If you’re walking down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan this month, you might do a double take when you hit Madison Square Park. It’s an oasis normally, this green island in the middle of the city—but now, it’s home to a surreal stand of dead trees, seemingly sprung up overnight.
The installation, titled Ghost Forest, is the work of renowned artist and architect Maya Lin, and is part of Madison Square Park Conservancy’s public art program. In keeping with Lin’s commitment to environmentalism and site specificity, the project has been in gestation since 2013.
After spending time in Colorado and seeing a rash of pine trees quickly dying, she chose to work with dead trees instead of living ones, giving Ghost Forest its macabre name, and alluding to the dire state of forests around the world.
Maya Lin, Ghost Forest (2021). Photo by Andy Romer, courtesy of the artist and Madison Square Park Conservancy.
In an exclusive interview filmed back in 2013 as part of Art21’s Extended Play series, Lin spoke about the process of creating her sculpture series Disappearing Bodies of Water, which touched on another environmentalist theme: the consequences of erosion.
“I was brought up in the ’60s… so, whether I was petitioning to boycott Japan for the whaling industry, or petitioning to ban steel traps… [I was] sort of being a bit of an activist.” That early impulse remains formative in Lin’s art practice, which she says is “really personal.”
As at Madison Square Park, with the Bodies of Water series, the beauty of the installation is tied to the sense of mourning and loss.
“I’m as much interested in the form-making that I’m doing,” she told Art21, “as well as getting you to think about what we’re doing to the world around us.”
Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s New York Close Up series, below. “Maya Lin: Ghost Forest” is on view at Madison Square Park, between Fifth Avenue and Broadway and East 23rd and 26th Streets, New York, May 10–November 14, 2021.
This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between Artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new series of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series like New York Close Up and Extended Play and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org
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