Long-delayed but ultimately triumphant, Maya Lin’s stark commentary on climate change finally opened today in Manhattan’s Madison Square Park. Ghost Forest has transplanted and “resurrected” 49 Atlantic white cedar trees killed by saltwater infiltration in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens to the park, where they’ll remain through November 14, 2021.
“Throughout the world, climate change is causing vast tracts of forested lands to die off,” said Lin in her artist’s statement. “They are being called ghost forests; they are being killed off by rising temperatures, extreme weather events that yield saltwater intrusion, forest fires, and insects whose populations are thriving in these warmer temperatures, and trees that are more susceptible to beetles due to being overstressed from these rising temperatures.
“In southwestern Colorado where my family and I live in the summer, these forests—killed off by beetles—are all around us. As I approached thinking about a sculptural installation for Madison Square Park, I knew I wanted to create something that would be intimately related to the Park itself, the trees, and the state of the earth.”
Although the 40-to-50-foot-tall trees might seem mighty, they were all felled by salt deposited into the soil during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Now they stand “planted” in Madison Square Park but bereft of leaves, and the dichotomy between the living trees surrounding them and Ghost Forest will only become more evident as the weather warms.
Ghost Forest was originally supposed to be installed in the park last June as part of the Madison Square Park Conservancy’s annual public art program, but as previously reported, was delayed due to COVID. Now that the exhibition is fully installed, the conservancy and Lin have planned a suit of “regenerative” activities to run alongside Ghost Forest as the counterpoint to its visual metaphor for the destruction of human activity.
Activities include: A soundscape of the animals once native to the island of Manhattan, created in partnership with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and listenable to online; a public tree and shrub planting campaign that will introduce up to 1,000 new plants across all five boroughs in September and October; a series of panels at the intersection of art and ecology; invitations to reflect on the personal toll of climate change, and more. From September through November, Fotografiska New York will also host an exhibition containing Lin’s process sketches and photos of Ghost Forest during and after installation.