Summer brings Roxy Paine's stainless-steel trees to a New York park.
Howard Halle -- Interior Design, 6/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
A patch of green hemmed in by stone, steel, and glass, New York's Madison Square Park seems a particularly apt setting for the stainless-steel trees of Roxy Paine. He's created more than a dozen—one for the "Whitney Biennial" in 2002—and all participate in his exploration of the uneasy relationship between nature and culture, organic and synthetic. "I'm trying to find an awkward harmony in this combination of contradictions," he explains of Conjoined, two fictional species of trees reaching out to each other in a phantasmagoric arch.
Commissioned for the Madison Square Park Conservancy's Mad. Sq. Art series, featuring notable contemporary talents, the piece was, to say the least, a challenge to fabricate. After "dreaming it up" with the conservancy for three years, Paine says, he set to work making 40 separate sections in his upstate studio. His team used stainless-steel plates for the trunk components; branches consist of stainless pipes and rods. Trucked 160 miles southeast, all were welded together in the park, where a crew had already poured two 8-foot-square concrete foundations for round base plates to which the 6,500-pound trunks could be bolted. Getting them to stand upright required quite a few adjustments. "It was a mind-boggling puzzle—it's not like they're symmetrical objects with some predictability in terms of balance," he points out. In fact, while he was still working in his studio, one of the trunks toppled over, missing him by inches. "I would've been crushed to death," he says. "I was by myself and didn't have the piece rigged properly."
Nothing that dramatic happened during Conjoined's installation—and the result is a poetic evocation of both conflict and longing. Conservancy director of external affairs Stewart Desmond notes, "People ask whether it's two trees fighting or two trees making love."