World famous artist and architect Maya Lin planted 49 dying trees in the middle of Manhattan in a surreal and harrowing depiction of climate change entitled Spirit forest. On behalf of the Madison Square Park Conservancy and in combination with other programs, the artwork can be seen until November 14, 2021.
“Geisterwald” is named after the real phenomenon of dead and dying forests that arise from climate change events – often from beetle infestations due to warmer temperatures or saltwater floods due to rising sea levels.
These 49 Atlantic White Cedars come from the Pine Barrens in New Jersey. The trees were victims of saltwater infiltration and should be removed to regenerate and replant the area. At up to 45 feet tall and roughly 80 years old, each of the trees is technically still alive. It takes several years for them to completely succumb to their irreversible beliefs. In other words, this is not a dead forest, it is a dying forest.
With this horror in mind, one of the strangest experiences when visiting the “Ghost Forest” is the clash of pulsating life and laughter that weaves between the solemn trees. Maya Lin has incorporated lush green grass between the trees to invite visitors to sit and linger. On my last visit, the base of almost every tree was home to a sunbather or an outdoor student.
The bare trees are also intended to contrast with the ever-changing flowering trees in the rest of the park. Since the works can be seen from May to November, the neighboring trees will slowly transition through several seasons while the 49 giants remain frozen in time.
I highly recommend this short documentary to see the installation of the work and hear Maya Lin’s story of her personal connection to vast ghost forests near her home.
When in New York, the best time to visit is 9:45 am. Although the factory is visible around the clock, visitors can only enter the factory from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day. So if you arrive before 10 a.m., you can experience the work as an eerily silent void and then be the first to enter at 10 a.m. For the next 20 minutes, you will see other New Yorkers enter and vigorously liven up the installation.
Various additional programs surround the work, including a soundscape of animals that were once native to Manhattan (the best way to experience it is sitting in the park and accessible via QR code from various signs) and the planting of 1000 brand new trees in the five districts of CO2 -Compensate the footprint created by the creation of the work. Lin measured carbon costs throughout the 3-year process. Finally, at the end of the installation, the trees are recycled into building materials and tree mulch.
What: “Spirit Forest” by Maya Lin
When: May 10, 2021 – November 14, 2021
Where: Madison Square Park, New York, NY
All images courtesy of the artist and the Madison Square Park Conservancy, photographed by Andy Romer unless otherwise noted.