Whispers of Sunken Forest (2022)


Art in Odd Places: Story


Jesse Simpson

Supported by:

MAAF Grant by NYSCA (New York State Council on the Arts) in Partnership with Wave Farm

Unnamed Fund
Whispers of Sunken Forest is a sound installation and exhibited materials that open up a portal to the Sunken Forest in public spaces in urban environments.

Sunken Forest, located on Fire Island in New York, is one of only two old-growth maritime American Holly forests in the world. The centuries-old unique ecosystem is disappearing due to climate change and coastal erosion. We hope to communicate the urgency of climate change through the forest’s voice from our immediate environment. As a way of archiving the current status of the forest and telling the story of the forest to more people, my collaborator and I collected field recordings by making multiple trips to the forest and created sound compositions based on the recordings.

Listen to the sound on SoundCloud

In September 2022, the installation was presented in a public space (as a part of Art in Odd Places, an outdoor art festival on 14th Street in Manhattan) to create a listening station and open up a portal to the Sunken Forest in the middle of the bustling city. Research materials were shown along with the installation, and my collaborator and I were present during the installation to guide people through the experience and help them connect more closely to the forest.

Truly diverse groups of people, ranging from people who live in the neighborhood, to passersby, to tourists, engaged with the project and had conversations with me, my collaborators, and each other about the forest and ecological issues. Some people sat down with us, closed their eyes, and listened to the voice of Sunken Forest for the whole duration, which was 13 minutes. It was powerful to witness people slow down and listen for that long duration of time, in the middle of bustling 14th Street. Postcards with links to sound compositions and information about the forest were distributed to 70-80 visitors.

There were some stretches of time when it became hard to invite people to engage with the project, since the street is so busy with lots of distractions. As a playful solution, my collaborator and I went inside a public elevator that connects the High Line to 14th Street. We set up our work inside—a small table with research materials and postcards—and played the sound compositions with narrations as “elevator music.” Some passengers said hi, some inquired about what they’re listening to, and some asked us what we’re doing. Many of them listened to the project “elevator pitches.” and responded with some comments :)
*The work is part of a larger project of mine, titled Fragile Landscapes.

Yeseul Song