"Feral children and wayward adults." Those words were among the inspirations for environmental artist Patrick Dougherty's new installation at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, he said tonight in a twilight talk on the grounds. Seldom have I enthused over "environmental art," but this one is fascinating and beautiful, and brought out the feral child in all present.
(The artist says that the piece has been named "Natural History," prompted by a four-year-old who told his mother that "it looked like natural history.")
Dougherty works with sticks and twigs, bent and woven into fantastical sculptures and structures. The BBG project, made of unwanted willow branches cleared from Staten Island, is a sort of mystical hamlet of fragrant hives or nests, set down near a sheltering oak grove. Visitors are irresistibly drawn to step in and out of the structures.
The artist himself was an engagingly modest guy, respectful of the natural beauty of the sites where his work took shape. The fabrication depended on an enthusiastic ad-hoc community of volunteers, Dougherty related. The team learned quickly how to execute his sketched plans; "everybody knows about sticks," he said, whether as weapon, tool, magic wand or building block, and the helpers readily channeled their inner hunter-gatherers.
The sculpture will stay up for at least a year, during which it will begin to deteriorate naturally. Imagine how it will look covered with snow. Daughter and I agreed that we would kill to camp out in one of these: a camp for feral children, within the safety of the garden. (Gothamist has more photos.)