Along the coast of California, ancient redwood trees tower hundreds of feet in the air. Mystical, moss-covered and blissfully secluded, the Redwood National and State Parks and their 1,000-year-old groves feel about as far away as possible from the relentless bustle of metropolitan life.
Yet for the next year and a half, commuters traveling through downtown Brooklyn’s MetroTech Plaza will get the chance to enjoy a redwood grove. Brooklyn-based artist Spencer Finch has taken a portion of a redwood forest and shrank it down to a 1:100 scale. Called Lost Man Creek after the area of redwood forest it is based upon, the triangular plot of land is identical to it in every aspect but size–creating a living, growing model in miniature of the enormous forest on the opposite coast.
Finch began working on the project over a year ago, after being contacted by the Public Art Fund, a New York-based art nonprofit that organizes an annual installation at the MetroTech Plaza. While surveying the site, Finch found a 4,500-square-foot triangle of grass and had the idea to plant a forest in the middle of the Plaza, which serves as an academic-industrial research park. “I liked the idea of taking something as wild and ancient and natural as the redwood forest and plopping it down into something that’s as urban as the MetroTech,” he says.
To find a site in the redwoods that he could reproduce on a small scale, Finch turned to the Save The Redwoods League, an organization that protects and raises awareness about the redwood forests. Through them, he gained access to private, NASA-produced canopy maps that showed the sizes of the trees in different areas of the park. Finch took a drawing of the triangular plot in downtown Brooklyn and blew it up 100 times to create a transparent template that could be laid over the canopy map to find an area roughly the same shape, and populated by uniformly tall trees. After finding Lost Man Creek, he planned out a site that would match identically, but using 1- to 4-foot tall saplings in place of the 98- to 380-foot-tall trees in the actual grove.
Finch also replicated the topology of the land, something he managed by arranging foam blocks into hills (the highest is 8 feet, scaled down from the actual 800 feet) and valleys. He covered the foam with a foot of soil and created an irrigation system out of plastic tubes that will release water at routine intervals to keep the forest well-watered. The trees are Dawn Redwoods, a relative species of the trees on the West Coast, and will be trimmed to maintain their size over the duration of the year and a half installation. Because the trees are deciduous, the needles will fall in the winter and grow back in the spring; creeks run like veins throughout the site, just as they do on the Lost Man Creek, except they won’t be filled with water.
California’s redwoods have always held a certain mythology and allure, and are recognizable even to those who have never been to see them. Because of that, Finch hopes that people traveling through the MetroTech to get to the nearby trains or office buildings will find it relaxing and engaging, while also recognizing what it represents.
In Brooklyn, the young redwoods may be dwarfed by the surrounding buildings, but the tallest tree in the patch of land the installation mirrors is actually taller than the MetroTech building behind the site. Plus, Finch says, even young these trees can already show how they will look in a thousand years. “You know how some babies look like old souls?” he says. “If you squint just right, some of these saplings look like they could be enormous old trees.”
The installation opened this weekend and will run through 2017.
[All Photos (unless otherwise noted): Timothy Schenck/courtesy Public Art Fund, NY]