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Inspiring Reflection and Climate Action Through Public Art

Sep 21, 2021 | Art

Inspiring Reflection and Climate Action Through Public Art

Ghost Forest 130521 0009 9 (1)

With public art, the private act of looking becomes a shared, civic experience. Since Maya Lin’s Ghost Forest opened, parkgoers have gathered under the cedars, absorbing the gravity of the meaning of the stark, leafless trees, sourced from a dying forest in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, and the message they convey. Embedded in the work is a collective call to action for citizens to address climate change.

Concurrent with this collective reckoning on climate, Lin has inlaid a deeply private act that presents an alternative form of access to the project. Listen to her thirteen-minute Ghost Forest Soundscape, realized in collaboration with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Through technology and audio clips, you are transported from viewing a work of public art on-site with hundreds of others into a distinctly personal realm of looking and listening. The Soundscape surrounds you with the calls and sounds of living creatures that were once abundant in New York City. You can hear the names of these birds and animals in the Unami and Munsee languages of the Lenape people and receive the living land acknowledgement researched and written with guidance from the Lenape Center in New York. 

When visitors walk into Ghost Forest, stop in its center, linger or weave through its perimeter, they can be overcome by the beauty and majesty of a stand of haunting trees, their overpowering presence even more noticeable in comparison with human scale. But by taking in the private moments of the Soundscape, visitors are encouraged to personal involvement, and consideration of what has been lost. While the trees make us look upward to contemplate the ravages of climate change, the Soundscape prompts inward reflection by summoning past histories. Public art is a catalyst for debate and discussion. Through Ghost Forest and the Ghost Forest Soundscape, Maya Lin, an artist with agency and vision, has galvanized collective and private responses to the devastation of our planet.

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Madison Square Park Conservancy is taking action on climate through our Sustainability initiative. We have made a commitment to protect the park’s delicate ecosystem by supporting native wildlife and reducing our carbon footprint. We use the iNaturalist app to document the living animals, insects, and horticulture in the park to  better understand the impact climate change has on our park. Parkgoers moved by these efforts and by Ghost Forest can join us to protect the park and our neighborhood from climate change by joining our sustainability initiative.

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