown Brooklyn is an unlikely site for a redwood forest. Gray buildings rise tall above the busy pedestrian square; on the nearby streets, buses wheeze and car horns sound. People move quickly on their way to and from the subway; some gather for lunch in the Commons, but few take in their surroundings.
But if they were to look toward the eastern side of the plaza, they’d see a miniature slice of California taking root in a triangular patch of lawn. Spencer Finch: Lost Man Creek, a 4,500-square-foot installation set to open October 1, brings a 790-acre section of the Redwood National Park to downtown Brooklyn, but at a 1:100 scale.
Finch is a Brooklyn-based artist whose previous works have opened similarly inventive lenses on the landscape. The River that Flows Both Ways, his permanent installation on The High Line in Manhattan, displays 700 individual panes of glass representing the water conditions in the Hudson River over the course of a single day. Emma Enderby, associate curator at the Public Art Fund, which commissioned Lost Man Creek, says that what drew her to Finch’s work is the way he transforms large swaths of scientific data into poetic representations of the changing landscape.
For the installation at MetroTech, Finch and the Public Art Fund worked closely with the California-based nonprofit Save The Redwoods League to aggregate and scale precise data on the trees and topography around the Lost Man Creek Trail in Humboldt County, California.
Each of the approximately 4,000 trees in the MetroTech installation will be a scaled representation of an existing California Redwood, Finch says. The tallest tree in California’s Lost Man Creek is 380 feet tall; the Brooklyn version will stand around 4 feet high. The trees in the installation are not actually California Redwoods; rather, they’re a distant cousin, called metasequoias, or Dawn Redwoods, adaptable to the NYC climate and found along city streets and in Central Park. While smaller than their California counterparts, they grow quickly—the trees in the installation will be trimmed twice per season to keep them at their scaled heights.
Underneath the miniature forest in Brooklyn, a plywood-based mountain range will mimic the hilly topography of Humboldt County. The tallest peak of the installation will reach around 8 feet tall, and the lowest will lie flush with the pavement in MetroTech Commons. “As you circle the perimeter of the installation, some of the trees will be eye-level; some will be below you, some will be above,” Finch says. “Whereas at actual Lost Man Creek, you’re just looking up in awe.”
It’s that feeling of wonder that Finch hopes to instill in the Brooklyn passerby. “I’m hoping there’s a sort of gestalt thing that happens,” he says. “People will see this weird, topographic landscape, then realize that the Redwoods this scale model represents are actually taller than the buildings around MetroTech Commons, which is incredible.” A human being scaled down to his installation, he adds, would be about three-quarters of an inch tall.
Finch’s installation transplants one of the U.S.’s most incomprehensible natural wonders in the midst of its largest metropolis. “I wanted to make something that was big enough and weird enough to engage people—to make them stop and think about the power of the landscape,” Finch says.
Spencer Finch: Lost Man Creek is on view at MetroTech Commons in Downtown Brooklyn from October 1 through March 11, 2018.
H/t Untappped Cities