Google streetview of Time Landscape (2011). Image Source: Google via Cryptoforestry.
In the run-up to the holidays, I was reading a back issue of the now-defunct and sadly-missed Gourmet magazine. The December 1990 issue covered the Time Landscape, an art installation built in Greenwich Village, NYC, in the 1970s by Baby Boomer artist, Alan Sonfist.
Time Landscape (1978) was conceived as one of the first environmental art pieces. It constituted an effort to recapture a lost, pre-colonial landscape at the corner of West Houston Street and LaGuardia Place. Sonfist hired historians, botanists and various scientific researchers to replant indigenous plant species, including trees and wildflowers like violets and Black-Eyed Susans, on a small area of land in Manhattan. This effort saw, he claimed, the return of bird species to the area, such as hummingbirds, not seen there since the days of New Amsterdam.
Image Source: peeepl.
The origins of Time Landscape did not lie in 60s' enviro-ideology but in an attempt to recapture a personal memory from the late 1940s. A native New Yorker, Sonfist grew up at a time when one of New York City's last patches of wild forest still survived in the South Bronx:
As he described it, the concept for the project originated in the mid-sixties and grew out of his memories of a forest he had known during his early childhood in the South Bronx. "It was a ravine next to the Bronx river," he recalled, "and it was one of the last true forests anywhere in the city until it was paved over with concrete. (Gourmet magazine, December 1990, p. 85)
Time Landscape from above in 2005. Image Source: Viza 629.
Sonfist had a few hits and misses in this period:
Sonfist's message must have been an attack on the art canon, perceived at that time as a rigid, timeless and unchanging body of immortal works. This attack soon became the working norm among Postmodern aritists (as, for example, here). Sonfist was clearly interested in presenting works of art as objects that would capture something essential about the artist's reality, while acknowledging that the art piece itself would have a separate existence that would evolve over time, whether through natural degeneration, or in this case, organic growth. And yet, that chronal process was cleverly encapsulated in the form of a time capsule; moreover, the planted pre-colonial forest looked so innocuously at home that most passersby didn't even notice it. When faced with a true time warp, would we even register it?Sonfist himself achieved a small measure of notoreity during the seventies by attempting, somewhat prematurely, to donate the "work" he was most physically involved with - his mortal remains - to the Museum of Modern Art, an institution with which he had maintained reciprocally cordial relations until then. (Gourmet magazine, December 1990, p. 81)
Sonfist later has gone on to do other landscape projects, such as The Lost Falcon of Westphalia on Prince Richard's estate outside Cologne, Germany (2005).The artist had agreed to meet an interested party at the corner of Houston and LaGuardia Place one afternoon last summer [in 1990]. The visitor arrived early and spent a quarter of an hour strolling around the periphery of "Time Landscape," which didn't look as incongruous in the setting as he'd expected it would. Indeed, the patch of woodland seemed the single element in view that unequivocally belonged where it was. As the visitor peered westward through a bosky stand made up of sassafras, maple, beech, red cedar, birch, and several varieties of oak and evergreen shrub, the sound of tractor-trailers rumbling along Houston seemed to fade away, and the commercial establishments lining the west side of LaGuardia Place - Lilien Hardware & Supply Corp., Village Postal Center, Reno Fashions, West Broadway Cleaners, Number 1 Son Chinese Restaurant, Bruno Bakery, Tutta Pasta Ristorante, International Boutique ("est. 1969") - seemed ghostly presences from another, later time. (Gourmet magazine, December 1990, p. 85)
-This post is for -N.