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Curator Will Plant 299 Trees in a Stadium to Make Statement on Climate Change

After the installation closes, the makeshift forest will be relocated to a public space, where it will remain accessible as a ‘living forest sculpture’

Max Peintner, "The Unbroken Attraction of Nature," 1970-71, handcolored by Klaus Littmann in 2018 (For Forest)
smithsonian.com

A large-scale public art installation scheduled to go on view in the Austrian city of Klagenfurt this fall will ask viewers to imagine a world in which trees, like nearly extinct animals found only in zoos, thrive solely in specially designated spaces such as soccer stadiums.

This dystopian vision, derived from a drawing by Austrian artist and architect Max Peintner, is the brainchild of Basel-based art collector and curator Klaus Littmann. Titled “For Forest: The Unending Attraction of Nature,” the ambitious project will find Wörthersee Stadium transformed into a native central European forest replete with 299 transplanted trees.

“It's primarily about how we take things for granted, how we stop thinking about them,” Littmann tells the Art Newspaper’s Julia Michalska. “By removing something from the familiar into a new context, you raise new questions. It's not about playing around in the forest."

As Hyperallergic’s Hakim Bishara writes, “For Forest” will closely mirror Peintner’s “The Unending Attraction of Nature,” a pencil drawing that provides both the inspiration for and the title of Littmann’s endeavor. Sketched between 1970 and 1971, the image juxtaposes a tree-filled stadium with a “factory smoke-ridden industrial” skyline. Thousands of onlookers gaze upon the out-of-place forest, treating it with the same reverence a die-hard soccer fan might afford to their favorite team.

According to Michalska, Littmann first chanced upon Peintner’s work more than 30 years ago. Determined to reconstruct the scene in real life, the curator approached the artist with his ambitions and found himself unable to “let go of the idea” despite the latter’s skepticism. Then, Littmann learned that the Klagenfurt stadium, built to host the 2008 European Football Championships, went unused for most of the year, making it the ideal location for enacting the installation.

Artist's rendering of the installation (Johannes Puch/For Forest)

The Austrian Press Association reports that Enzo Enea, a landscape architect tasked with bringing “For Forest” to life, will plant a mixture of deciduous and coniferous trees measuring roughly 40 to 45 feet high and weighing up to six tons each on the extant soccer pitch.

Over the course of the month-and-a-half artistic intervention—poised to become Austria’s largest public art installation to date—up to 30,000 spectators at a time will be able to view the makeshift forest, lit naturally during the day and by floodlights at night. As Littmann explains to the APA, viewers’ perspectives will shift dramatically based on time of day, changing leaf colors and position within the stadium.

“Encountering [‘For Forest’] will trigger a multiplicity of responses and emotions, and depending on the time of day or night the trees will form an ever-changing landscape,” a press release explains. “This captivating panorama will pave the way for a whole new perspective and understanding of forests.”

It’s worth noting that the project has its critics. According to the APA, the environmental impact of transporting 299 trees from Italy, Northern Germany and Belgium to Austria is one major point of contention. Others point to potential damage inflicted on the stadium, and in particular its lawn.

Littmann is quick to counter these concerns, citing engineering research conducted to ensure the stadium can support a temporary forest and the fact that Austria lacks trees suitable for the project.

After the installation closes on October 27, the forest will be relocated to a nearby public space, where it will remain accessible as a “living forest sculpture.” Wörthersee Stadium will be restored to its pre-forest state, hosting sporting and cultural events alike.

For Forest: The Unending Attraction of Nature” will be on view at the Wörthersee Stadium in Klagenfurt, Austria, from September 9 to October 27, 2019. Admission is free.

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