On a sultry morning in early August, sculptor Andy Goldsworthy stood in a quarry in Stony Creek, Connecticut, watching the heart being burned out of a ten-ton granite boulder. Eighteen of these tawny-gray brutes, varying between three and fifteen tons, are to be scattered around a space measuring a hundred and twenty feet by thirty-five on the second-story roof terrace of the new extension of the Museum of Jewish Heritage, in Battery Park City. The hollowed rocks will then be filled with soil, and, on September 16th, Holocaust survivors will plant a dwarf chestnut-oak sapling in each one, creating a memorial Garden of Stones.
The rock surrenders to the fire, Goldsworthy said, because fire created it in the first place. But fire cleans as well as sculpts. Shooting flames at granite not only re-enacts primordial geology but converts the incinerations of genocide into the flames of sanctification.
During a break from the burning, we peered into the opened belly of the rock. The interior was speckled gray, with shreds of stone flaking away from the walls or pulverized into a granular silica, like sand on a beach, some of the grains glassily fused. John Ruskin’s feverishly beautiful passages on “Compact Crystallines,” in “Modern Painters,” came to mind, in which he describes the glitter of granite as looking “somewhat like that of a coarse piece of freshly broken loaf sugar.”
The cavity is conical, a form that much preoccupies Goldsworthy, who often declares a debt to Brancusi. Monti was working from the opened base and down the narrowing funnel. Once hollowed, the rocks are inverted, so that the saplings can sit at the neck of the boulder, atop their bed of earth. The disproportion between the hefty stones and the tiny, six-inch plants may risk looking absurd, but it will at least preclude any possibility of the stones’ resembling the oversized planters commonplace in corporate atriums. Instead, a mysterious hatching will be inaugurated: the sprig from the rock.
The growth process of the sprouting menhirs, standing between the Hudson and Ground Zero, will not, however, be risk-free. Tom Whitlow, a Cornell plant ecologist whom Goldsworthy consulted, warned that if the growing tree should press against its unyielding stone girdle it could crush the living cambium immediately beneath the bark. In that case, the root system would atrophy and die. But unlike many contemporary artists, fretful about their posterity, Goldsworthy incorporates the indeterminate outcomes of natural processes into most of his work. Sculptures created from found materials like ice and thorns, driftwood, and even bleached kangaroo bones all presuppose that artistic design will yield to the cycles of time and climate, whether over an hour or a decade.
Goldsworthy relishes the embattled growth of his dwarf chestnut oaks, contending with the jackhammer shaking of downtown construction, the judder of helicopter rotors on the riverbank, sudden gusts of estuarine winds, and the murky air of lower Manhattan. The plants’ fight for survival against the odds is meant as an emblem of the Jewish experience they memorialize. “The trees I wanted couldn’t be decorative,” he says. “They needed to be tough little S.O.B.s.”
On August 22nd, three weeks before the inauguration of the Garden of Stones, the last boulders were hoisted into their positions on the museum roof, and it was already apparent that Goldsworthy’s sculpture would be one of the most powerful monuments in a city still struggling to find visual expressions for the tug between the perishable and the imperishable.
Full story at The New Yorker