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Alan Sonfist
(American, b. 1946)
Gene Bank, Old Growth Forest, Three Mile Island, Minnesota
color photographs, wood shelf, specimen jars, botanical parts, earth, 74" x 94 x 6"
Photographs, specimen collection by Steven Bardolph
Collection Tweed Museum of Art

Since the late 1960s, Alan Sonfist’s unique artworks have been built around the idea and the practice of restoring a landscape to its original state, before it was settled and developed by humans. One of the artist’s most well-known projects is Time Landscape-Manhattan, begun in 1965. In that work he successfully transformed what was a block of crumbling buildings in New York City into a recreation of the virgin forest that covered the area in pre-Colonial America. The newly restored forest is now a lush urban park, filled with trees, plants, and even animals. In making the Gene Banks, Alan Sonfist locates areas in different parts of the world that have “old growth” forests – places where trees have never been cut, and humans have never settled permanently. When asked to develop an artwork for the Tweed Museum’s exhibition Botanica: Contemporary Art and the World of Plants in 1999, Sonfist located an old growth forest on an island in northern Minnesota. Photographs of the site were taken, and plant and soil specimens were collected. These were then arranged into a form that is alternately like an altarpiece and a laboratory storage unit. In the same sense that religious relics are collected from the sites of miracles, the genetic material held in one of Alan Sonfist’s Gene Banks could possibly be used to help restore a depleted forest environment.

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