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A spectral ghost forest is coming to Madison Square Park this summer

You'll be able to walk through it.

Shaye Weaver
Written by
Shaye Weaver

A grove of 49 white cedar trees will be planted in Madison Square Garden this month, and they may give you the willies.

Ghost Forest, the installation of spooky trees, is opening May 10 with the hopes of raising awareness about the ill effects of climate change, specifically the dying off of vast tracts of forests, like the New Jersey Pine Barrens where the trees are from.

The Pine Barrens in New Jersey is a vulnerable area that has suffered "severe deprivation," according to the Madison Square Park Conservancy. These trees (Atlantic white cedars) were once plentiful on the East Coast but now there are fewer than 50,000 acres of them because of historic forestry practices and threats posed by climate change (like sea-level rise and saltwater infiltration).

Ghost Forest Maya Lin
Photograph: Andy Romer / Courtesy the artist and Madison Square Park Conservancy

The trees in this exhibit, which reach as high as 45 feet, were all slated to be cleared as part of regeneration efforts. Visitors to the park will be able to walk through the grove and commune with the ghostly figures.

"Ghost Forest presents two striking alternatives within the context of Madison Square Park— the ashen trees standing in contrast to the vibrancy of the park," said Brooke Kamin Rapaport, the deputy director and Martin Friedman Chief Curator of Madison Square Park Conservancy. "Maya’s installation underscores the concept of transience and fragility in the natural world and stands as a grave reminder of the consequences of inaction to the climate crisis and poor land use practices. Within a minimal visual language of austerity and starkness, Maya brings her role as an environmental activist and her vision as an artist to this work."

Ghost Forest Madison Square Park
Photograph: Andy Romer / Courtesy the artist and Madison Square Park Conservancy

Alongside the Ghost Forest, there will be a soundscape that visitors can listen to when they scan a QR code at the site. The audio will include sounds from extinct and endangered animals that were once native to NYC as well as historic clips of Lenape elders and contemporary voices introducing the name of each animal in Lenape languages are featured.

At the north corner of the Oval Lawn, the Conservancy will ask the public to share ideas on climate change by asking questions like, "How has climate change altered your daily life?" Their answers will be shared on social media.

The installation isn't the only way Madison Square Park is championing awareness for climate change—it'll host multiple art talks, a film screening, live music on the green and tree and shrub plantings.

Friday, June 4: Public Art Symposium: "Greening Public Art"
On Zoom — Leading artists, environmentalists, journalists, and cultural leaders will explore how art today addresses climate change, global migration, political turmoil, and food insecurity. Artist Maya Lin will lead with a keynote conversation with Maria Rodale of the Rodale Institute; Bill Ulfelder of The Nature Conservancy in New York; and the Earth Institute of Columbia University’s Andrew Revkin. Featured speakers include artist collective Dear Climate, artist Alison Janae Hamilton, artist Tavares Strachan and Serpentine Galleries Curator Lucia Pietroiusti.

Tuesday, June 15: Art Talk with Gabriella Demczuk
On Zoom or in person at Fotografiska—photojournalist Gabriella Demczuk will present her experience documenting ghost forests around the world.

Wednesdays in July and August: Music on the Green
On the Oval Lawn—Carnegie Hall curates a series of meditative musical performances by its own Ensemble Connect. Ticketing details will be announced.

September through November: Ghost Forest at Fotografiska
See a special exhibition of Maya Lin’s planning model and preparatory drawings for Ghost Forest, as well as photographs of the installation process and the final project.

September and October: Tree and Shrub Planting
At public parks throughout NYC—Natural Areas Conservancy, Madison Square Park Conservancy and Maya Lin are overseeing the planting of 1,000 trees and shrubs in public parks throughout New York City’s five boroughs, including Van Cortlandt Park, Riverside Park, and Prospect Park. These events are open to the public.

Tuesday, September 21: Art Talk with Maya Lin and Elizabeth Kolbert
On Zoom—Fotografiska New York and Climate Week NYC will host a discussion with Maya Lin and  Elizabeth Kolbert, New Yorker environmental writer and author of The Sixth Extinction, about the intersection of environmentalism and activism.

Tuesday, October 19: Art Talk with Maya Lin and Edwina von Gal
On Zoom or in-person—Fotografiska New York and Natural Areas Conservancy will host a discussion with Maya Lin and Edwina von Gal, landscape architect and founder of Perfect Earth Project, about issues of climate change and environmentalism through the lens of the built environment.

Tuesday, November 9: Film screening of The Pine Barrens by David Scott Kessler
On Zoom or in person—See an experimental documentary that explores our changing relationship to place and the natural world over time through its exploration of the Pine Barrens in New Jersey. The documentary will be screened in conjunction with a live score by The Ruins of Friendship Orchestra and is presented in collaboration with Fotografiska New York.

"As one of New York’s beloved public greenspaces, the Conservancy is committed to advancing environmental stewardship at the park through our mission and program," said Keats Myer, the conservancy’s executive director. "We are honored to be collaborating with Maya Lin to realize this powerful new commission that will heighten awareness of the realities of climate change and of urgent environmental issues that affect us all," 

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