Frederick Law Olmsted brought nature to New York in his carefully controlled design of Central Park. In that green oasis amid the city’s dense buildings, nature comes to urbanites in the form of clipped lawns, pruned trees, and managed views, in an environment so cultivated that one might wonder what is natural about it. A new art installation in Lower Manhattan questions that fraught relationship between the city and nature by bringing wilderness back to one city park through an unscripted, flowering meadow.
Artists Julie Farris and Sarah Wayland-Smith call their work “A Clearing in the Streets.” It’s a meadow grown from the seeds of native plants and grasses that will grow and flower for the next four months on a raised bed in Collect Pond Park. “You will see a big change over the course of a four-month installation,” says Wayland-Smith, who works for urban design firm Balmori Associates and previously worked in the studio of Maya Lin. “We knew we could reveal a nice cycle of time.”
The meadow is 15 feet in diameter and is enclosed by an architectural boundary of 10 seven foot-tall plywood panels, with eight-inch gaps in between them for passersby to peer through. When they do, they see an interior that feels quite open despite its walls, since the inside of the panels are painted sky blue. The constructed boundary highlights the contrast between the built world of the city and the natural processes of the meadow.
When the Public Art Fund-sponsored project is dismantled in October, the wood, soil and stones will be donated to neighborhood community gardens. In the meantime, the artists visit regularly to water their meadow and talk to park patrons about the plants and colors that will bloom. And New Yorkers downtown for jury duty, that most begrudged of civic responsibilities, can soon expect to gaze at stands of goldenrod as they munch sandwiches on their lunch breaks.
Photo: Seong Kwon, courtesy of Public Art Fund